Will We Be Eating Asian Fusion in the Future? Spike Jonze Thinks So.

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 20 2013 2:50 PM

Will We Be Eating Asian Fusion in the Future? Spike Jonze Thinks So.

1387567997
Olivia Wilde gazes at Joaquin Phoenix over Asian fusion food.

Still from Her courtesy Warner Bros. Picture via IMDB

In a scene about halfway through Spike Jonze’s thought-provoking sci-fi romance Her, Joaquin Phoenix’s character goes on a blind date with a sexy Harvard grad played by Olivia Wilde. They meet in a sleek, dark restaurant, get a little tipsy, and end up talking about what animals they resemble. Then, agreeing that it’s been a pleasant evening, Wilde’s character says something like, “Don’t you just love Asian fusion?”

It’s a jarring moment in a film that is otherwise seamless in its construction of a plausible near-futuristic Los Angeles. Does Spike Jonze really think we’ll be eating Asian fusion cuisine in a few decades?

Advertisement

As Sara Dickerman explained in Slate last year, the term “Asian fusion” was born in the late 1980s, when European chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten created restaurants that self-consciously combined Chinese, Japanese, and Thai ingredients (ginger, daikon radish, coconut milk) with classical French preparations (vinaigrette, beef stock, mousse)—and vice versa. By the early 2000s, Asian fusion had trickled down to the Food Network and Chili’s and consequently seemed fusty and tired. This isn’t to say that the idea of remixing Asian food with other world cuisines died out—instead, chefs like Danny Bowien in San Francisco (and New York) and Roy Choi in L.A. began dishing out “Americanized Oriental Food” and Korean tacos. Not many chefs call their cuisine “fusion” anymore—in fact, New York magazine recently proclaimed, “Asian hipster cuisine has replaced Asian fusion cuisine.”

So why did Jonze choose a slightly passé type of cuisine as an exemplar of what hip white Los Angelenos will be eating in the future? I reached out to Her’s publicist with this question and was told that Jonze is unavailable. And while I may be overthinking this, I want to believe that Jonze made the choice deliberately, both because he seems like a deliberate filmmaker in general and because he seems to have his finger on the cultural pulse. Jonze recently gave the Guardian an interview in which he talked about L.A. and said, “There’s more good food here than ever before, better restaurants. In some parts of the world, like right here, you can feel the future coming toward you and a lot of it … is getting better all the time.”

So sending Joaquin Phoenix’s character on a date at an Asian fusion restaurant may be an appreciative nod to the creativity of L.A. chefs like Choi, who mash up Asian and other flavors with abandon, and a vote of confidence for this type of cooking’s staying power. Or perhaps the choice of an Asian fusion restaurant is a clever acknowledgment of the life cycle of trends: First they catch on among an upper echelon of trailblazers (see Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main in the 1980s), then they get so popular that they lose their cachet (hence present-day chefs’ resistance to use the term “fusion”), and finally they become an unremarkable part of mainstream culture. “Asian fusion,” for all its quaint connotations, is a fairly succinct and straightforward phrase that encompasses a wide swath of the restaurant scene.

But I suspect our vocabulary for describing Asian-inflected hybrid cuisines will expand, rather than regress, in the future. I might have been less surprised to hear Wilde character’s endorsement of the food she’d just eaten if she described it as “Japanese couscous” or “Chinese pizza.” Of course, a reference to such a self-consciously creative hybrid in Her would surely elicit laughs from many audiences;  “Asian fusion” is just familiar enough not to seem humorous. Still, it was one of the only parts of Her that I found a little hard to swallow.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.