2014 was a dumpster fire, and in order to avoid complete immolation I had to hold off on a number of dinner and coffee hangouts. December flew by, the holidays blew over, and after the ball had dropped on 2015 I found myself in the calm after the maelstrom. Or the eye of the tornado?
Regardless, the flames had died down.
There is no good reason as to why I haven't eaten at The Bun Shop (I live within walking distance) and I (thankfully) have had no excuse to avoid meeting up with a stand up comic friend of mine, so almost a year after it opened I finally stepped foot into one of the youngest Asian American businesses in KTown.
A Steve Yuen-blessed extension of The Bun Truck, The Bun Shop is pretty self-explanatory as a shop that sell buns except they also offer a happy hour I wish I'd known about. $2.50 buns and cheap booze.
Jenny, my friend who will undoubtedly make more cameo appearances as I write, ordered three buns. I ordered two buns and garlic fries. We made our way to a sports bar-inspired tabletop and waited out our order.
I sometimes find myself in businesses owned by young Asian American entrepreneurs and will wander cerebrally into the history behind the shop, the owners, and the food. As Jenny and I talked about comedy, organizing, art, love, year goals, year fears, I thought about how astounding/cool/poignant in a strange way it was that two young Asian American artist/organizers were having a conversation essentially centered around self-determination while picking at true Asian American food in a restaurant co-owned by the Asian American star of a major television show
As with many things, it brought me back to history and context. What does it mean to have such luxuries at our fingertips, so normalized that we have to give them thought to apply meaning? As beneficiaries of these legacies and consumers of this cultural moment, what are our responsibilities if any at all?
Even looking at the shop's menu hints at that inherited context. With bun fillings like spam and tonkatsu (both closely related to Hawai'i's colonial history; Spam in particular as tied to American militarism both in Hawai'i and in Korea) next to Asian American mainstays like pork belly and spicy pork, this restaurant is the next generation after Roy Choi's Kogi Truck. Forget fusion; these meals are a textbook and a testament.
In reference to his career, Yuen says it himself.
"I think I stand on the shoulders of a lot of people before me. There are people that I look back at, and I wonder why they didn’t have a better career. It’s because they happened to come up in an era where they were not afforded the opportunities, but they had all the talent and all the charisma in the world." (Vanity Fair, October 2010)
The Bun Shop and other Asian American-powered restaurants like it (I immediately think about Diep Tran's Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park, James Choi's Cafe Dulce in JTown, Johneric Concordia's The Park's Finest in Historic Filipinotown, and of course Roy Choi's Pot in KTown) are the result of cultural clashes and the sandpaper of time. There is no tomato katsu bun without the importation of Japanese food through Japanese immigrants who, along with immigrants from the rest of Asia, would build communities that would continue through their children and their children's children and their children's children's recent immigrant friends, and so on and so forth until you have Jenny and I after work contemplating our sweet potato fries and visioning for the new year.
We are living off our our histories as sustenance, and it fuels us forward as we explore roads traveled and roads ahead.
I left full and ready for 2015. In short, it was a great meal.