Encounters with Southeast Asian agri-food heritage at home and abroad
Thu 11:00-12:30 Room 0.31
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Digital crafting and curation of Cambodian cuisine and gastronomic identity among the Khmerican diaspora
Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam Università degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche
Within the technical turn of food (Lewis 2018) as sped-up by the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have now turned to (mostly digitally mediated) restaurant delivery schemes to appease their cravings. Although Cambodia’s food and cuisine has been obscured and underrepresented globally, this has not stopped members of the Khmerican diaspora from opening their own food establishments and sharing various “tastes of home.” Through menu offerings, Khmerican entrepreneurs are actively shaping how other Americans are perceiving and understanding what constitutes “Khmer cuisine” and the foods of Cambodia. Drawing from data gathered through digital ethnography of several Cambodian-American restaurants across the United States and their clientele, this paper identifies a selection of key dishes and recipes that are positioned as central within the marketed imaginaries of Cambodian cuisine. Furthermore it contrasts these choices with menu offerings which cater towards clientele’s ideas about the culinary features of the greater Southeast Asia region as well as “pan-Asian” dishes. Using the framing of Global Asias (Chen 2015), the paper considers how Khmericans in the industry are navigating and constructing Cambodia’s unique gastronomic identity through differentiation from the culinary traditions of neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand, which are often used as culinary points of reference.
Imagining Food Heritage: The Invention of Vietnamese Traditional Food by Saigonese Youth
Felipe Diaz Marin National University of Malaysia
In a paper published in 2013, Nir Avieli asserts that, while ‘tourist-oriented’ restaurants in the UNESCO world heritage site of Hoi An (Central Vietnam), advertise some of their food offer under the ‘Local Specialties’ section on their menus, a substantial part of these dishes are not unique to Hoi An nor to Central Vietnam, while others are of non-Vietnamese origins. Avieli concludes that such invention of culinary heritage goes beyond mere staging for candid foreign tourists, but acts as a “self-generating multi-directional process that influences and alters the local culinary scape” (Avieli, 2013: 132). Such constructivist perspective is useful to understand the iterative process for producing localised and outward-oriented culinary landscape. It fails however to inform on the status of a Vietnamese imagined community (Anderson, 1983) constructed through the attachment to a national food heritage self-narrative. We contend that the notion of Vietnamese food heritage is problematic, but may nonetheless be comprehended partially within spatial and temporal contingences. Drawing from Anderson’s concept of imagined communities (Anderson, 1983), we expand the initial conceptual framework using a generational social marker, focusing on the new generation from 20 to 27 years old, and geographically circumscribing our research work to Vietnam’s first economic hub: Ho Chi Minh City. In the first quarter of 2022, we conducted an exploratory qualitative survey with a sample of 21 respondents, from a private university in a specified district of Ho Chi Minh City. The objective of the survey is to analyse the contours of the sociological process of inventing a shared ‘traditional food heritage’ by the upper middle-class youth of Ho Chi Minh City. Early findings show that traditional food is intergenerationally transmitted, and yet a-critically understood as Vietnamese national heritage. The interviews reveal that the consumption of traditional food act concurrently as a form of ontological security and an indicator of social distinction.
Instrumentalizing Indigenous Food Systems in Southeast Asia: Cultural Projects and the Nation-State’s Strategic Positioning of Local Foodways
Eric P. Olmedo National University of Malaysia
Hart N. Feuer Kyoto University
Indigenous food systems have an evolutionary character, in which cultural exchange, natural resource shifts, and social transformation are associated with a fluidity across generations. Since the colonial era, and continuing in different forms contemporarily, indigenous food systems and cuisines across Southeast Asia have become intentional arenas of intervention, with authorities engaging in broad “cultural projects” that marginalize, elevate, or co-opt local foodways. In this paper, we argue that these cultural projects, as seen through the lens of food systems, correspond to the ways that indigeneity is instrumentalized, which has often included displacement of idiosyncratic ethnic minority cuisines, promotion in the form of gastrodiplomacy or culinary tourism, or convergence on a hegemonic national cuisine. The pace and assertiveness with which such interventions were enacted by colonial authorities, and now often perpetuated under nation-states, short-circuits the historical patterns of food system evolution and creates disjunctures in indigenous foodways. In response to state projects such as mass tourism, “integration” of ethnic minorities, and loss of natural resources, countervailing forces in civil society or academia may adopt approaches to mitigate cultural losses, such as museumification, novel social media representations, and modern restaurant designs that can have ambiguous impacts on the cohesiveness of local foodways. In this paper, we reflect on the continuity of historical interventions initiated by various authorities that have culminated in contemporary cultural projects to instrumentalize indigenous cuisines to facilitate global soft (culinary) power, massify tourism, or aid in national ethnic harmonization. We evaluate cases of forms of state action that act directly or indirectly on food systems in Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam, while also reflecting on similar processes in other world regions.
Semiotic aspects of festival foods - The adjustment of Tet feast by Vietnamese immigrants living abroad
Vien T.T. Dinh Kyoto University
Heritage foods of abroad eaters are subjected to the process of filter, negotiation, and appropriation within the new food environment while pertaining the accustomed link with their countries of origin. Since daily food might be easily taken for grants due to its transparency, studying festival foods found abroad and reasons for those modifications can contribute a vivid insight into the cultural interaction and integration processes of the immigrants into host societies. The purpose of this paper is to explore migrants’ dietary acculturation strategies through analysis of the celebration of Tet or Lunar New Year, the most important traditional festival, among Vietnamese migrants living in Japan.
The destabilization of foodways in Southeast Asia, which is variously a response to globalization, lifestyle change, and disruptions to natural resource bases, is being mirrored by a golden age of culinary interest abroad. While much of this is a consequence of “traveling cultures” sparked by migration and the maturation of diasporic communities (Clifford 1997), decades of effort to cultivate culinary soft power (i.e. gastrodiplomacy) have also contributed to the rising profiles of Southeast Asian cuisines outside the region. This has often prompted a culinary revaluation of domestic cuisines, as various aspects of dietary wisdom are rediscovered abroad in light of global food trends. Fermentation, edible wild plants, heirloom crop varieties, botanical ingredients, and famous regional foods have become rallying points for younger generations’ interest in local food ways. Materially, the deterritorialization occurring for historical, indigenous agri-food systems is more frequently being followed by globally anchored reterritorialization, in which food heritage construction is increasingly an intentional (rather than defensive) process, driven by young people, social media, chefs, and global institutions (James Farrer, various; Tomlinson 1999). This phenomenon is also visible in the rise of food studies and gastronomy programs in higher education, which problematize linear conceptualization of culinary evolution.
This panel seeks to gather research evaluating the global circuits and domestic anchoring of Southeast Asian cuisine and food heritage. Diasporic influences are among the most obvious drivers here and we welcome contributions on this topic. However, we are equally interested in lesserresearched drivers of domestic agri-food valorization, such as feedback from gastrodiplomacy, renewed interest in food literacy and foodie-ism, responses to newer forms of food journalism or research, or culinary decolonization among emergent middle and upper classes (Inglis and Gimlin 2009). We welcome contributions that help to hart a course forward for critical food studies in/about Southeast Asia.