Words by Lorcan Barnett

Colonisation is an action commonly associated with the ‘western superpowers’ whereby the land and resources of a country become seized and exploited to become useful for the aggressor. Although war and terror across the globe persist, many like to hope that what we once knew colonialism to be has ended. Scholars and academics have coined an imaginative and inspiring new way of looking at colonialism in the present day and decided to call it ‘post colonialism’. Post Colonialism explores the effects of colonialism in the modern world. The theory evaluates the impact of colonialism and the present-day condition of the affected areas. However insightful it may be to analyse and debate conventional colonial discourse, recently, I have been intrigued in how colonialism has seeped and crawled its way into another area of contemporary life. The life I’m so cryptically referring to here is culinary. Whilst the bloodshed and violence is so rightly placed in colonial history and usually takes the forefront of discourse, strangely enough you rarely are exposed to the changes in what one chooses to put inside their bodies due to our devastating history. What we eat ultimately stitches the very fabric of our culture. The ingredients we whisk and blend together combine to define the very texture and taste of our world. The imprint that cultures leave on us inspires the world to bake, fry and boil. 

Colonial history has left a bruise on modern society that will never fade. The horrors and terror left by those who exploit continue to haunt. What remains can be seen by everybody. What we choose to eat is a mark that stays. Over the festive period, I noticed a restaurant opening close by to my east London home. After a small scale investigation that consisted of me chatting to the owners of the shop opposite, I discovered that a Bánh Mi place was opening. To those not aware of the concept of Bánh Mi, it is very simple. Bánh means bread in Vietnamese, and usually a Bánh Mi shop serves a typical French baguette with a variety of meats and vegetables inside that justify the Vietnamese association. The filling is usually spicy and fresh. Coriander is often used in excess which provides the earthy and crisp feel whilst the meats vary from pork belly to duck which are all slow cooked to allow the meat to become tender and moist. Bánh Mi is versatile and can be customised which certainly appeals to the gluttonous westerners that have become their market. I first became aware of Bánh Mi in 2019 through the insanely popular Bánh Mi Hoi-An located on Grahame road in Hackney. Lunch time saw queues reach around the block and the atmosphere was tense. The shop was only open for 3 hours a day on the weekdays which saw crazed fans nervously wait unsure to whether their fate would be doomed and they would miss the short window. Bánh Mi has become so popular in recent times, and I rarely walk through an area without spotting a charming authentic spot. What really interests me about this phenomenon though, is the history. During the French rule over Vietnam, the baguette began to make its way to the locals.

 Much like the French, they respectfully ate the bread with butter, cheese and pâtes wary of disrespecting the French cooking regime. However, once the rule ended in 1954, they became liberated and could express themselves by adding local flavours and produce inside the baguette. Once the Vietnam war ended, millions of Vietnamese refugees settled all over the world where the Bánh Mi has become so popular. The fusion of two cultures have created a much-loved delicacy. A simple fusion of foods has become such a staple within culinary culture. Whilst it is easy to smile and bite at a Bánh Mi, it is important not to neglect the historical damage associated with this sandwich. The culinary technique associated with the Bánh Mi is ‘fusion’. Fusion has really exploded around the world through the twenty-first century where dishes of different cultures are merging and joining to conjure something new and usually beautiful. Fusion creates unique dishes that allow the palette to experiment with taste and texture whilst maintaining familiarity with the flavours and textures that we know. Although I mentioned fusion being a recent phenomenon, facets surrounding food have been exchanged before records. Whilst this technique often provides the customer with delight, I am sure we have all attempted fusion in a far more relaxed environment whereby the results have been shameful. England is a country with such a diversity of cultures that it is hard to miss what is on offer to eat. A claim that many Brits ever so humorously make is that the Chicken Tikka Masala is our national dish. This certainly highlights the extent of how other cultures showed us how to eat. Whilst pub classics and warming British dishes still are household favourites, I can’t help but notice how blessed we are. Living in a major city certainly allows one to feel so fortunate. Almost every cuisine is on offer and a short walk will provide me with the comfort of whatever my heart desires. However, what is not to be neglected is the reasons we have so much on offer. Wars and critical situations often caused by ourselves have forced those in need to a safer place. Whilst we gobble their food and lick the plate, it is crucial to remember that there is a story to a great taste.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Categories: Local Life

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