Not long ago, I came across this guest post, by food writer Andrea Nguyen on Mark Bittman's Web site, in which she writes about RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen. According to Nguyen's description, this restaurant seems to defy all odds —it's huge, located in a mall in Los Angeles and was opened by the Cheesecake Factory — churning out good Southeast Asian food. Nguyen spoke with the Singaporean chef, Mohan Ismail, who explained how he changed some aspects of the dishes that he makes in order to better match the American palate. That might offend the foodies seeking out "authentic" food. Yet Ismail also uses strong Asian ingredients, such as fish sauce, that just really can't be substituted. And what's the result? A mix of customers:
What surprised me most about RockSugar was its clientele. There were the corporate suits from Century City law offices, young couples on dates, but also groups of Asians, some multigenerational. Some spoke Asian languages; an Indian man discussing a special event with Ismail. Everyone was having a good time.
The question Nguyen tries to raise in all this is whether Asian food can be mainstreamed while still maintaining authenticity. To me, finding the common road produces a type of food that falls into a category all its own.