Rachel Laudan

Cuisine and Language 8. Are There Creole Cusinese?

Continuing with my list of ten things that culinary historians might learn from historians of language, we come to number 8, are there such things as creole cuisines.[i]

I’m not talking here specifically about the Creole Cuisine of Louisiana though that might be an example.I simply don’t know enough about it to say whether it falls in the category of creole cuisines as parallel to creole languages.

Creole languages are the languages that appear when a second generation grows up speaking pidgin as their first language.  These languages tend to have stripped down, but characteristic grammatical structures whatever the base language.

The question was prompted by my time in Hawaii.  There most  Local people spoke what they called ‘pidgin‘  (and here) as their first language.  It is based on English but with elements of Portuguese, Hawaiian, Cantonese, Japanese and even Spanish.  It has lots of words with non-English roots (here’s a dictionary), lots of characteristic grammar. 

You no can trick Kimo. Da buggah stay akamai. This means “You can’t trick Kimo. He’s too smart.”  Stay for example is used here like the Spanish estar.   Pupus to da max.  The ultimate heavy duty snacks. Linguists describe it as a creole.

Is Local Food in Hawaii a creole in this way?  I think you could make out a case.  There are ingredients from English/American (gravy), Hawaiian (seaweed as seasoning), Japanese (rice), Cantonese (kau yuk, crack seed), Portuguese (sausage) and so on. And there are rules of combination that would not occur in any of those cuisines (rice with hamburger or Portuguese sausage).

Are there other examples?  I suspect many, including  Cape Malay and Chinese-based Southeast Asian cuisines.

Are these different from fusion cuisines?  Or is this a more precise terminology for the same phenomenon?

Examples, problems, please send them.


[i] Salikoko Mufwene, The Ecology of Language Evolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

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4 thoughts on “Cuisine and Language 8. Are There Creole Cusinese?

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      That may be. The reason I like creole better is that it is more specific with at least three elements: second generation (which much of what is called fusion is not), eclectic vocabulary, new rules. Fusion is such a squishy idea. Too often it simply means the incorporation of any foreign element.

  1. laura

    i’ve not been to hawaii, but have heard of their affection for all things spam, including spam ‘sushi’.

    in our family, we have a few pidgin foods that came about from an inability to obtain the proper vegetables or spices. when we were little, instead of bi bim pap we had to make do with ‘salad rice’. we don’t eat like that any more, since these days we can get the real deal from the local super H.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Hi Laura, thanks for the comment. yes, people in Hawaii like Spam a lot and there are lots of good reason for this. Do please tell me how you make salad rice. These adaptations reveal a lot about the original dish, the place, the expectations.


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