Billy Fuqua grew up in Peru, but he would hesitate to call himself Peruvian. Her parents had moved to the country from the United States, and eventually her family moved back to Los Angeles. But he didn’t feel 100% American either. It’s an experience Jon Free, Fuqua’s colleague at now-shutdown Tasty n Sons, understood very well: Free grew up in Okinawa, Japan, with American parents, before eventually landing in Texas.
“I left America before I could get a full sense of what the culture is like,” Free says. “We are Americans, but we have an outside view of America.”
The term often used to describe people like Fuqua and Free is “third culture kids,” kids who grow up in a different culture than their parents. This left them somewhere in between, not quite identifying with the country they lived in, but not quite identifying with the country of their parents either. It was this shared experience that inspired their food cart, Third Culture Kitchen. “We had this weird and close-knit childhood, and that’s what we want to highlight in our food,” says Fuqua.
The menu at Third Culture Kitchen, now parked in the new Hinterland bar and food cart, reflects the combined culinary influences of Fuqua and Free: Ceviche comes with tangy corn nuts from Chile as opposed to cancha, a a nod to the Texan years of Free, as well as Japanese sweet potato puree instead of the traditional Peruvian camote. The fried chicken sandwich comes with a homemade Peruvian hot sauce they call Forest Fire, with the potential addition of a grilled queso fresco slab.
Some of the dishes on the menu are closer to the original inspiration than others – the cart’s lomo saltado is slightly modified with cold-smoked tomatoes, and the restaurant’s tantan ramen is topped with yu choy, seaweed and dill. ‘a boiled egg. But Fuqua and Free are very aware that their approach to this food is distinct. “The thing we always say when we try to describe it is, ‘It’s not Peruvian and it’s not American, that’s a third thing,'” Fuqua explains. “We want people to come in and then try these other Peruvian restaurants and carts, like Salt & Pepper or El Inka.”
The cart is now open at Hinterland, 2216 SE 50th Avenue.
• Third Culture Cuisine [Official]
• A guide to the backcountry food cart, opening this week [EPDX]
• Children of the third culture: citizens of everywhere and nowhere [BBC]