Third-culture cuisines: Discovering new genres of fusion cooking

Egg Soldiers explores the exciting rise of third-culture cuisines around the world, dissecting definitions and discussing potential opportunities for future dish development in the UK
Yangban Society food
From Wafu Italian and Korean-American creativity, to Filipino-British bakeries and travel-inspired pan-African spins; third culture cuisine examples are emerging all across the global foodservice scene, from fast-casual comfort food to the echelons of fine dining.

But what exactly is a 'third-culture cuisine'? Well, before we talk in detail about the food, it's important to define what a third-culture chef is, with cultural identity key to the pioneers of what is an exciting, creative food arena.

At its core, the term 'third culture' is used to describe a person's identity – an identity that has been influenced both by their parents' culture (or that of their country of nationality), and the culture in which they've either been raised or have adopted in later years.

Part of this ever-growing cohort of 'third-culture kids' is a new generation of chefs developing bold new dishes and flavour combinations, breaking the shackles of traditional cuisine constructs to unleash new genres driven by unexpected synergies of food cultures.

And while this might just sound like a different way of explaining 'fusion cooking', the reality is more an evolution of culinary authenticity, driven by new definitions of food nostalgia among innovators, delivered to a hungry audience of consumers seeking disruptive, flavour-led eating experiences.

Let's dive in.
Third-culture cuisines: The lowdown
FYN's Yakitori canapé, chicken foie gras and chicken skin, served with tare sauce
"It's the perfect blend between Japanese and South African!"
Image/Quote: @fynrestaurant
Historically, being ‘inauthentic’ in food can have negative connotations.

‘Fusion’ is a term still divisive among diners and chefs alike – it can be gimmicky, or even culturally insensitive. But this isn’t the case with third-culture cuisines. It’s not fusion in the obvious sense, rather displays of uniquely personal culinary inspiration on a plate.

Food is for everyone, and while the idea of a stalwart cuisine classic traditionally stems from single countries (French, Italian, Mexican, for example); this is now very much evolving as new generations of third-culture creators look to share their unique takes on food, with nostalgia and personal experience playing pivotal roles in fuelling their creative juices.
Whole grilled squid (@apu_nena)
For example, Copenhagen pop-up Koan, which combines Korean and Scandinavian flavours, is led by chef Kristian Baumann, who was born in South Korea and adopted by a Danish family.

His menu at Koan is a celebration of Korean heritage, delivered via a Nordic lens, with recent options including fjord shrimp dumplings with red Korean peppers; spicy pepper pork mandu (Korean dumplings) with a broth of mussels, caramelised onions and chilli oil; and Korean twisted doughnuts (kkwabaegi) with pine and salted cream.

Then there's Asian tapas restaurant Apu Nena in Buenos Aires, with chef Christina Sunae channelling her Filipino grandmother's cooking in dishes, paired with her partner Flor Ravioli's Spanish influence (El Bulli, to be precise).

Dishes include Adobo Taquitos with Filipino pork adobo, tomato jam, jalapeños, toasted coconut and fresh shiso; and whole grilled squid with achiote oil, grilled peaches, banana ketchup and huacatay leaves (pictured).
Vietnamese beef tartare served on a roasted marrow bone (@tramtramskitchen)
Tram Tram’s Kitchen is another interesting example.

The brainchild of Vietnamese-born Priscilla Trâm, a lawyer-cum-chef based in Paris; Tram Tram’s is a pioneer of Vietnamese-meets-French.

Trâm’s third-culture creativity is delivering dishes such as Vietnamese beef tartare served on a roasted marrow bone (pictured); chicken wings with nuoc mam lime caramel; and pandan roulé with coconut icing and matcha Chantilly cream.

It’s also worth mentioning that, along with the emergence of new third-culture cuisines, chefs are increasingly exploring the likes of Wafu Italian (Japanese-style Italian) and the broader Yōshoku (Japanese-style Western).

While neither are third-culture concepts by definition, both have similarly disruptive, boundary-breaking qualities, with Wafu specifically a bold merging of Japanese and Italian flavours, techniques and dish styles.

Examples include Robbie Felice of Pasta Ramen, who discovered Wafu Italian while considering new avenues for pop-up restaurant openings.

His Wafu Italian dishes have included truffle porcini ramen; dry-aged yakitori polpetti; and sesame uni ramen carbonara – with the decadent marriage of two of the world’s most loved cuisines, expertly delivered by Felice, earning Pasta Ramen rave reviews across the US.

So, what of third-culture cuisine in the UK? Here are three of the innovators currently making waves in London.
Food Trend to Food Concept

What to expect:

  • Understand the state-of-play with Asian-inspired chicken with an expert-led overview, innovator examples, and a spotlight on potential opportunity areas for the UK market.

  • Journey with us through fried/breaded chicken seasoning opportunities, exploring viable retail applications and digesting analysis.

  • Discover a brand-new retail seasoning concept as an example of our 'trend to concept' methodology, with the team discussing ingredient builds and suitability for the UK market.

  • Understand possible range expansions, backed up by AI-led product concept showcases.

Tatale, London
Plantain Cheesecake (@tataleandco)
At Tatale in Southwark, Ghanaian-British chef Akwasi Brenya-Mensa offers a range of ‘contemporary pan-African’ dishes influenced by his childhood in London, as well as his travels across Europe and Africa.

His third-culture creations have included calabash rice pudding with hibiscus poached pear, orange and lotus dust; ackee croquettes with a curry emulsion; black eyed bean hummus; chichinga buttermilk fried chicken wings; and even a plantain cheesecake (pictured).

Panadera, London
Based in North London's Kentish Town, Panadera is a celebration of family-style Filipino baking, infused with elements of UK café culture.

Its Filipino-British menu, which previously included Filipino French Toast, focuses on Filipino Sandos, with creative fillings housed between slices of its fresh panadera milk loaves, served with Thai prawn crackers.

These include a corned beef hash with béchamel; panko chicken and mushroom; and a number of breakfast-centric options, such as the egg, cheese and tomato compote 'Classic'.

A leading light in London's third-culture cuisine movement, Ixta Belfrage is the former protégé of Yotam Ottolenghi and recently released her debut cookbook, Mezcla.

She describes the book as "a collection of 100 bold, fusion recipes inspired by cuisines from all over the world but with a special emphasis on my Italian, Brazilian and Mexican upbringing", with her favourite Mezcla recipe being the prawn and habanero lasagne.

A prolific pop-up collaborator, the London-based Ixta recently showcased her uniquely multi-layered cooking style at Clapton Craft Depot in east London with dishes such as Cachorros-quentes (Brazilian-style hot dogs) and Acarajes (Bahian black eyed pea fritters stuffed with prawns and salsa).
Action points for 2023 (and beyond)
  • Collaborate away
    As a starting point, collaborations with third-culture chefs could prove successful, be it through dedicated events, special menu options, or a pop-up.

    Involving the innovators themselves will ensure you remain respectful in this space, and give potential ventures solid foundations.
  • Make your own mark?
    The third-culture cuisine arena isn't a closed door, so consider your own origins or, indeed, those of chefs on your books.

    Nostalgic, comforting flavours, dishes and ingredients can serve as a canvas for culinary innovation here, with playfulness and bold flavour pairings resonating with experience-hunting diners.

    Could there be an opportunity for an original, third-culture interpretation inspired by your personal experiences?
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