Substitutions: where do you draw the line? This latest piece “Substitutions” pushes beyond the boundaries of what is considered “acceptable” with a plethora of elements parading as other things while bearing the same name. There’s “chawanmushi” that I’ve made with ostrich eggs, brie and shio koji, aerated in an @isiculinary and sous-vide’d. Next, “nam phrik”, a Thai dipping sauce I’ve reengineered with charred pollack roe and sundried tomatoes. And “braised pork”, which is actually jackfruit. Is this fusion? Is this appropriation? How should this be described on a menu?
I personally find this topic really tricky. On one hand, it’s beautiful when food can be used to bridge cultures, even when you aren’t privileged with access to every ingredient needed for “authenticity” (also a hotly contested term). It’s wonderful to see chefs paying homage to cuisines they enjoy (and teaching new audiences about it) by adding new flavors to their cooking. On the other hand, when someone with a large platform institutes substitutions as fact, that has a lasting impact, especially for those unfamiliar with the topic. Recently, I searched for a ramen noodle recipe, and #1 result was from a blog using eggs, not alkaline solution, in the recipe. Now, her legion of followers think ramen is no different than pasta.
So when are substitutions okay and when are they not? Tell me your thoughts in the comments 🧐 As always, I think the first piece is education, recognizing that a dish is more than the sum of its ingredients and the importance of context. Like the fact chawan-mushi literally means “steamed in a tea cup” and is prized for its silky texture, to be eaten with a spoon — hence my “version” defies its purpose altogether. There’s also special care needed for when substitutions are presented to an audience (online or virtual). If we plan to serve others or present ourselves as an authority, we owe our guests an explanation of what they are eating. Ultimately, I believe it’s not a culture’s responsibility to make itself accessible to us. If we plan to interpret or use that culture in some way, food or otherwise, it’s our responsibility to learn and represent it respectfully.