CALL it what you will, but there's really nothing new about the style of food we now know as 'fusion' or 'East meets West'. After all, food of that description has been around since trade began between distant lands and tribes began expanding their borders. If we trace the evolution of most national cuisines, we find food traditions peppered with stories of invading armies and ancient trade routes. Take the food of Andalusia. In the 8th century, Spain was invaded by the Arabs, who ended up staying for 700 years until they were finally thrown out by Catholic kings. They left a rich legacy, including Arab stallions, colourful shawls, magnificent architecture and an early example of East-meets-West food. The Arabs planted orchards of figs, Seville oranges and almonds, brought in saffron and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and introduced the Iberians to sugary sweetmeats. The food of southern Spain still retains many of these Middle-Eastern influences which have evolved into a distinctly Andalusian cuisine. Almonds, originally planted by the Moors, are made into sopa de almendras, an almond soup flavoured with cumin and saffron. Stews are spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Saffron is essential in paella. Popular honeyed sweetmeats, including rich custard and meringue desserts, often with almonds and sesame seeds, have their origins in the Middle East. For a long time the food in Spain must have been the most sophisticated and varied in Europe. But by the 11th century, the crusaders returning from Jerusalem greatly increased the trade in exotic spices, saffron and rosewater, as well as new vegetables and fruits, so the whole crusader exercise must have taken on a commercial as well as religious fervour. These innovations must have been hugely welcome, for the medieval food of western Europe was barely seasoned, often rancid and poorly cooked. It is interesting that medieval recipes after the development of these Eastern trade routes often read rather like modern Middle-Eastern recipes, with their reliance on spices, nuts and fruits. As trade developed between the East and West, so did the cuisine of Europe. The great early explorers extended such culinary influences - Marco Polo by bringing the idea of noodles and dumplings from China to Italy, Vasco da Gama by rounding the Cape to India, from where the Portuguese transported the flavours of colonies in West Africa and Goa to Macau as African chicken, crab curry and bebinca, a confection of egg yolks and coconut milk. Even dishes we now consider typical of a country are often hybrids. The Ottoman occupation of what is now Austria is responsible for that very Austrian sweet, strudel. The pastry is no more than a variation of filo and the use of ground nuts in desserts is typically Middle Eastern. Later, the British Empire in India spawned a whole new East-meets-West food culture. Anglo-Indian food is a true blend of two very different cuisines. Kedgeree, a concoction of lightly curried rice and fish, was the breakfast food of the Raj. The word comes from khichri, a Hindi dish of spiced rice and lentils. The British substituted fish for lentils and added hard-boiled eggs. When the dish was brought to Britain by Raj returnees, it was embellished by the addition of smoked haddock, which may explain why it's often considered a Scottish dish. Other Anglo-Indian dishes that have been assimilated into the British culinary culture include chutney and mulligatawny soup. For historic, economic and practical reasons, cuisines are forever evolving. They are also subject to fashion. So what do we make of the 1980s and 1990s version of East-meets-West food? You know the style I mean, a blob of hoisin sauce here, a dollop of wasabe there and coriander (or cilantro as it is called in most fusion recipes) everywhere. I am not sure I approve at all. It is a food that has been invented by press-conscious chefs, often with little regard for culinary traditions and techniques that have taken centuries to evolve. There is nothing wrong with innovation. After all, without it we wouldn't have progressed any further than barbecues. But there needs to be a reason for innovation. For a start, the new dish needs to be an improvement on the original. This is the problem with modern fusion food. Usually, there is no reason for it, other than the imagination working overtime. It is almost as if the creator has shaken together one handful of Western ingredients with one of Eastern, tipped out the contents, arranged them exquisitely on a plate and waited for the accolades. Yes, this style of food is fashionable, but it is also liable to be pretentious and self-indulgent. Do we really want wasabe in our hollandaise or pasta with Chinese fermented black beans and sun-dried tomatoes? Do we really want salads overdosed with sesame oil and beansprouts that taste of rust when raw (this may be why the Chinese always cook them first)? Does anyone really need a mango coulis with ginger, lemon grass and chilli? Is it possible lamb tastes better stuffed with nori and feta on a cilantro and blackcurrant salsa? The more I cook and eat, the more I think less is better. Good food needs restraint and subtlety, not a plethora of ingredients thrown together for effect.