How much of our taste is determined by culture?

It was recently Food Week here at Kill Screen, and a large theme that was consistently raised was the question of taste. Simply put, can you ever truly arrive at an essentialist, universalist notion of taste, or is the notion of quality and experience always already culturally predetermined? NPR’s food blog has this illuminating story of how the Pizza Hut Crown Crust Pizza came to be: 

Many foodies have decried it as a “culinary abomination,” “a sign of the apocalypse,” or proof that America is finally losing its monopoly on gluttony. A reviewer at Serious Eats, who tried the Crown Crust in Dubai, wrote: “There seems to be no rational explanation as to why this pizza was created.”

But Leila Hudson, director of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona, and a restaurateur herself, says the Crown Crust probably looks a lot less bizarre to Middle Eastern consumers than it does to us.

It’s actually pretty similar to the way ethnic cuisine is marketed to the U.S., Hudson tells The Salt. She calls it “the China Buffet Effect,” after those all-you-can-eat establishments where Americans pile lo mein and Kung Pao chicken next to crab Rangoon and fortune cookies, without regard for regional boundaries. The average Chinese person might find it weird to put those foods together on one plate. But to the average American, who can’t tell Szechuan from Hunan cuisine, it’s all just “Chinese” food.

Similarly, in the Middle East, pizza and burgers equally conjure up the exotic national identity of “American” cuisine. Why wouldn’t  you eat them together?

So the explanation for this strange, disgusting, and probably delicious food lies with culture. But can the same be said of games? Japanese gaming in its entirety is being called out constantly for its marked slip in quality in recent years, though there are certain games that don’t transition well over to Western or Eastern visions of “fun.”

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. I’ve lived in the United States for the vast majority of my life, and regardless of my brief stint living in the Middle East, part of me really wants to try this American food mash-up.

[via NPR]