Finding the Fusion

How blended cuisines are shaping San Francisco’s diversity and food culture.

Food creates a sense of community for multicultural families in the Bay Area. Families gather and celebrate their own unique cultural recipes. But what if some cuisines we think are from one culture, were actually influenced by others?

On this episode of the Bleed, Xpress Magazine editors Abraham Fuentes and Justine Brady explore the future of fusion food and its influence from San Francisco’s diverse population.

Abraham Fuentes: Hello this is Abraham Fuentes and

Justine Brady: Justine Brady

AF: So we both love trying different foods from around the world. One of my favorite foods would be tacos al pastor and ramen.

JB: You know, it’s really hard for me to pick my favorite food because I feel like it changes all the time. But I really love the wide variety of flavors that are in Asian cuisines.

AF: Yeah, I think one of the most beautiful aspects of food is the diversity it has in our world. Even though it’s separated by distance, humans have always found a way to connect throughout food. Justine came up with the idea to explore food fusion in the Bay Area and what will happen to it in the future. Food fusion combines elements of different culinary traditions that originate from different countries, regions or cultures. Could you explain this story to the audience?

JB: I am someone who identifies as multicultural. So I thought of this story because the way I have been able to connect with San Francisco is by trying all different kinds of foods. San Francisco is very diverse, and I wanted to explore that relationship between its diversity and food. Reuters reported that Hispanics will be the majority population in California by 2042. As of 2021, over 14% of Californians identify as “two or more races.”

I wanted some expertise, so I spoke with Tim Shaw. He’s a chef and professor at SF State. He says that many dishes that we think come from a specific culture, are actually influenced by other cultures in one way or another.

Tim Shaw: Tacos al pastor was started when a bunch of Lebanese immigrants came to Mexico and brought their cooking process of the vertical rotisserie. But now we have all these flavors of chilies and pineapples, which you don’t have in the Middle East.

JB: The term fusion was adopted by chefs in recent years to make their blended meals stand out more… even if the fusion of ingredients has been happening since the beginning of time. But in reality, many dishes we think come from one culture were more than likely created as the result of colonialism. Even Horchata, a sweet and creamy, cinnamon-flavored rice milk beverage, that is associated with Spanish culture, was originally from North Africa.

TS: So Spain is a great jumping off point of food coming from the Middle East, through Africa, to Europe, and then to the rest of the world.

AF: In the City, it’s easy to get different types of foods…like Sushi burritos to Indian Pizzas. One place amongst all fusion places rises to the top with their exciting meals. Señor Sisig brings Filipino and Mexican cuisine together. 

Evan Kidera: I come from, you know, my dad’s from Japan, he’s an immigrant first generation came here, open restaurants, did sushi, so I grew up in food.

AF: That’s Evan Kidera. He’s the Co-Founder of Señor Sisig. He first came up with the idea to open an Asian-fusion taco truck in the Bay after taking a trip to Los Angeles and saw how big the demand was for Korean tacos. After becoming inspired from that trip, Kidera and his future business partner Gil Payumo, began experimenting with different flavor combinations like soy sauce, vinegar and sugar.

EK: We had the idea of coming up with Filipino, what we call kind of fusion is how we marketed and branded food. And back in 2009, and so that’s really when we conceptualized the idea.

AF: Kidera and Payumo started the business as a food truck over a decade ago. They now have multiple brick-and-mortar restaurants in both Oakland and San Francisco.

EK: I grew up here in San Francisco, and just was traveling a lot in my mid 20s, and just saw that there was a big street food culture in a lot of other metropolitan cities, that really didn’t show itself, you know, the same way in San Francisco. And that was something that I didn’t really understand. It was it was like, Why, right? Because I felt like San Francisco, from my perspective, you know, being from here, but also traveling a lot, was a pretty diverse place, if not one of the more diverse places in America, or in the world.

JB: And with that in mind, Senor Sisig was born, gifting the Bay Area with its unique fusion of sisig tacos, burritos, nachos and fries. They have recently expanded their menu to include plant-based fusion meals as well.

JB: Within the last few years, fusion food has become very locally popular. California’s diversity and influence from other cultures, has allowed chefs to experiment with different ingredients to come up with all sorts of concoctions.

AF: Fusion food is definitely an experiment, sometimes it works great and other times, not. But it’s a learning experience for each chef and the process can be rewarding when they come out with something creative and delicious.

JB: One’s culture can play a big influence on new creations of fusion foods. When Kidera was searching for that perfect fusion flavor combination, he turned to business partner and chef, Gil Payumo. Kidera says that Payumo’s background with traditional Filipino cuisines is what inspired Señor Sisig’s fusion menu.

EK: “We chose sisig because sisig is a grilled meat similar to carne asada. When you look at history, you know,  the Philippines was colonized by Spain. Their culture is already influenced by the Spaniards, there’s some shared influence already.”

AF: While fusion food can be thought of as a special blend of cultures into a meal, Tim Shaw, the chef from SF State says there’s also a fine line between culture appreciation and appropriation. Are people actually acknowledging the history of their sources? Or are they appropriating for their own financial gain?

TS: “And there are always people who, you know, think they’re doing something in an appreciative way. And then they get called out on it, being more appropriative.”

“I really tried to get people to see sort of the things we all have in common culturally, rather than the things that that that separates us, or make us different.”

JB: Thanks to the internet and its overwhelming amount of content, the younger generation continues to grow more curious, as they gather inspiration from different foods and cultures, hoping to create that next daring fusion creation.  As fusion food becomes more mainstream in San Francisco, will we continue to see this trend of unexpected flavor combinations in the future?

JB: I’m Justine Brady and Abraham Fuentes and you’ve been listening to Xpress Magazine’s podcast The Bleed. The song featured on this podcast is The Missing 11th by DJ Williams.