gastronomic orientalism

Natalie and I had dinner with my parents (and my brother and sister-in-law) last night. They live on Sydney’s upper North Shore, which — even though I lived there for 8 years — consistently gives me culture shock. The last few times we visited it was a new restaurant/fast food franchise that did it — Noodle Blast. The slogan plastered on their sign, just below the restaurant name is: ‘what asians love in asia’.

Wow! It’s hard not to take that as the gastronomic equivalent of ‘they all look the same to me’, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of Anglicised asian restaurants out there — often in country towns — which market themselves as Chinese, Malasian and Thai (or some combination thereof). But they’re usually owned by Chinese (or Malasian or Thai) people doing their best to carve out a niche and make a living by serving up as many as possible different options acceptable to Anglo  palates.

What makes Noodle Blast different is the way the influence seems — I have no way of verifying this — to run in the opposite direction. Unlike your typical country town ‘asian’ restaurant, it positions itself as being less about rendering authentic dishes acceptable to Western tastebuds, and more about providing a generic ‘Oriental’ experience — where any differences between the cultures represented are flattened out.

Ultimately, it’s like a bad parody of the ’boutique multiculturalism’ Stanley Fish writes about in The Trouble With Principle (an enormously significant book for me, which I first picked up a number of years ago after reading an earlier version of this review by Michael Jensen). The Noodle Blast slogan feels all the more grotesque because of its apparent lack of irony.

Edward Said* would be turning in his grave!

* Said wrote Orientalism, the famous exploration of the dynamics of Western attempts to imagine, dominate and domesticate its exotic ‘other’, the Orient.

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