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Cultural Hybridity, Fast and Slow

Popolamama: “Japan’s No. 1 Fresh Pasta” (first sampled in Jakarta)

A few years ago my family ate pizza and fresh pasta at a branch of Popolamama in Jakarta. It was very enjoyable – better than a lot of the pasta and pizza available in Indonesia – but the flavours leant a bit sweeter than what I think of as normal (ha!) for Italian food. We’d stumbled in a side entrance with a hungry young child in tow, so it took me a while to look more closely at the menu and discover that Popolamama is a Japanese chain of Italian restaurants, now exported to Indonesia. So the chain is at least a second-order cultural export (Italy – Japan; Japan – Indonesia)- or possibly even fourth-order (see below) – assuming that we agree to overlook the original importing of pasta-making into Italy.

Another chain here – Tout Les Jours – is an “authentic bakery” selling croissants and a huge range of baked goods, some delicious, some surprising… and it’s Korean. A Korean team were crowned winners of the Coupe du Monde de Boulangerie in 2016 (Taiwan was second, France third). A team from China won in 2020, followed by Japan and Denmark. Japanese chefs have been winning World Pastry Cup-type competitions since at least 1991 (and have presumably been making excellent croissants for decades). How much of these competitions are (have always been?) about marketing to expanding markets using false notions of authenticity is up for debate. Suffice to say that there’s a lot of cross-pollination going on: there are Korean bakery chains in Paris and American-style Chinese retaurants in Shanghai.

This is fun. I’ve long been of the opinion that a better choice than being snobby about authenticity (ha!) is to regard each variant (e.g. American style (or should that be New York or Chicago-style) pizza, British Indian, Indonesian Chinese food, Tex-Mex, Japanese Italian) as its own cuisine. You can have preferences based on flavour and the overall dining experience, but moaning about authencity is a waste of time. Find what’s good! Enjoy it on its own terms.

This brings me to today’s links:

Fast Food

H.D. Miller’s claim for the American invention of what we think of as pizza is a cracking exploration of food and cultural hybridity featuring banjos, straw hats, Neapolitan sailors (“Saying pizza is Italian is like saying haggis is British…”) and American soldiers, with a sprinkle of technological innovation thrown in. (via MR)

You could spend a long time on The Food Timeline exploring this… you may be surprised at how new many of our classic recipes are. (hat-tip to The Whippet)

Slow Rock

This Guardian article about Stonehenge is also tremendous. Tim Adams examines Stonehenge as the physical product of 1,500 years of cultural hybridity and technological evolution, and as a cultural product of 2,000+ years of use and interpretation.

“One new certainty is that Celtic druids, who appeared about 2,000 years after the stones were erected, played no part in the genesis of the monument whatsoever.”


It’s not as if our cultures are carved in stone.

See also:

Zen Hae on cross-pollination, imitation and innovation in Indonesian Peranakan literature
Choose What You Want (on the ‘authentic’ watermelon, hybridity and selective breeding)
Hybrids (1) (John Stuart Mill on diversity)
Hybrids (2): combinations and connections (Tim O’Reilly on Combinatorial Innovation)
Hybrids (3): when ideas breed (Kevin Kelly on Combinatorial Innovation)
Matt Ridley: 15 principles of innovation from “How Innovation Works”
Tom Peters: “What Diversity Problem?”
Technology (16): Clustering Technologies, Clustering People (v2)

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...