he California Bay Area is popularly considered a place of activism, innovation, technology and food. A stroll through Oakland’s Fruitvale District, downtown Berkeley, or San Francisco’s Mission District will lead one through farmers markets, murals, and non-profit programs that may be traced to cultures and ethnicities characterized by movement. What defines Northern California is this cultural history.
While it was in SoCal where the first Filipino and Latino coalitions resulted in the United Farmworkers Association, similar practices were adopted by the pan-racial Third World Liberation Front at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley in the fight for ethnic studies programs. It was in this tradition – using cultural intersection as a means of education – that Chef Evan Kidera found success with Señor Sisig.
“We don’t really hear people outside of the Filipino community saying ‘lets go get Filipino food tonight’…We wanted to bring Filipino food to the masses,” explains Kidera, who co-founded his Filipino-Mexican fusion truck after being inspired by the long lines coursing from the Kogi Korean taco trucks in LA. Despite the fact that Filipino Americans make up the second largest Asian Pacific American population in the United States, its cuisine has yet to become a mainstream concept. While Kogi found its strength in merging two popular cuisines, Kidera discovered that incorporating elements of Mexican food was the perfect gateway to his less-known dishes.
For these concoctions, Kidera doesn’t have to reach far. With shared histories of Spanish colonization, Mexican and Filipino cuisines not only use similar ingredients, but also have common terminology for them. “There is an adobo which is Filipino…they use a lot of garlic and soy sauce, and that’s kind of the same base we use for the Sisig,” continues Kidera. “But there’s Spanish adobo as well, and it’s different, but all ties together. Within language and food and culture, there are a lot of similarities.”
Other cuisines have also found Mexican food to be an effective cultural anchor. Taz Ahmed, a self-described “Indiana Jones of myth cuisine,” points out in her site Sepia Mutiny that the North Bay is home to Avatars, a popular family franchise listed on Yelp in both the “Indian” and “Mexican” categories. “Tostada toppings are served on mini-parathas along with your favorite fresh chutneys topped with cheddar and jack cheeses, yogurt and tamarind sauces,” the menu describes its Punjabi Tostada. Similar restaurants can be found throughout the Bay Area.
In downtown San Francisco, Sushirrito takes yet another approach by merging two concepts (sushi and burritos) while emphasizing the aspects of both cuisines that were popularized in America. The modern burrito is argued to have been invented in the California Central Valley, and sushi gained a household reputation in the U.S. only after raw fish was replaced or accompanied by avocado and cooked meats. Capitalizing on this, Sushirrito self-describes its food as “Asian and Latin-infused” by incorporating ingredients such as chicken katsu, purple Peruvian potatoes, jalapeños, and various types of sashimi – served burrito-style in rice and seaweed. While it may be a challenge to find the result in either Mexico or Japan, one could conclude that it’s authentically Californian.
Because Northern California serves as both a culinary destination and a migration hub, cultural intersections like these may seem more intuitive. As Gourmet Intersection expands further from the coast, we’ll explore areas where Asian-Latino crossings are perhaps less likely, but still delicious.
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