In one of his popular YouTube videos for NYT Cooking, Eric Kim introduces his Sheet-Pan Bibimbap as “really chill.” Drawing inspiration from the simplicity of his family’s preferred midnight snack, Kim gives the ultimate credit to his mother’s techniques before shyly admitting she now uses his recipe. The vegetables are roasted in olive oil, cooked rice is crisped on a hot sheet pan to emulate the effects of a dolsot. The result mimics a traditional bibimbap—though for a dish that varies from family to family, what is traditional?—and meets the simple aesthetics and unpretentious elegance that so many crave today. For me, there’s something validating about the bulk of Kim’s recipes. Despite not having my own midnight bibimbap memories (I’m Indian American), his food feels representative, because it is distinctly Asian American.
To consider an “Asian American” cuisine category when the entire concept of “Asian America” is up for debate could seem hypocritical. The Loneliest Americans author Jay Caspian Kang has devoted a book and several essays arguing against the idea, as the fast-growing group of more than 20 million who make up this identity differ in race, socioeconomic standing, and cultural norms. Kang argues the term is only used by “upwardly mobile professionals who enter mostly white middle-class spaces.” If he is correct, perhaps the term becomes even more apt when it comes to food, because this cuisine is often born out of cultural merging, even assimilation. Consider the nikkei and chifa cuisines of Japanese and Chinese Peruvians; the Gullah cuisine of the South Carolina islands created by West and Central Africans blending techniques of their homelands with the ingredients of the land they were forced to work; even the Tex-Mex food of the borderlands. Food evolves when cultures mingle.