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Dubious Gastronomy by Robert Ji-Song Ku
by: Robert Ji-Song Ku
Universiy of Hawaii Press 2014, $42.00, Hardbound
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(3) page(s): 19
Six chapters come after the introduction in this book which is without any recipes. They are in three parts titled: Inauthentic Gastronomy, Disreputable Gastronomy, and Artificial Gastronomy. The book is subtitled: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the USA. It has a few b/w photographs, chapter notes, a half dozen-page glossary of food terms, twice that many pages in its bibliography, and an eleven-page two-column index. We found these last items most valuable.
The chapters are titled: California Roll, Chinese Take Out, Kimchi, Dogmeat, Monosodium Glutamate, and SPAM (capitalization, the author's). The middle two chapters are in Part II, the others before and after it. The author prides himself on being a once-upon-a-time Ph.D student in English, and he does delight in correcting things used by others be they about food or language. Some of his ideas we found preposterous, others stuffy, some standard, and some problematic in syntax.
In the chapter about Chinese take-out, as in others, he enjoys challenging what he calls authenticity using phrases such as 'Chinese food is an alien presence in America.' He says 'Asians are perpetual foreigners in America,' and one does get clues that he feels one among them. His chapter about kimchi, his native food, fares no better. His mother-in-law's purchase of this common Korean food has no chili peppers in it and was not red; he implies that is a sin.
As a lover of Asian foods, I found the text loaded with bashing Asian foods and Asians who love it differently from those in his home country. His need to separate chili from pepper is a simplistic need of understanding that is missing. Why he deems foods dubious, their culinary presence watered down or debased, is not clearly explained. Many, including this editor, wish they were.