The Rise of Ethnic Mashup Cuisine
Merging Global Fares Adds Variety & Spice
When I briefly moved to New York in the mid-1990s, one of my most memorable experiences was dining at an East Village eatery specializing in Cuban and Chinese cuisine.
It was wild.
An oversized, colorful Chinese dragon loomed over diners’ heads as lively Latin music boomed throughout the space. The menu, of course, showcased the best of both cuisines, from spicy egg rolls to arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) filled with exotic Asian vegetables.
It’s called ethnic mashup or fusion and 20 years later, it continues to thrive and expand in all forms across the country. At Booty’s Street Food in New Orleans, owners Nick Vivion and Kevin Farrell showcase one of the more extreme examples of ethnic mashup. As a former travel journalist, Vivion and his culinary team jet across the globe on a regular basis to explore the best of street food.
Booty’s food and cocktail menus change often, so an ideal way for diners to experience the cuisine is through the tasting menus. They’ll be able to graze on Nigerian black-eyed pea fritters, Korean dumplings, shrimp tacos from Tijuana, Mexico, and more in one sitting. What sets the restaurant apart from most mashups is that for months at a time, Booty’s chefs will cook in different locations, thereby gaining first-hand knowledge and experience of the cuisine.
While Booty’s was born out of a love for travel and the exploration of international cuisine, Chicago-based Fogo 2 Go was based on the owners’ personal experiences and childhood memories.
It’s owned by husband-and-wife team Brad and Daniela Kollars, and the concept is Brazilian-and-Italian inspired. Their first date occurred at a similar restaurant in São Paulo, Brazil, which is home to hundreds of pizzerias and trattorias. According to the couple, millions of Italian descendants call Brazil home with the majority residing in
Fogo 2 Go’s concept may be a common sighting in São Paulo, but in Chicago — which is also home to hundreds of Italian restaurants — it’s unique. The menu features traditional Italian meat and vegetarian pizzas, all made in a 600-degree brick oven, but also specialty Brazilian pies.
The Brazilian-born Daniela has taken many of her Italian-born grandfather’s recipes to develop a number of signature pizzas that all contain his “secret” red sauce and topped with Catupiry cheese that’s imported
Sometimes it takes up to a month for the Catupiry cheese to arrive to the restaurant, but it’s worth it, says a manager, adding that the Brazilian pizzas are in much demand. Customers’ first visit to the venue also allows them to explore the rest of the menu, which includes Brazilian charbroiled chicken, Brazilian-style empanadas filled with chicken and mashed potatoes, and kibe (a Brazilian/Lebanese treat filled with ground beef, bulgur wheat and spices).
The well-loved Mexican cuisine takes many forms, from Rick Bayless’ Michelin-starred sensation Topolobampo to the fast-casual chain Chipotle. At Tijuana Picnic, a New York newcomer that opened last fall, the focus is chef-driven Mexican fare amped with Asian flavors.
Ensuring its authenticity is established restaurateur Huy Chi Le, who owns the restaurant with partners Jon Neidich and Jean-Marc Houmard, and Mexican chef Alex Lopez. Lopez has worked extensively with Asian and Latin cuisines.
Tijuana Picnic, as its name suggests, is whimsical, and price points are considerably lower than the group’s French-Vietnamese restaurant Indochine and New American/Nordic-inspired Acme. Owners say the casual Tijuana Picnic was created to appeal to younger audiences eager for adventurous eating in a lounge-like setting.
Large plates such as a coconut-marinated pork chop accompanied by Thai spice chimichurri sauce are served family style, while pinchos arrive as skewers filled with meat and Asian accents like kimchi and green yuzo kosho.
There’s a tremendous amount of range and creativity fueling the ethnic mashup restaurant scene today. And the sky’s the limit for operators going forward.