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An Open Letter to Bigot Diners
September 5, 2013 8:07 AM   Subscribe

"Why yes, we do have a female sushi chef. She also happens to be Caucasian. Her name is Mariah Kmitta, and we are blessed to have her behind our sushi bar." Sushi chef Hajime Sato of Mashiko in Seattle responds to customers who find a non-Japanese sushi chef distasteful with "An Open Letter to Bigot Diners". The opinion is not universally accepted. Slate author LV Anderson wonders, "does raising your eyebrows at a white sushi chef really make you a bigot?"

Sato is not one to mince words - the URL for Mashiko should tell you that quickly: www.sushiwhore.com. He's also not one to follow popular opinion; for instance, Mashiko only serves sustainable seafood, so there is no bluefin tuna on the menu. He's hired more than one Caucasian chef - one is named Blayne and Sato describes him as “a white guy with a Mohawk, and he can make sushi. It’s not about gender, it’s not about color; it’s about the skill.” At least a few diners disagree - Yelp user Vivi Y says "Yet, when I scanned across the restaurant, all the waiters and chefs seem to be non-Asian...Immediately my friend and I exchanged a look - this wouldn't be as authentic as the reviews have suggested."

In case you aren't a huge fan of sushi, you could always consider Sato's other restaurant - Katsu Burger - home of the Mt Fuji Mega Burger.
posted by saeculorum (177 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I used to work at an Assyrian place in Chicago where a diner told me that seeing that we had a Mexican chef made him "want to stand up and walk out." I told him that if he did that every time there was a Hispanic person making his food in Chicago, he'd get a ton of exercise and not much to eat.

For the record, Antonio made awesome Assyrian food.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:13 AM on September 5, 2013 [77 favorites]


Yes, it makes you a bigot.

Honestly, most of the sushi chefs and Japanese restaurant owners I've seen are Vietnamese. People eat their food (hibachi, ramen, sushi, whatever) happily, probably because ALL LOOK SAME.

God, people are idiots.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [58 favorites]


If you know Hajime, you know he is one picky son of a bitch. He entrusts Mariah because she has earned his respect.

Heh. If I were in Seattle (and could afford to eat at Mashiko, which I suspect I couldn't), I'd be rocketing here as quick as I could based on this letter alone.

Anyway, the head chef at my favorite sushi restaurant is *gasp* Korean. I wonder if any of these bigots would care, or indeed notice.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:15 AM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was taken to Mashiko many years ago. Absolutely wonderful sushi. Sato-san was at the counter, so I didn't get to experience the chefs he considered good enough. I'm more than willing to, and if I ever get back to Seattle, I will.
posted by eriko at 8:15 AM on September 5, 2013


Seattle's ever-so-popular alt-weekly also did a post on this.
posted by fireoyster at 8:16 AM on September 5, 2013


Of course, I agree with Sato's sentiment. One of the better sashimi and sushi chefs I know of in my area is a white woman. It's all about training, knowing what fish should taste like, and raw skill. Plus, she's very personable, friendly, and accommodating.

That being said, for every chef like her, there are quite literally fifty appropriators in my area who churn out California rolls and shitty nigiri with fish that isn't anywhere near sushi grade.

Humans read patterns and base stereotypes on them. Good luck getting humans to stop that.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:16 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Bigot" is the right word not because it's bigoted against white people but because the assumption that Asian cooks are somehow more naturally suited to make food from their home country than other people is a ignorant stereotype that confuses racial characteristics with authenticity.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:18 AM on September 5, 2013 [43 favorites]


Yeah, I do think it kind of makes you a bigot. You are judging people on your preconceived notions about their race or appearance. That's a form of bigotry.
posted by quin at 8:18 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


That Slate piece is a load of balls. Cultural appropriation is of course a real thing, but it is much more complicated and ambiguous than most people realize.

