From Japanese to Mexican, we all love iconic cuisines. But the most genius chefs can bridge the culture gap through food, taking classic flavours of multiple cuisines and mashing them up to create something entirely new – and totally delicious. While it’s not easy to merge different culinary traditions into one menu, there are few chefs who have struck the perfect balance. From modern Indigenous food to Jewish-Japanese and Korean-Colombian fusions, here are five chefs harmonising culture through food.
Inez Cook – Salmon n’ Bannock
As the only Indigenous-owned and operated restaurant in Vancouver, Salmon n’ Bannock offers up a very special culinary experience. Owner and chef, Inez Cook, spent months learning about First Nation ingredients and cooking techniques, then built an incredible menu. Cook skillfully showcases traditional cooking methods like smoking and preserving food. She also uses traditional, seasonal Indigenous foods like bannock, bison, wild sockeye salmon, wild boar, game meats, Ojibway wild rice, wild huckleberries, and maple syrup.
Cook says the restaurant doesn’t represent any specific First Nation, but it’s a celebration of First Nation culture and food. She’s also taken these traditional foods and put a modern spin on them. You can tuck into a rich Pemmican Mousse, where dried bison is mixed with cream cheese, sage-blueberries, and toasted bannock. Or dig into the Urban Salmon Burger, with wild sockeye salmon served with her signature bannock, house-made pickles, and lemon aioli. The salmon is marinaded and smoked using dry white sage, a sacred herb used in smudging practices in many Indigenous ceremonies. You can even order the bannock and eat it scone-like with butter and berry jam, or topped with mushrooms, melted brie, bison gravy, and sage-blueberries.
Cook is proudly reclaiming her Indigenous heritage and making Salmon n’Bannock a place where people can bridge the culture gap and learn about Canada’s First Nations people through food. She’s blending the best of Indigenous food and culture with modern twists to create something so soulful, you won’t find it anywhere else.
You can visit Salmon n’ Bannock on our Majesty of the Rockies luxury guided tour, where you’ll break bannock over a delicious Celebration Lunch.
Noriki & Misa Tamura – Japadog
What happens when you take quintessential American street food and infuse it with Japanese flavours? You get Japadog – a hotdog with a unique Japanese-Canadian twist. When Noriki Tamura and his wife Misa immigrated to Vancouver in 2005, they dreamed of opening a food truck. At the time, hot dogs were the only food permitted to be sold on the streets of Vancouver. So they came up with something so distinctly delicious, it inspired a wave of fusion street food across North America.
They merged their Japanese heritage into the hot dog, with mouthwatering toppings like shredded nori, teriyaki sauce, and Japanese mayo. They even twisted the humble hot dogs into variants of Japanese foods like teriyaki, tonkatsu, and yakisoba. There’s the Okonomi, a version of the iconic Japanese pancake, okonomiyaki, with kurobuta sausage and bonito flakes. Or the Oroshi, with grated radish and soy sauce. You can even get fries or dessert, with ice cream tucked into a deep-fried bun.
Japadog became so popular, they now dish out their fusion delights at multiple locations across Vancouver and California. But you can still find their original food truck, parked on the corner of Burrard and Smithe Streets near the Sutton Place Hotel.
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Aaron Israel & Sawako Okochi – Shalom Japan
Williamsburg, New York, USA
When co-owners Sawako Okochi and her husband Aaron Israel got together in 2013 to merge their culinary traditions and prowess, they filled a culture gap with one of the most unique food fusions.
Shalom Japan serves up an Eastern European Jewish-Japanese amalgamation, with delicious dishes like matzoh ball ramen with foie gras dumpling, and challah bread made with sake yeast. Dig into a mouthwatering lox ball with salmon roe, Japanese pickle, rice, cucumber and avocado.
You can even sample a blended whiskey, like The Macallan Double Cask. It combines American oak casks with European sherry casks for a smooth, classic drop. With its cosy atmosphere and soul-warming fusion food, Shalom Japan is one-of-a-kind.
OG Chino – Escala K-town Restaurant & Bar
Los Angeles, USA
Born in South Korea, OG Chino moved to Bogota, Colombia, when he was three years old. When he was 11, he and his family moved to Los Angeles and settled in the city’s Koreatown. Today, he runs Escala K-town, the Colombian-Korean restaurant and bar in LA’s now bustling Koreatown. With strong connections to his cultural roots, OG Chino drew on the best of both Korean and Colombian cuisine, seamlessly blending Asian and Latin flavours.
The restaurant has become a firm favourite since its opening in 2012. You can satisfy your cravings with empanadas filled with kimchee and chorizo fried rice. Or get the slow-roasted, Korean beef ribs with sweet guava BBQ sauce and coconut creamed corn. As you indulge in the dreamy mash-ups, you’ll be surrounded by whimsical decor and music flowing from the DJ booth; a nod to OJ Chino’s DJ background in the hip-hop music industry.
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Will Turner – Blaxican
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Created by Will Turner in 2010, Blaxican is a food truck and restaurant concept bridging a culture gap and blending the best of Southern soul food and Mexican food. “Blaxican” is a slang word that describes people of both African American and Mexican descent. Turner says it’s the perfect word to describe his food as he is mixing up the traditions of both cuisines and cultures.
The result? A soul-warming menu of mergers like his famous Georgia Quesadilla. It’s made with smoked turkey, collard greens, cojita cheese and diced onions. There’s also the BBQ steak tacos and the tasty Hot Mac & Cheese, with jalapeños, sweet onions, and both Mexican and American cheese. From the Philly nachos to the buffalo chicken tacos, this is a cross-cultural foodie paradise. Turner’s food truck roves around the city of Atlanta, so be sure to check out his food truck calendar to snag a taco or two.
Where are your favourite fusion food experiences? Let us know in the comments below…