Chicken tikka lasagne: Fusion or bizarre? - Features - Food + Drink - The Independent

Chicken tikka lasagne: Fusion or bizarre?

Brazilian sushi? Italian black pudding? Melding cuisines is tricky – and the results aren't always in the best possible taste, says John Walsh

Mmmm, how delicious. Iceland, the rock-bottom-priced frozen-food chain so glamorously marketed on television by Ms Kerry Katona, has brought out a real treat for its army of heat-your-supper-in-the-oven consumers. It's chicken tikka lasagne. That's right: "Tender pieces of chicken breast in a tikka sauce layered between sheets of egg pasta, topped with a creamy sauce and Cheddar cheese."

Some diners will salivate at the thought of so many levels of tastiness combined in a single meal (and for only £1). Others will splutter all over their Armani trousers at the grotesqueness, the obscenity – no, the insult to human dignity that's implied by yoking Indian and Italian cuisines together in such a manner. Not to mention (my dear) serving lasagne with Cheddar on top.

Should we be shocked? It's happening all the time. In December, Jamie Oliver raised eyebrows when he recommended slathering the Christmas ham with jerk seasoning. Was he serious? Putting West Indian relish on traditional Gloucestershire pig? Isn't that like putting a steel band in the village choir loft?

As sometime restaurant critic of The Independent magazine, I've come across some bizarre mixed (indeed, forced) marriages – most recently at Sushinho in the King's Road, Chelsea, in south-west London, where the food combines Brazilian and Japanese influences. This cultural miscegenation takes its cue, apparently, from Sao Paolo, which has more Japanese inhabitants than anywhere outside Japan; and restaurants in the huge city's "Japan-town" suburb have brought an Oriental, sushi-like delicacy to reinventing Brazil's hearty, butch, meat-and-beans national dishes. It doesn't (as I discovered) always work. But it's not as bad as the pudding combination I tried in an Italian restaurant in November: chocolate mousse with (sweet) black pudding....

The phenomenon is called fusion cuisine and it's gradually taken over the foodie world. For 35 years, the concept of mating the ethnic foods of two different countries or regions has taken hold, from Sydney to Sausalito and from Shanghai to Shropshire. Some say it's an idea that tends to flourish only in countries (like Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada) which have yet to develop their own Great Cuisine. Others say it's the fault of ambitious young chefs who want to stray beyond the conventional preparation of dishes and seasonings, to make a name for themselves by combining scallops with wasabi.

Whatever else it's done, fusion cuisine has brought a dizzying spread of world ingredients to the modern gourmet's attention. A pungent gallimaufry of herbs, spices, marinades, pulses, salsas and eye-watering chilli sauces have been excitably combined with a dozen staples – basmati rice, jasmine rice, noodles, pasta, dumplings, potatoes, tofu, beansprouts – and jammed in, alongside a score of half-familiar vegetables: aubergines, haricots, lemongrass, coconuts and so on, in what is increasingly referred to as "the global store cupboard".

It sounds terrific. Often it is. Discovering a plate of crab and ginger ravioli, you marvel at the brilliance of the chef in putting them together. The crab's from Cromer, the ginger's from India and the ravioli from Italy, but the triple-fusion works fine. Often, it goes wrong. I'm a sucker for venison, simply cooked and attended by some creamy (Dauphinois for preference) potatoes. When a chef decides to give it a Japanese-Thai wallop of soy, honey and chilli sauce, the result is disastrous. And what kind of fusion was the black-pudding mousse au chocolat? French-Connemaran?

Fusion cuisine supposedly started in California in the 1970s when one Wolfgang Puck (a very fusion sort of name) opened the Chinois restaurant, combining French and Chinese cooking. Food historians attribute the rise of hybrid styles to the flood of immigrants from the Far East to Los Angeles and San Francisco, bringing new cooking styles, ingredients and flavours with them. Japanese-American abominations such as sushi with maple syrup were briefly in vogue; it took a whole decade for sophisticated diners to relish new flavours of lemongrass, soy sauce, shitake mushrooms, galangal and nam pla sauce in their new-wave suppers, and the idea of East-West fusion to take root.

The words "Pacific rim" took fusion cuisine to new levels of excitement (and acceptance) in the 1990s. It implied that, although they covered thousands of square miles of territory, the countries whose borders the Pacific touched, in a kind of cordon culinaire – Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan – shared a common foodie consanguinity, and their ingredients could be combined willy-nilly without fear of a taste collision. Peter Gordon, the Australian chef who started The Sugar Club in Notting Hill, was a tireless proselytiser of fusion food in the Nineties. Anything goes, he said, provided it all combines harmoniously – introducing, for example, green chillis and coriander into a chicken stew. He pointed out that supposedly "national" food is often foreign: "Italian, Spanish and French cuisines would not be what they are today, if explorers had not liked the strange foodstuffs they brought back from their voyages of discovery."

To criticise fusion as (old joke) "confusion cuisine" is to risk seeming a little fascistic about national purity and hostile to mixed-race energy. Raise an eyebrow about finding cumin and tamarind in an Irish stew, or apricots in the chilli con carne, and you may be branded an Aryan zealot. One judges cooking, of course, by its harmonious combination of tastes, not the national provenance of its ingredients. If you can happily blend elements of, say, Moroccan or Philippine cuisine into traditional British dishes like roast lamb, you will do your Sunday lunch companions a huge favour, without fatally compromising the dignity or virtue of the meat or the national amour propre.

A national cuisine takes centuries to establish, but it needs to keep changing, or we shall all die of boredom: so we must say two cheers at least to the cuisine that pulls strangers together into a factitious alliance. Mind you, that doesn't mean you can shove chicken tikka inside a flipping lasagne, or serve it with a cheesy topping. Whatever Kerry Katona says.

Suggested Topics
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week