Thursday, March 10, 2016

Way Behind

I have list I would like to get to for posts, but there isn't much extra time.  I will try to knock off two of the quick ones.  Reading the reviews for the only Indian restaurant in Concord, NH, it was fairly obvious that all the Americans - not just the locals - liked it very much, and all the one-star reviews were from people with Indian names.

One's first thought would be that the people who really, really know authentic food from India know better, not like the ignorant Americans.  But the tone of the reviews and the type of criticism convinced me otherwise.  It was all posing, posturing.  Browsing around everything showed as I suspected for ethnic foods of any type.  The people from whatever ethnic group was being displayed were almost universal in their disparagement of "their" restaurant's food. It seemed to fall well below the I'm Italian and no one's sauce was as good as my grandmother's attitude, no matter the ethnicity.

Well, you can't get real barbecue/patisserie/Mexican/Brazilian/pork pie/bagels/Thai/souvlaki around here, can you?  Even Romanians do it, and trust me, even the best Romanian food isn't that great.


RichardJohnson said...

Reading the reviews for the only Indian restaurant in Concord, NH, it was fairly obvious that all the Americans - not just the locals - liked it very much, and all the one-star reviews were from people with Indian names.

I am reminded of the time I ate a meal in Boston's Chinatown some years ago. I had been eating in Chinatown for years. I had never had a meal in Chinatown I didn't like, until this particular meal. It wasn't too adventurous for my Gwei Lo tastes- it was just broccoli w meat, poorly done.

Indian restaurant food in the US is definitely toned down for the locals- especially the buffets. It is much hotter in India, so I have been told. That may account for some of the negative reactions from Indians to an Indian restaurant in the US. In addition to "Mama didn't make it like this." OTOH, I have eaten at some Indian restaurants in Cambridge which didn't tone the heat down very much, if at all, judging by my cleared sinuses.

OTOH, Tex-Mex food is often hotter than what you would get in Mexico. I am not talking about what gets served in "Mexican" restaurants outside of Texas- my experiences in "Mexican" restaurants in NE have been uniformly bad. By Tex-Mex food, I refer to what is served in Texan homes.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

On what basis do you say that Not The Same = Bad?

I think the definition of authenticity is more elusive than most people assume.

RichardJohnson said...

On what basis do you say that Not The Same = Bad?

Black beans with no seasoning whatsoever- not even salt.
Food drowned in melted Velveeta.

That is my experience of "Mexican" food in NE. It tastes bad. That for me is BAD. I don't care about authentic.

Cincinnati 4 [or 5]-way Chili w beans & cinnamon and grated cheese on top of spaghetti, which was the inspiration of a Greek immigrant,may not be "authentic," but it tastes just fine. Though I might add more hot sauce than the average Cincinnati person.

Breakfast tacos may not be authentic, but they sure taste good.

Classic Texas Chili is supposed to not have any beans added. I cook my beans w dried Mexican peppers and other stuff with the Middle Eastern spice Za'atar, which helps temper the heat. Some might say it looks like Chili. I call it beans. Authentic? Who cares? Does it taste good? I think so.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I have this from my second son and virtually everyone else from Texas or the border states who have Mexican food up here. They universally say it's not good. When I ask why, they give reasons like yours, that sound plausible. Except that plenty of Mexican restaurants up here do season their black beans and don't use Velveeta. These are people who are just as much from Mexico as any Texan. That seems to have no impact on the commenters. This includes well-loved commenters here like Texan99 and Gringo, and of course, my second son.

My charge is that something else is influencing the universal condemnation, and that it is similar to the dislike of other ethnic foods out-of-place.

Christopher B said...

I wonder if we should avoid focusing on linear evaluation (good>>>bad), and focus on templates and an 'uncanny valley'.

You have taste template for 'Mexican food' and one for 'beans' that mix together to match something in your head that says when the taste, texture, temperature, etc of a dish is right. There's also a social template of 'good Mexican food' which is impacted by the template other people in your locality carry around of 'Mexican food'.

Somebody from a different area, or with significant experience in another area (second son) is going to have or develop a different template for 'Mexican food' and 'beans', and different social proofing for 'good Mexican food'.

There's a lot of variables involved. To pick an example, exactly what flavor says onion? Is it a pungent white, milder yellow, something sweeter like Vidalia or a red? Is there a meat note from cooking the onion in fat, or something vegetable like oil?

