We have truly become a global village. As recently as 50 years ago, Italian and Chinese food were considered exotic in many parts of this country. In fact, you would have been hard-pressed to find any kind of ethnic restaurant outside of a big city. Now, thanks to the popularity of televised cooking programs, the Internet and the influx of immigrants who have added so much to our culture and communities (take that, Donald!) in the past decades, you can find almost any cuisine from any part of the world.
Of course, immigrants often had to adapt their family’s recipes to accommodate the availability of products in their area. As they opened restaurants, they sometimes had to alter their classic dishes to make them more palatable to local tastes. A perfect example of this is the Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich. The traditional version is made with head cheese, liver pate and Vietnamese sausage on a baguette, that’s a little too outré for American palates, so now you can find versions made with Chinese BBQ pork, avocado or even BBQ brisket!
Vietnamese cuisine itself is a perfect example of fusion cuisine. After years of the French occupation of what was then known as Indo-China, the techniques of French cooking and French ingredients became a part of the traditional Asian recipes. The food of modern Indonesia is a blend of the local culture’s original dishes and those of the Dutch colonialists. The popularity of Indian and Pakistani food in England is another example of early colonizers bringing home foreign dishes and cooking techniques. Even something as ubiquitous as Tex-Mex fare, finds its roots in the fusion of cultures of the two neighboring territories. Say what you want about the evils of early colonialism, there’s no debating that we got some great dishes out of the practice.
Although the term “fusion cuisine” was coined by chef Richard Wing, who in the 1960s combined French and Chinese cooking techniques and recipes at his Imperial Dynasty restaurant in Hanford, California, it was Wolfgang Puck who spurred the popularity with his trendy Santa Monica restaurant Chinois on Main in the 1980s.
The trend has now expanded with chefs deliberately creating recipes which fuse together a variety of cuisines. Among the most popular of these are those that pair up dishes of Southeast Asia (India, Pakistan and Thailand) with Latin cuisines. At first you might think this an odd pairing, but keep in mind that many dishes in those countries feature extensive use of chiles and peppers. There are Asian immigrants in much of South America, for example, Peru has a large Japanese population, so Latin and Japanese fusion cuisine is to be expected. In the end, does it really matter how fusion cuisine came about, when the results are so delicious?
Viva Tokyo Mexican and Japanese
1538 E Commercial Blvd., Oakland Park
A prime example of how beautifully the flavors of two cultures can blend can be found at Viva Tokyo in Oakland Park. When Cristina Ardon and Rudi Lopez opened their new restaurant about a year ago, they were no strangers to fusion cuisine; they’d already had great success with El Guanaco, which features a menu that blends together their Mexican and Salvadorian cultures. Okay, so the cuisines of those two countries are not that disparate, but they were still very successful in blending the ingredients into tasty comestibles. After seven years, they were ready to expand their focus and the results are fantastic. A recent revamp of their menu is an indicator of how comfortable they are with their new focus. There’s no confusion in this fusion.
Entering what used to house a fast food chain (there’s still evidence of a drive up window on one side of the building) you’d have no idea of the pleasant surprises that await you inside, from the cheery décor and service to the fabulous fare that is as attractive as it is delicious. The spicy tuna burrito features sushi-grade tuna, field greens, cilantro, cucumber, carrots avocado and spicy mayo rolled in a 10" flour tortilla. They even toss in a little Korean kimchee to amplify the spice and fusion levels. Shrimp tempura tacos feature perfectly cooked, crispy, fried shrimp topped with red cabbage. Wasabi-infused guacamole and spicy mayo add a little heat to the three corn tortilla confections. The dishes are $12 alone, add a couple of bucks and you’ll get a side of rice and beans.
Viva Tokyo's hibachi specials are served with miso soup or house salad, grilled vegetables and a choice of steamed rice or fried rice brown rice. You may also choose steak or shrimp as your protein or go vegan with grilled veggies. Teriyaki dishes are also available with a number of protein options and are accompanied by a choice of miso soup or house salad, rice and steamed veggies. Most entrees are priced between $12 and $16 and offer large portions.
If you prefer sushi, there are rolls aplenty to pique your interest, all beautifully prepared and presented with artistic flair. The spider roll features soft shell crab, Masago, avocado, asparagus and a light touch of Japanese mayo. The triangular roll is twice the size you’ll see at most places, and although priced at $12 is more than enough for a light meal. If you can’t decide what to order, there are plenty of combo options, all served with a choice of miso or salad. For a nice sampler, check out the bento box; smaller portions (four pieces each) of the JB and California roll, three slices of sushi, two planks of tempura chicken, two tempura shrimp, assorted tempura vegetables and chicken teriyaki for $13. Viva Tokyo is proof that quantity and quality can coexist on the same plate.
If you’re looking for some other examples of fusion cuisine in the area, check out these places.
401 E. Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale
Peruvian-Japanese fare for those times when you can't decide between sushi or ceviche, with additional locations in Miami and Miami Beach.
3330 E. Oakland Park, Fort Lauderdale
Seafood dishes that blend the flavors of Asia and the Mediterranean, specifically Greece.
Hot & Soul
3045 N. Federal, Fort Lauderdale
Filipino meets Cajun/Creole in this unassuming strip mall storefront with major flavors and fabulous service.