The Popularity & Fusion of Asian Cuisine loans to farmers
 

In general, there are a few different reasons for the growing popularity of Asian food and cuisine in the U.S. On the institutional level, it can be seen as a reflection of the increasing globalization and transnationalism taking place in the U.S. and around the world in general -- the economic and cultural boundaries between countries are becoming less rigid and the gradual diffusion of different elements of national culture such as food and cuisine are some examples of this trend.

On the group level, the growing popularity of Asian cuisine is also a function of the demographic trends taking place in the U.S., specifically the growing population of Asian Americans and Asian immigrants, whose total numbers and proportion of the total U.S. population continue to gradually increase each year. As the number of Asians/Asian Americans continues to grow, so too do the numbers of Asian businesses and restaurants located in both Asian-heavy areas and enclaves (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.) and also in newer destinations that are seeing more Asian/Asian American residents.

Finally, on the individual level, taken as a whole, Americans are generally very open to various elements of foreign culture, such as food (although many observers argue this openness to foreign culture does not automatically translate into equal openness to the actual foreigners themselves). As such, cultural elements like Asian cuisine are generally seen as 'safe' and 'easy' ways for Americans to demonstrate their cultural curiosity and openness.

Asian fusion style Corbis From a historical point of view, as different Asian immigrants have come to the U.S. to begin their lives as Americans, they have brought their cuisine and cooking traditions with them, along with the centuries-old tradition of bringing together the family or a large group of friends and relatives to socialize over a big meal. As restaurants opened to serve the early Chinese and Japanese immigrant communities in various cities in the U.S., westerners got their first taste of traditional Asian cuisine. But inevitably, assimilation and acculturation took place, not just in terms of the individual, but also as applied to Asian food as well.

Soon, Asian restaurants that wanted to broaden their appeal and customer base beyond their own ethnic patrons had to modify or invent new 'ethnic' food that would appeal more readily to the western palate. This eventually led to the creation of uniquely 'Americanized' Asian dishes such as chop suey, egg rolls, fortune cookies, and recently, 'Asian-inspired' fast food salads.

These days, traditional Asian cuisine is undergoing another transformation but instead of being combined with western tastes, the result comes from combining elements and styles from different Asian cultures into a new fusion style of pan-Asian dishes. Many of these early fusion dishes were synthesized from Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Chinese cuisines (along with a few French influences), although other Asian cultures are slowly being 'mixed' into the trend. Many of these fusion restaurants also tend to be aimed at a slightly more upscale clientele and are concentrated mainly in the major metropolitan areas around the U.S.

Health Considerations Along with being seen as new and trendy, these Asian fusion dishes also appeal to many customers because they tend to be lighter and are perceived to be healthier than other types of "ethnic" cuisine. In fact, many westerners are only now understanding the health benefits of many Asian foods. Many nutritionists point out that America's biggest health problems -- heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many cancers -- are seen far less often in Asian countries. One reason is, not only is physical activity that blends spirituality with fitness (such as tai chi) more common in Asian societies, but experts are finding that Asian diets also play a key role.

Research shows that the average Chinese adult, for example, eats half as much fat and one-third less protein than the average American. The Chinese rely heavily on grains, fruits, and vegetables. Meat is rarely the main ingredient in a meal; instead, small amounts are offered up in dishes composed mainly of vegetables and rice. The popularity of eating fish in many Asian countries is also linked to lower incidences of many of the chronic health problems that are more common in the U.S., as is the drinking of green tea for its antioxidant benefits. Ethnic grocery stores and frozen Asian dinners have enjoyed explosive growth in recent years, further reflecting the rising popularity of Asian food.

However, a healthy diet that took centuries to achieve may be lost in just decades. Many observers are noting that obesity and heart disease is slowly becoming a problem in many Asian urban areas, as more Chinese, Japanese, etc. are copying the unhealthy eating habits of normally associated with Americans and flocking to fast food restaurants that seem to be growing exponentially across Asia. It seems ironic that the blending of eastern and western cuisines can have such different results for each culture involved.