Food isn’t just about nutrition and health. It has other dimensions and can tell the story of where it’s from, and the culture—or cultures—that shaped it.
Korean kimchi tacos are the “ultimate fusion mashup,” she says Danielle Chang, the founder of LUCKYRICE, the popular Asian food festival that travels around North America. Korean kimchi tacos are a hybrid using Mexican tortillas and Korean grilled meat, and, of course, with kimchi instead of jalapeno sauce on top. (You can find Chang’s recipe in Lucky Rice: Stories and Recipes from Night Markets, Feasts, and Family Tables.)
The dish reveals more than simply an inspiration to mix ingredients together from two different cultures. Historically, there were a lot of riots between Hispanics and Koreans in Los Angeles, where the dish was later born (Koreatown, to be exact).
“Now, they’re all living happily, harmoniously, side by side. This dish proves that harmony,” Chang says.
The impact food can have on a culture has always inspired Chang. It’s why she’s chosen food and her LUCKYRICE Festival to share the beauty of her own Chinese heritage.
“I think food is the best vehicle to spread culture, because everybody eats. It’s so universal. Everybody loves food, and it’s a really great way to learn about other cultures,” she says.
Chang says that food is more accessible than fine arts or fashion. “Not everybody can wear a qipao, but everybody can eat Chinese food or different regional Chinese food, and in that process learn about the breadth and diversity of China.”
As a self-described “cultural entrepreneur,” Chang has worked across several industries—art, media, fashion, and food. From teaching art history to serving as CEO of Vivienne Tam, all of her various professional experiences are united by one characteristic.
“The connection between all of them is that they’re all entrepreneurial businesses that are rooted in culture,” she says.
Now with LUCKYRICE, Chang expresses that intersection of cultures in her beloved fusion dishes. Budae-jjigae, for example, is inspired by what American GIs ate during the Korean War when there was a shortage of food. It’s a concoction of Korean foods such as gochujang, a spicy chili paste, and watercress, with ingredients the American forces had received, such as SPAM, hot dogs, mozzarella cheese, and pasta noodles.
“It’s a true fusion dish which was borne out of historical circumstances,” Chang says.
Another one of Chang’s personal fusion favourites is her spaghetti with oxtail.
“I personally love it because I grew up loving Italian food and spaghetti,” she says. She adds oxtail with borscht, a sour Asian soup, and in her tomato sauce, she adds soy sauce, star anise, and Shaoxing wine, making it a true harmony of East and West.
Chang isn’t just fusing flavours together to make delicious new meals, she’s also adding the depth and richness of Asia’s holistic culture.
“I’m really interested in this intersection between food and beauty and wellness,” she says. It aligns with the trend in America where people are seeking alternative healing modalities from Chinese medicine or Indian Ayurvedic medicine, for example.
“Food isn’t just meant to taste delicious, but it is to nourish us. It has a function. We eat food to be happy inside and out, to look beautiful as well,” she says. She calls soups “elixirs,” and loves healing broths full of collagen, Goji berries, hawthorn leaves, dates, lotus nuts, and ginkgo nuts.
“I learned to incorporate into my cooking [things] based on practices that my mother and grandmother passed on to me,” she says. These special ingredients and recipes can allow you to “have radiance in your skin.”
Not only is Chang inspiring the West with Asian cuisine and culture, she’s also influencing the Asian population. She’s the cultural ambassador for luxury brands, like American Express, and she’s helping introduce the luxury market to more Asians.
“[Chinese] eat very lavishly. We have centuries, millennia of culture in history,” she says. “You can see [luxury] everywhere, from fashion to music to food, all these Asian influences coming together, and then new generations of Asian Americans adopting it and making it their own.”
Remy XO Pork Belly
1 pound pork belly, skin on
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Remy XO cognac
1 one-inch knob fresh ginger, sliced
1 star anise pod
¼ cup dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 bunches scallions, green and
white parts thinly sliced separately
Place pork belly in a large pot of boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes to remove any impurities. Remove from the water and cut into 1-inch chunks.
In a wok, heat the peanut oil and sugar over low heat until the sugar caramelizes, about 10 minutes. Increase heat to medium and add the pork. Cook for about 5 minutes, turning the pork occasionally so it’s browned and well coated in the caramel.
Reduce heat to low and add the Remy XO cognac, ginger, star anise, both soy sauces, the scallion whites, and ½ cup of water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 hour, until the meat is fork-tender.
Uncover the wok and continue to cook the pork over low heat until it’s coated with the syrup, about 15 minutes. Transfer the meat and sauce to a platter and garnish with the scallion greens. Serve with steamed rice.
1½ ounces Rémy Martin XO
¾ ounce Campari
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
¼ ounce Luxardo Maraschino
Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a rocks glass with a 2-inch ice cube. Garnish with a lemon peel.