April 6, 2019

Food for Thought

What I appreciate in food isn’t necessarily that it’s new, different, unique, or even creative, but that it means something for the person cooking it. If the point was to make something new, you could randomly combine ingredients, and you could even make it taste good by tweaking a few things. Voila! You have something new. This is exactly why most people hate “fusion” and why the term is rarely used these days. Mathematically speaking, creating something new is very easy. As much as we think we are drawn to new things, newness alone isn’t interesting. Breaking rules is often touted as a virtue in the creative industry. But again, mathematically speaking, there are literally countless ways to break rules.

Pictured above is instant noodles with fried eggs, ham, and greens. There is nothing particularly new or original about it, but what I find meaningful is its symbolic dimensions. This Hong Kong style cafe did not choose instant noodle because its the cheapest noodle they can source. The fact that it’s instant means something to the owners, and the fact that they serve it in the US also has symbolic and even political significance. I don’t exactly know what emotions and memories are evoked in the minds of Hong Kong expats, but I can at least sense that it has historical significance for those who order it. For me, it’s a gateway into that unknown world.

On its face, serving instant noodles in a restaurant is absurd as it was invented to eliminate the need for cooking. Why have someone else, especially a professional cook, make it for you? This absurdity alone would prevent most cooks from considering it as an ingredient. But it wasn’t the prospect of breaking this rule that inspired this cafe. The inspiration, I would guess, was much more down-to-earth and personal. They weren’t trying to think outside the box. Something of the cook comes through when I stare at it. In the end, isn’t that what all artists are trying to do? To have their creations reflect some aspects of who they are?

Just because something is technically new, different, or qualitatively superior, doesn’t mean it has any soul. It’s the latter that counts.