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When Asian And Latin Food Collide: Spicy, Tasty Or Confused?

Courtesy Pati Jinich

When Asian And Latin Food Collide: Spicy, Tasty Or Confused?

Asian-Americans and Latinos trace their roots half a world away from each other -- literally. But their cultures, and especially the foods they love, have more in common than you might think. These days, they're colliding in new and interesting ways - from Korean barbecue taco trucks to finer dining.

That fusion is the subject of this week's Smithsonian Asian-Latino Festival (#asianlatino) in Washington D.C.


Indian-American cookbook author Anupy Singla and Mexican-American chef Pati Jinich, who are both joining the festivities, say Asian-Latino food combinations have a rich history. They joined Tell Me More guest host Celeste Headlee for a spicy chat about how each of their food traditions have influenced the other, and whether "fusion" is a culinary dirty word.

Interview Highlights

Portuguese and Vindaloo - Who Knew?

Singla: "When you see food in the States it's usually one note. So we have Japanese food, you've got Chinese food, you've got Indian food, you have Mexican food. But when you go to those countries and you look at the populations. If you go to say Goa, which was colonized by the Portuguese for so many years and you see the influence of the Spanish and some of the Mexican cuisines in those regions. Everybody eats vindaloo curry, but do you even know what it is? 'Vin' is from wine, 'aloo' is from the Portuguese word for garlic, and so combine the two and you have a 'vindaloo.' So these sorts of overlaps are very common, but it's just something we haven't really talked about much yet in this country."

On Asian influence in Mexico

Jinich: "Here in the U.S. you see the Korean-Mexican fusion. Everybody's like 'wow, it's so interesting.' Well, in Mexico, it turns out the influence of Asian people into Mexico started since the 1560s. After the Spanish conquered Mexico, and since they arrived, they were looking for what they called the Spice Islands, and they found the Phillipines. They found spice! ...And so in Mexico we have Chinese cafes, and Chinese coffee shops, and Chinese resaturants galore. And the funny thing is if you go into a Chinese restaurant, you will find enchiladas alongside chop suey, and you will find forks, chopsticks are optional."


Fusion Without Confusion

Singla: "I would say learn to work inside the box, travel to those countries, learn. You have to learn true Indian cuisine, the rules, and then start breaking them. Certain spices, when I taste them, I know someone else that does not understand my cuisine has made a chai. Because it's too much with the cloves, too much with the cardamom, they're trying a little too hard. It's about subtlety."

Chef Pati Jinich says this green bean recipe lets you "taste the history" of Asian influence in Mexico.


Ejotes con Cacahuates y Chile de Arbol
Serves 4

1 pound green beans (or Chinese long beans), ends cut and diagonally sliced in about 2" pieces
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3 to 4 chiles de arbol, stemmed and thinly sliced
4 to 6 scallions, thinly sliced, light green and white parts only

Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot, add the sliced green beans and cook, uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes until al dente, drain and set aside.

Combine the soy sauce, chicken broth, sugar and salt in a small bowl and mix well.

Heat the peanut oil over high heat in a large heavy skillet until hot but not smoking. Add the peanuts, stirring constantly, as they begin to fry for about 20 seconds. Beware, peanuts burn faster than you would think... so don't wait until they look browned. Add the garlic and the chiles de arbol, stir for about 10 seconds, and add the scallions and stir for another 10 to 15 seconds. Add the green beans, stir to combine all the ingredients and finally pour soy sauce mixture, let it all cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

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