Feasts on the move

Globalisation and an increasingly connected world means that previously exotic foodstuffs are now travelling across seas and borders to be embraced by all nationalities. Ting Guo reports

How do we appreciate, maintain and reflect on our own local cuisine in the face of globalisation? More importantly, how do we introduce the culinary legacy of one’s own culture to the wider world without compromising its authenticity?

Enjoying an authentic Arabic wedding banquet in Yiwu, having fresh-out-the-steamer buns and Taiwanese bubble tea in London, using a hashtag to locate a burger truck, and eating traditional Emirati snacks in a fashionable takeaway cup from a food van… These mouth-watering scenes echo concepts such as “globalisation” and “glocalisation”.

Globalisation denotes the interdependence and exchange of worldviews, products, ideas and other cultural elements on an international scale. Under its influence, regional food is brought to different places, gaining new tastes and appearances for entirely different lines of customers, as seen from KFC’s Peking duck wrap, and McDonald’s black pepper beef bento. 

#findsalt dubai
A burger truck in the UAE uses the hashtag #findsalt to alert customers to its next location

On the other hand, “glocalisation”, a less popular term proposed by sociologist Roland Robertson, emphasises how global products are adapted specifically to suit local cultures.

Abu Dhabi, brimming with luxurious hotels and restaurants is a cosmopolis par excellence and a distinctive example of globalisation; however, as Emirati girl Shaikha Al Kaabi, the owner of Meylas, remarks, authentic local cuisine can be harder to find. Her original mobile food truck is the first and so far only Emirati food truck in UAE.

Since its debut last year, Meylas has become a national sensation, and with its female owner, it challenges gender stereotypes in the Arab world. Shaikha is not only an entrepreneur of culinary innovation, but also an ambassador of social and cultural change. Around the world, creative minds such as Shaikha’s are helping to shape and rethink our understanding of authentic local cuisine, and ways of eating in a globalised world.

For instance, Hua Restaurant in Yiwu established by an Arabic Muslim, serves authentic Arabic cuisine – visited by Chinese President, Xi Jinping, he praised it as a model of international collaboration and friendship. 2015 saw the restaurant host an international wedding for an Egyptian groom and a Romanian bride, an occasion also celebrating a taste of home in a foreign land.

“Glocalisation”, a term proposed by sociologist Roland Robertson, emphasises how global products are adapted specifically to suit local cultures

In Edinburgh, popular restaurant Vietnam House, exhibits works by Vietnamese artists, communicating recent political ideas from Vietnam to global diners. London’s Chinatown offers bubble tea from Taiwan in one corner, and a humorous adaptation of Communist eating habits such as “People’s Commune Barbecue” in the other.

Shanghai sees dining spots such as People 7 drawing attention from global adventurers, its cryptic sliding doors famously difficult to enter. In Dubai, Salt, a burger truck, uses the hashtag #findsalt as a way for customers to track it down. Taipei’s Astoria Café, once frequented by many poets, writers, thinkers and even the Russian-born first lady, has witnessed political changes, as well as remarkable mid-20th-century literary scenes.

Whilst working in Paris, American writer Ernest Hemingway wrote: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” The contemporary culinary diversity and creativity resulting from globalisation has provided us with a truly moveable feast.