An International Symposium on
Travelling Cuisines: Culinary Politics and Transnational Foodways in and out of Asia

Culinary Politics of Localized Western Cuisine in Shanghai

James Farrer, Sophia University

The foodscapes of “global cities” are heterogeneous geographies in which “foreign,” “ethnic,” or “international” eateries are a key markers of a multicultural urban culture and cosmopolitan lifestyle. Elements of global foodscapes range from multinational chains such as McDonalds and Starbucks to small owner-operated boutique restaurants and the high-end projects of celebrity chefs. Previous discussions of culinary globalization in East Asia focused primarily on the processes of indigenization or localization of imported foodways, but these concepts are imperfect descriptions for the changing urban foodscapes of Asian global cities such as Shanghai (see Watson 1997, Tobin 1992). They are also inadequate models of the complex culinary politics involved in producing globalized urban foodscapes. In particularly, urban foodscapes in global cities are closely related to patterns of elite migration and transnational flows of both producers and consumers. They have a transnational as well as local geography. The ways in which foreign cuisines become embedded in the larger urban foodscape are tied to both the types of producers and types of consumers who act as the driving forces in a culinary field or scene. The focus of this project is on the migrant chefs, from Australia, the America, Europe, and Asia, actively producing the international restaurant scenes that have developed over the past two decades in Shanghai. The study shows how immigrant chefs play a central role in some international dining scenes, for example French food in Shanghai, and a less central role in others, for example Japanese food in Shanghai. Foreign consumers, or international migrants and expatriate sojourners in Shanghai, also are shown to play a crucial role in creating and shaping the foodscapes of the global city. There are three levels of culinary politics at work here. One is the local, subtle kitchen politics of how chefs from abroad establish and claim a position in the transnational, and local, culinary fields in which they participate in Shanghai. The second level is the way that consumers use the consumption of foreign cuisine to signal a cosmopolitan identity in Shanghai, and the role that they as fashion leaders in authenticating taste cultures within the field of culinary consumption. The third level is the urban cultural politics of planners and designers in producing the “global city” as a space of cosmopolitan consumption and thus facilitating the place making of foreign chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs.

James Farrer is Professor of Sociology and Global Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo. His specialties are urban studies and cultural sociology. He has used qualitative sociological research methods to investigate urban culture in Shanghai and Tokyo, including sexuality, cuisine, nightlife, and expatriate communities. His research on cuisine focuses on the globalization of urban restaurant scenes in Shanghai and Tokyo. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Cognitive Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.