Exploring the Roots of Asian-Latin Culinary Fusion

 

A full-serving of traditional fanesca soup in brown ceramic bowl on bamboo placemat with wooden and silver utensils. The table is decorated with brown eggs, empanadas, and herbs.

The fusion of Asian and Latin cuisines is a hot trend. Look for it and you’ll find it everywhere, from casual dishes, like sushi burritos and Korean BBQ tacos, to high-end restaurants, like La Chinesca in Philadelphia, Flor de Mayo in New York City, China Poblano in Las Vegas, and Escala in Los Angeles.

“Asian” and “Latin” cuisines are far from monolithic, so within each of those categories, there are so many variations and potential flavor remixes, which is part of what makes this food so exciting. But while this east-meet-west fusion seems very of-the-moment, it’s actually a phenomenon that’s been happening for centuries. Migration and colonization have allowed ingredients to travel across borders and hemispheres.

Part of being an informed foodie is exploring the historical contexts that influence the food trends we love, so let’s take a look at how some kinds of Asian-Latin fusion came to be:

Spanish/Filipino

In 1521, the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines and claimed it as a colony for the Spanish Empire, which it remained until the Philippine Revolution of 1898. In fact, the Philippines are named after King Philip II, the ruler of Spain and Portugal in the mid-1500s.

Over those centuries of colonization, Spanish food influenced Filipino cuisine in many ways, especially in the foods eaten during Christian holidays. Spanish dishes were melded with local traditions and ingredients to create:

  • Paelya: A version of Spanish paella, made with malagki, a local strain of glutinous rice.
  • Lechon: A sucking pig stuffed with lemongrass, tamarind, garlic, onions, and chives, which is roasted over an open fire on a bamboo spit.
  • Puchero: Based on a traditional Spanish stew, this Filipino stew is prepared with chunks of beef and plantains, and sometimes potatoes or sweet potatoes, chorizos de Bilbao, bok choy, leeks, chickpeas, cabbage and tomato sauce.
  • Fabada: This Filipino version of stew from Spain’s Asturias region is made with pork belly and lima beans, and is traditionally served at Christmas.
  • Leche flan: Based on the iconic Spanish dessert, this even creamier version includes sweetened condensed milk, lots of egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest.

Mexican/Chinese

There are uncountable Chinese eateries in Mexico, and the flavors of these two cuisines seem to find themselves together in all types of modern dishes, as well. Why?

During the late 19th century, there was a large-scale migration of Chinese immigrants to Mexico, a country seeing rapid growth and in need of expanded labor forces. According to immigration records, over 60,000 Chinese people at that time migrated to Mexico, bolstered by Chinese immigrants who were diverted there because of the United States' Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. By the 1920s, Chinese people constituted the second-largest immigrant group in Mexico, often settling into Chinatown neighborhoods in various cities in Mexico, and setting up restaurants there, incorporating their foodways and cooking techniques with ingredients and flavors from the region.

The two cultures actually share many ingredients, such as: 

  • Rice: Rice is a staple food in Mexican and Chinese cuisines. Spiced and flavored rice dishes, like arroz rojo and fried rice, actually share similar techniques. 
  • Shredded meat: Barbacoa, carnitas, and pollo asada are not so different from mu shu pork, Szechuan shredded beef, and Yu-Xiang Rou-Si (Szechuan shredded chicken stir-fry). 
  • Herbs and spices: Cilantro, chili powder, Mexican oregano, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, anise, cocoa powder, and epazote are some of the traditional seasonings in Mexican cuisines. Many of these, including cilantro (sometimes called fresh coriander), fresh and dried chilis, cinnamon, and cumin, can also be found in Chinese cooking.

Peruvian/Chinese

There is a special term for Chinese Cantonese elements fused with traditional Peruvian ingredients and traditions: Chifa. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese immigrants from the southern province of Guangdong came to Peru and settled. The first recorded Chinese–Peruvian fusion restaurants opened around 1920 in Lima's Chinatown, Barrio Chino. There are now approximately 6,000 Chifa restaurants in Lima!

Some traditional Chifa dishes include:

  • Tallarin Saltado: a Cantonese-Peruvian style Chow Mein.
  • Arroz chaufa: Cantonese-Peruvian style fried rice, often served with chicken or pork.
  • Pollo Tipa Kay: Chicken with sweet-and-sour sauce.
  • Sopa Wantan: Cantonese-Peruvian style wonton soup.
  • Pollo enrollado: Chicken rolled into fried crust.

When you love food as much as we do, it’s so important (and fun) to learn about the diverse cuisines all around us! For more ZENB goodness, follow us on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. And, if you’re inspired to get into the kitchen, check out our library of over 150 plant-fueled recipes which are influenced from cuisines across the globe!


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