Ugly Delicious

Is tahini salsa verde an insidious form of cultural appropriation or two immigrants from Oaxaca riffing on food traditions they love?


In "As the Meat Turns," the last episode of Ugly Delicious's second season on Netflix, chef David Chang explores Levantine, Arabian Gulf, and Iranian food.

Chang doesn't explicitly say so, but the episode seems like a paean to cultural appropriation: It shows Oaxacan Angelenos experimenting with Lebanese-Mexican cuisine (chorizo kebabs, black bean hummus, and tahini salsa verde) and Lebanese brothers making "the most disrespectful sandwich ever created"—bacon, egg, and cheese Levantine flatbread, with the added bastardizing influence of Hot Cheetos. The result is tasty but so anti-traditional that it's scorned by old-timers in their Dearborn, Michigan, immigrant community. (The critics eventually became regulars, and their creation is now copied in Beirut.)

Baker Reem Assil praises Mexicans' Lebanese shawarma appropriation (tacos al pastor), and in her own kitchen she repurposes a tortilla comal into a domed saj. Yet she badmouths white chefs for their own appropriations.

In the first episode, as the Changs prepare to have a baby, David grapples with his friend Anthony Bourdain's suicide—which coincided with his wife learning she was pregnant—and "how life and death can pass each other by so closely." Similarly, as cultural traditions wither, they can receive new life in distant lands by people who have not tired of them yet. "I'm here to put all of myself in this," Chang says of both parenthood and cooking, "so you can get some nourishment and love from it."

NEXT: The Consequential Frontier

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  1. “Is tahini salsa verde an insidious form of cultural appropriation”

    I suppose that depends largely on getting the Shakeeshas and Rahims of the world to settle on exactly what “cultural appropriation” is and then sticking to that.

    1. I don’t get how the left’s definition of cultural appropriation isn’t exactly what has been advocated for forever. The US is a nation of immigrants and a melting pot. It seems all they actually want is racial divisions

      1. All the foods we now enjoy can from somewhere else. Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, ect. Sadly, so did British cooking.
        Thankfully haggas is banned .

        1. Italian sauces wouldn’t be the same without New World tomatoes.

          For that matter, Italian pasta wouldn’t be the same without 10,000 years of GMO wheat breeding and stone age cultural appropriation.

          1. Think of all the countries around the world where the use of chilies is integral to that cuisine. It was those damn European explorers who brought them back from the new world. Those Koreans sure know how to culturally appropriate.

      2. Free Haggis!

      3. That duality is a standard part of the left’s playbook(not that the right does not do it sometimes, just not as well and as often.) The left first proposes some idea(free speech, for example) as a universal concept. But then when others (non-left and other yucky people) then accept and put it into practice, well then the left suddenly says ‘No, no, no. That’s wrong to do or believe that and you are a bad person for it.’
        Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

        1. The Left didn’t first propose free speech. That happened before there were even Left and Right labels. Before the “Left” was even an ideological viewpoint.

          Don’t confuse Left with Liberalism. Free speech comes from Liberalism. And not that new hippy kind of liberal that’s just Leftists pretending to be Progressive fuzzies. I mean the old kind of Liberalism where individuals had inherent rights granted to them by God and Nature and not by the whim of some king or functionary.

          American Liberals did used to be all for freedom of speech. But then the Left infected them so now it’s all but impossible to find an actual liberal in the Democrat Party.

      4. They want a melting pot that white people aren’t a part of.

  2. “Cultural appropriation” is an idea so stupid only entitled white people could have invented it so I’m just going to go ahead and condemn Reem Assil for culturally appropriating the idea of cultural appropriation. How the hell can you be a white knight when you ain’t even white? Stay in your oppressed minority lane, sister, you ain’t privileged enough to condescend to the under-privileged.

  3. At the end of the day, the phrase “cultural appropriation” just means that some people can’t take a damned compliment.

  4. chorizo kebabs

    Sounds good.

    black bean hummus

    I don’t know. Maybe.

    tahini salsa verde


  5. cultural appropriation is nonsense, espoused by a very vocal but very resentful and insignificant part of the population. Can we just leave it at that and discuss something at least somewhat relevant?

    1. Yes please. Cultural appropriation is one the stupidest ideas to ever arise in this millennia. I can’t make Cajun Sushi? Why the hell not? Spicy Crawdad Roll is awesome!

      Making fun of other ethnic groups is one thing. I get the problem with Pocahontas costumes and sequined somberos when you’re not gay and stealing Maori tats because you think they look cool. But most food since the first time one culture bumped into another has been fusion. And all food we now consider “American” comes from a fusion of cultures.

      A food rapidly growing in popularity in my neck of the woods (at least before the lockdowns) is “Indian Pizza”. Stuff like Tikka Masala Calzones and Tandoor Chicken Pizza. I’ve had a bite. Okay, but not my thing. But other people love it. Did a bunch of old white dudes come up with it? Nope, it’s all Indian. Indian culture appropriated a dish from American culture which was first appropriated from Italian culture that first had a rustic bread so unlike the that Tikka Masala Calzone that they might as well be in two distinct phyla.

      Now that Tikka Masala Burrito I ran across one time was awesome! All hail fusion!

      1. “I can’t make Cajun Sushi?”

        You can. There’s nothing stopping you. Find something else to whine about.

    2. “cultural appropriation is nonsense, espoused by a very vocal but very resentful and insignificant part of the population”

      I don’t think so. The number of white performers who go black face these days is very small. This indicates that those who rail against cultural appropriation have more cultural sway than you credit them.

      1. Blackface has nothing to do with the idea of “cultural appropriation”.

        1. “Blackface has nothing to do with the idea of “cultural appropriation”.”

          Blackface was a part of Minstrel shows. White artists would cover their faces with burnt cork as if in mockery of the black artists whose repertoire they were appropriating. It’s fallen out of fashion these days so it’s not surprising you are unfamiliar with it.

          1. Dumbass it’s not appropriation. It’s the fact that black actors were not allowed. No different than when Shakespeare used young men to play women. No girls allowed.

            So you are apparently unfamiliar with it.

            1. “It’s the fact that black actors were not allowed.”

              Exactly. But white actors were allowed to appropriate black culture, hence cultural appropriation. I don’t understand why yous are having so much trouble with this. Is it simply a case, as I suspect it is, that you are parroting something you’ve seen on FOX?

              1. You’re attempts at sophistry often turn into comedy; can you REALLY be that stupid or mendacious?

  6. Yes, we must stamp out all this oppressive appropriation, including writing and technology. All you SJWs need to conform with the noble heritage of your ancestors, including the lack of indoor plumbing.

  7. I’ve seen some of this. It’s basically Ethnic Studies disguised as a food show. The primary motivation seems to be to preach hate against white people. So the cultural appropriation tick is to be expected. Nothing new these days.

  8. My lovely Asian wife and I have lived in a number of areas and cultures, and we gleefully and tastefully appropriate many cultures into our dinner table — can be quite a mash-up at times. Our kids picked up on that and have expanded it quite a bit further. Fortunately they married appreciative spouses.

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