Professor Paul Freedman – University of Copenhagen

Food, Feeding, and Eating In and Out of Asia

7th Annual International ADI Conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative, University of Copenhagen
24-26 June 2015

Professor Paul Freedman, Yale University

Paul Freedman is Professor of History at Yale University. He earned his Ph.D. from the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.
Prior to coming to Yale in 1997, he taught at Vanderbilt University. Amongst other things, he specializes in the history of cuisine. He is the editor of 
Food: The History of Taste a and author of a book on the demand for spices in medieval Europe entitled Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination.

Abstract: Asian Restaurants in London and New York

The cuisine of both the UK and the US have had poor international reputations.  At the same time, they have been unusually diverse in their restaurant offerings as compared to the rest of Europe where, until quite recently, foreign food was limited to high-end French food which served not as anything remotely “ethnic” but as the international standard for elegance.  The paper discusses why “ethnic restaurants,” which began as conveniences or refuges for homesick immigrants, should have become popular with non-native diners.  Beginning in the last decades of the nineteenth century, urban “bohemians,” followed by various sorts of basically middle class people, started to patronize restaurants in neighborhoods like London’s Soho or New York’s Greenwich Village to eat at inexpensive but colorful restaurants serving foreign cuisine.

Certain kinds of foreign cuisine were particularly favored--- Italian in both Britain and the US, for example.  But there has been a divergence in the favor accorded to the leading Asian cuisines (or what passed for their cuisines) with Chinese restaurants in the U.S. as by far the most popular species of ethnic restaurants and Indian as so much a part of British identity that in 2001 the foreign secretary could maintain that chicken tikka masala was the country’s de facto national dish.

I would like to look at the evolution of these cuisines, how different they are from what immigrants themselves preferred, and the adaptations made to British and American tastes.  I also propose to discuss the ways in which historically affection for Chinese or Indian food failed to translate into any particularly strong discourse of cultural pluralism and appreciation.  I would like to show how the success of such restaurants is not merely a consequence of immigration but a particular cultural phenomenon.