Americanization of Immigrant Cuisine

Big words! Especially to me, since that was basically my Master’s dissertation subject. After all those months of studying Chef Boyardee, Ragu, and Stouffer’s Lasagna I wondered how I would translate it into something a bit more readable to the masses. There’s still hope!


Today’s drizzle of hope came from, yet another New York Times article… “A Chili Sauce to Crow About” by John T. Edge (a gastronome’s hero, of sorts). It is my belief (as you may read in my dissertation, if you are a sucker for punishment) that, when immigrants arrive in a new country, they bring with them the flavors of memory and that this is not always a reliable reflection of what they truly ate in their own countries. From there, the flavors are reproduced using foods available in their new homes (in the US, California seems to play a huge role in sourcing flavors, as you can read in Edge’s article & my dissertation). As demand increases from the immigrant population, the product becomes mass produced and discovered by those in the “host culture” (native foodies). The native foodies adopt the new product and eventually disperse it throughout the mainstream population rendering it all but recognizable to the original immigrants and completely unrecognizable to those in the country whose migrants created the product.

In “A Chili Sauce to Crow About,” Edge takes us on this journey with one of the most popular chili sauces on the market in the US today – Sriracha (aka Rooster Sauce). Technically, Sriracha is as American as it gets… it’s creation is a contemporary “American dream” scenario of a Vietnamese immigrant creating a sauce flavored to mimic his memory of home for an immigrant community. He makes this product in a former Wham-O (frisbees and hoolahoop) factory in Southern California from American ingredients, names it after a town in Thailand, and sells it to American chefs who make French-sounding sauces from it!

The story ends with the ultimate Americanization… Sriracha is now used in menu items, as well as as a condiment in the most American of American Applebee’s (as well as P.F. Chang’s and some red-states chain called Roly Poly)… it is also available at Wal-Mart!

5 thoughts on “Americanization of Immigrant Cuisine

  1. First of all, rock on Vietnomericans. Second, I don’t know whether I read this or someone told me this, but Sriracha was the name of the Thai boat that the founder came to the states on or escaped Vietnam after the war on. I love that:)

  2. YES! HUZZAH! Now apply that to the 1600s when the first settlers came to this continent. They were used to eating XYZ, but unfortunately, here there was no X or Y and only an odd semblance of a Z. So they took what was here and fixed a meal per the way they had learned back in the “old country.” End of story. But eventually, certain foods, that nearly everyone else ate because that’s all there was, took on a specific name from one ethnic group or another, despite the fact that the dish or whatever was never made in that group’s “old country.” First example that comes to mind is cornmeal mush aka hasty pudding aka Indian pudding aka sappan aka polenta aka…etc., etc. Let me know when you publish your dissertation in book form; you could call it De-bunking Popular Origin-of-Foods Myths! Or not….

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