Soapbox: Decolonising our food culture through art

Gemishka Chetty. Photography by Gemishka Chetty
Go Home Curry Muncha_press image. Photography by Gemishka Chetty
Aiwa Pooarmorn. Photography by Gemishka Chetty
Aiwa Pooamorn and Gemishka Chetty write a delicious piece tackling racism and identity politics in Aotearoa's food industry.

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Bamboozle, an Asian fusion restaurant in Christchurch, got slammed last year for its racist menu with dishes like “suk sum teet”, “luff u’long time pad thai” and “rital phat ee”. It was not only a childish attempt to ridicule Asian accents, but also deeply misogynistic, playing to tropes of kinky Asian women.

When asked about their offensive menu, the owner Phillip Kraal replied “pretty much every one of our customers enjoys the written menu as part of their overall experience.”

That speaks to the inspiration behind our show Go Home Curry Muncha. We aim to playfully challenge such questionable experience of Asian cuisine provided by white-owned restaurants. We hope to do this through spoken word, performance art, a pseudo-Masterchef competition and a documentary.

Tackling gentrification

Recently, we have seen a phenomenal rise in Asian street food-inspired restaurants. The latest addition being Bang Bang China Cafe in the Auckland Viaduct.

One of the owners, O'Brien, said “It's kinda like a Dominion Road dumpling restaurant that's made its way to the Viaduct via Melbourne. It's got a little bit of edge to it.”

Their concept for Bang Bang China is a hole-in-the-wall eatery with peeling walls and mismatched furniture, reminiscent of a humble Dominion Road restaurant. But with an upmarket, hipster vibe. In essence, fetishizing the poor immigrant aesthetic in a gentrified neighbourhood. We feel it mocks the real poverty of minority communities.

In response to these cultural appropriations, we decided to reclaim not only the ethnic slur but also to bring back the authenticity to asian cuisines through bold storytelling in our show.

Food, identity and ancestry

Coming from a Thai-Chinese, and Indian culture, food is closely linked to our identity. Food has special meaning in our religious ceremonies, festivals, weddings and funerals. They are traditions that have been passed down from our ancestors.

When our food is appropriated by white chefs and white-owned restaurants, who use faux cultural aesthetics for a quick buck and claim to reinvent our food, we feel it is an injustice.

No, Gordon Ramsay, it is not okay for you to make a show about aiming to beat foreign chefs at cooking their own cuisine. 

The dominant white culture has systematically oppressed us. Now they want to profit off and enjoy white-washed versions of our food. Without ever being humiliated for it, like when we brought our pungent foreign lunch to school. It's like saying to us, you want our food, but not our people.

There’s nothing wrong with white people consuming our food per se. But it is disrespectful when they claim to be the authority on how to cook and eat our cuisine.

No, Gordon Ramsay, it is not okay for you to make a show about aiming to beat foreign chefs at cooking their own cuisine. No Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules, it is not okay for you to have all white male judges telling Asian chefs how to cook their own food better. Or to stick to their own cuisine. Or to award white chefs for cooking the best asian food.

We have nothing against Asian fusion food. But we would prefer meaningful Asian fusion food created by Asian chefs, showcasing their culinary innovation with new inspirations gained from living in New Zealand .

Join us for our show Go Home Curry Muncha and be treated to banana curry sandwiches, an original fusion recipe from our performer Gemishka Chetty. Her mother used to make it for her school lunch, using bread instead of roti as it was faster to prepare. And as a way to fit in with the other white kids’ sandwiches.

This is the kind of Asian fusion food we are passionate about, born out of love, ingenuity and necessity by Asian Kiwis.

We curry munchas are here to stay and we want  to show you how to cook proper food.

 

Gemishka Chetty and Aiwa Pooamorn present Go Home Curry Muncha at the Basement Theatre carpark on 1 & 2 March at 8pm. Entry by koha.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

27 Feb 2019

The Big Idea Editor

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