The case of the Momofuku Gwa-Bao

[en] Last week, an article (link to archived post) titled “Is it Fair for Chefs to Cook Other Cultures’ Foods?” created quite a commotion online. I don’t want to debate about it, but jump to a point Eddie Huang brought up:

A huge part of the reason I opened Baohaus is because everyone thought Momofuku pork buns were the original and it pissed me off. I’d been eating them since I was a kid, I knew they were from Taiwan and no one stuck up for us so I did.  If you don’t defend the things that matter to you, no one will. Why do Asians like myself care so much about their food culture? It’s all we have to be proud of in this country! A lot of these ABCs don’t even speak Chinese, they’ve lost their tongue, all they have is this food. It matters. It matters a lot.

Bless you Eddie! Thanks for speaking up. The pork buns are actually casual cheap street food in Taiwan, so what a surprise it was to see them get the limelight at Momofuku, and then have people raving about this “new dish” that is the pork bun. There’s nothing wrong with David Chang serving pork buns, but it is an issue when people start to believe he invented it. The pork bun, originaly known as gwa-bao (割包) is a dish inspired by Fuzhou cuisine and perfected by Chinese immigrants settled in Taiwan. Proving Eddie right, Taiwanese people take their food so seriously that the government even launched a website dedicated to it last year, with a page devoted to the gwa-bao.

Originally, I hesitated to react to the controversial article, but I later happened to run across an article which compelled me to write this piece. The article featured on the Huffington Post is named “Momofuku Pork Buns Go Three Michelin Stars”, :shock:, the author shares his staging experience at La Maison Troigros, a three Michelin stars restaurant in France, and details about that one time he made those pork buns for the staff meal. He ends his narration with:

Success! After some nervousness, temporary fear of failure, and a little help from Florent with the dough, the pork buns turned out great. I’m pretty sure David Chang would be proud knowing that a three stars Michelin restaurant is totally digging his creation. I doubt the pork buns will be making the menu here anytime soon but if any of you know the mastermind behind this dish, you must let him know the French have a new delight.

Reading this, how can you not feel that Taiwan is being robbed of its food culture? It is upsetting, even more because it is Taiwan, a country which fights to exist on the international scene as an independent state, despite pressure from mainland China, and partly rely on their food to achieve that exposure. Anyway, end of the political rant.

I think it’s great chefs venture into sharing foreign cuisine, but they could share or at least hint at the origin of their culinary inspiration, that could be done as simply as keeping the original dish name on the menu. As for food-writers, they can keep writing  “new” and “creative” stories but I would not mind them delving further into the food’s culture.

Eddie: We are a society that praises the student with no regard or respect for the master.

Francis: CONFUCIOUS AIN’T NEVER COME HERE.

Eddie:  As much as I hate Confucius, there should be a level of respect and tribute paid for the people who schooled you.

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