The 'uncanny valley' comes in at this point. In the same way people react much more negatively to a animation that is almost real than one that is obviously a cartoon, a food widely divergent from your normal experience is more likely to trigger a 'oh, that's the way this tastes' (even if it's not authentically prepared) than a 'yuck, that's awful'. The actual differences may be subtle but the reaction is going to be more over the top if you are used to, say, a strong white onion flavor in those beans than a sweet Vidalia, and incorrectly saying 'there's no seasoning in these' than 'the flavor is different' because it doesn't match the template you have in your head.

GraniteDad said...

I love Christopher's theory here.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Me too. It's my new go-to on ethnic food discussions. I just have to find a way toget that uncanny valley part explained ing two sentences.

Sam L. said...

I can go with Chris. "I don't like Mexican food" can mean many things, from "haven't liked any so far" to "too spicy/not enough/peppers too hot" more specific complaints, "It wasn't like what I've had before", "mama fixed it differently".

There are 4 Mexican restaurants in my town. The cook at the first one said one of the problems is that men come up from there, and their mamas did NOT teach them how to cook so they really don't know how. As for "that ain't the way I first had it, so it's bad":
I has sopapillas in New Mexico--rectangular, deep-fried, puffy,punch the top down and fill with honey. In Arizona, they were long triangles, deep-fried, and rolled in sugar and cinnamon--which I didn't like as well. Where I am now, "sopapillas" are wheat tortillas, deep-fried and dusted with sugar and cinnamon. That's just "WRONG" for me.

RichardJohnson said...

and incorrectly saying 'there's no seasoning in these' than 'the flavor is different' because it doesn't match the template you have in your head.

Those black beans I had on Route 1 had NO seasoning. Te lo juro. I swear it. I can detect salt or lack of salt. As I do not add as much salt as most, I am better able to detect smaller quantities of salt than most. I detected no salt in those beans. Nor anything else. At least the beans were cooked. I will give them credit for that.

I imagine there are Mexican style restaurants in NE that season their black beans. Ditto ones that do not drown food in melted Velveeta. After several bad experiences, I stopped trying. Perhaps Mexican style food in NE has improved since I stopped trying it.

In any event, when I am back in NE, I prefer to confine my eating out to food more indigenous to the region. Legal Seafoods, for example. Why go for New England boiled dinner in Texas, and why go for Tex Mex in NE? [Though I doubt I have ever had boiled dinner in a restaurant- it was standard Sunday dinner fare when I was growing up.]

I have had a lot of exposure to various regional cuisines in Mexico, and also in Central America. It isn't that the Mexican style food I have eaten in NE was from a genre with which I am not familiar, it is that the food wasn't well prepared. Which reminds me of Sam L.'s remark about untrained cooks.

I'm sure there are good Mexican style restaurants in NE. But as I haven't found any, I am not on the lookout for them.

Donna B. said...

Mexican food is different all over the SW United States. It's different in northern New Mexico than southern New Mexico. The worst Mexican food I've ever had was in San Francisco. (It was also the most expensive.) For a while, I employed a cook/maid/nanny from Ecuador and what she cooked wasn't like anything I'd had in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, or Texas. It was good though. That's an endorsement of the "well-prepared" thing Richard is speaking of.

I think much of this thread doesn't make a lot of sense to me because I'm a cook before I'm an eater. Much of the foodie stuff I see today is posturing. There's not much new, except perhaps in cake decorating. Other than deserts, what I'm seeing is desperation to put competing, non-complementary flavors together.

I'm not a formally trained chef, but I've had some training in classic cuisine techniques, especially French and Italian. My training in beans, potatoes, and wild game started in childhood.

"Authenticity" as often used today is bunkum, and not only where food is concerned. It's become an excuse for bad behavior, bad food, poor hygiene, and glorifying welfare.

Donna B. said...

The worst meal I've ever had, the one that made me gag was bear. Greasiest so-called stew ever. No amount or type of seasoning, or bread to sop it up with, could have overcome the grease and gamy taste. Made me appreciate goat, lamb, and venison. Although give me beef or pig any day of the week. Please.

james said...

Excellent observation by Christopher.

My wife has some family German recipes. A few years ago we looked one up online. 'Twas the same general outline, but the "classic" recipe used pricier ingredients. Is "classic" the restaurant variety or the one shaped by the Depression?