When I moved to Atlanta in 1973, I was invited to an old-fashioned Southern barbecue.
Not knowing how “old-fashioned” this event was, I brought a batch of my pizzelles, which were always a big hit back home because they require a special iron and are very time consuming to make.
When I placed them on the table, an elderly lady exclaimed, “Why, looky here! Susan brought us some northern cookies.”
“Actually, they’re Italian,” I said.
“Oh, my! We didn’t know you’re Italian,” she replied.
“I’m not,” I answered.
“Well, why in the world would anyone make Italian cookies if they’re not Italian?” she asked, as if that was the craziest thing in the world.
I later realized that for these people, anything other that grits, greens or black-eyed peas was considered to be foreign cuisine and it was all that they could do to conceive of something non-Southern, much less cross-cultural.
I didn’t think much about it until 1983 when a Greek family in Lilburn opened a pizza shop. Not only did they give it the Greek name of Colossus, but they used two kinds of Greek flour for the dough and topped it with feta cheese. People who aren’t Italian making Italian food? In the South?
Well, it wasn’t long before we started seeing other non-Italians getting in on the act creating Mexican pizza with jalapenos and Hawaiian pizza with pineapple. And then someone coined the term “fusion” for this style of cooking that blends cuisines from different cultures and restaurants started featuring these new-fangled entrees.
As they say in the South, I really get tickled by some of these combinations. For example, The Chinese Wok Express in Lilburn has been serving up authentic Asian cuisine for more than 15 years. But the owner Chen Jia has added a little cultural diversity to the menu: Chinese gyros. He stuffs Greek pita bread with chicken, beef or shrimp, which can be topped with either his special Asian sauce or Teriyaki sauce. And for the purists, he also offers traditional Greek gyros with lamb.
Eric Nguyen, whose name is even an interesting ethnic blend, recently opened a Vietnamese restaurant in Lilburn called Pho Delight, which offers a variety of exotic drinks and desserts, including Vietnamese coffee, a special coconut drink and freshly made avocado shakes. But Nguyen also adds a little Southern flair to the menu.
He takes fresh corn straight off the cob and sweetens it with sugar and coconut cream to make a pudding. But nothing could create more of a melting pot of culture and cuisine than his pudding made of taro mixed with — y’all are gonna’ love this — black-eyed peas.
Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. You can send her more fusion stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.