FWIW, tons of sushi restaurants in the US are Chinese owned and operated. Most people don't notice or don't care.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


How bizarre that people have an issue with white people making sushi... do they honestly think that every Asian in a sushi joint is a Japanese person who learned their craft in Japan? THAT'S the thing I'd call bigoted. Oh, you must be good at math AND sushi-making!
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [23 favorites]


Around here, most sushi chefs seem to be Korean. I don't see why that's any better than a white or hispanic chef, other than that they look the stereotype of the part.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Bigot" is the right word not because it's bigoted against white people but because the assumption that Asian cooks are somehow more naturally suited to make food from their home country than other people is a ignorant stereotype that confuses racial characteristics with authenticity.

Not to mention it's implicitly racist because a lot of people who would care probably don't notice if their Sushi chef happens to be Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese rather than Japanese. (In response to a question of what part of Japan he's from, a chef named Huynh deadpanned: "The far south.")
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:20 AM on September 5, 2013 [38 favorites]


I used to work at an Assyrian place in Chicago where a diner told me that seeing that we had a Mexican chef made him "want to stand up and walk out." I told him that if he did that every time there was a Hispanic person making his food in Chicago, he'd get a ton of exercise and not much to eat.

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahaha

(breathe, breathe)

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
posted by phunniemee at 8:20 AM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


See also: Mexican cooks at basically every kind of restaurant in new york and people's moronic opinions about that. Cooking is a skill not a birthright. Also this thread is making me hungry.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:20 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ugh, katsu burger. Expensive and completely hyped beyond belief. I live five minutes away and have been there precisely once. Their fryolator is questionable and their prices are astronomical.
posted by lattiboy at 8:20 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


More specifically (hit post too soon) it's about the word: people don't like being called out on their thinking, and being called a racist or bigot is about the worst offense you can level at someone nowadays.

Even when it's completely true, and you'd have to have some serious cognitive dissonance to not realize it.
posted by quin at 8:21 AM on September 5, 2013


After reading The Zen of Fish, which is about a sushi-chef academy in California and the history of sushi, particularly Americanized sushi, I'm pretty sure that what I'm getting is frequently not "authentic", and I'm okay with that.
posted by immlass at 8:21 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the ways that I know I'm a horrible person is that I would not go to a Chinese food place where the staff was non Chinese. It just feels all kinds of wrong. On the other hand, all I really know about the people who run my favorite Chinese restaurants is that they are Asian. No idea if they are Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean.... No clue. Plus American Chinese food is not the same as the food Chinese people eat in China. Not to mention, there are many ethnic groups in China. Is Chinese food only authentic if it's made by Han? No, that's clearly stupid. My head hurts.
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:21 AM on September 5, 2013


Hey, I'm no slouch at this. I read Metafilter.

So YES it is bigoted to reject sushi from a white female chef.

And YES it is a horrible act of racial transgression/cultural appropriation for a white female chef to make sushi.

Now go forth and sin no more.

the only thing I'm unclear on is who's benefitting from unearned privilege. because someone has to be
posted by Naberius at 8:22 AM on September 5, 2013 [17 favorites]




I'm more offended that Mashiko's has a 10% box fee on to-go orders. Seriously? You benefit by not having me take up a table for an hour, and I pay you for that? Balls. The letter and the stance is awesome though.
posted by fatbird at 8:23 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Slate piece is a load of balls.

I agree. Does anyone else think that they have somehow moved "concern trolling for pageviews" up into their mission statement?
posted by jessamyn at 8:23 AM on September 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


Ha ha. Just this morning I was watching "Cooking With Dog" (with Francis, the Japanese chef/dog) make a taco salad.
posted by surplus at 8:23 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


My cousin is a white sushi chef.

I don't know what that has to do with anything.
posted by atoxyl at 8:25 AM on September 5, 2013


One of the ways that I know I'm a horrible person is that I would not go to a Chinese food place where the staff was non Chinese. It just feels all kinds of wrong. On the other hand, all I really know about the people who run my favorite Chinese restaurants is that they are Asian. No idea if they are Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean.... No clue. Plus American Chinese food is not the same as the food Chinese people eat in China. Not to mention, there are many ethnic groups in China. Is Chinese food only authentic if it's made by Han? No, that's clearly stupid. My head hurts.

If it comes in a folded paper box and has a fortune cookie on the side, it's not Chinese food at all. It's American food. So, rest easy I guess?

I'm more offended that Mashiko's has a 10% box fee on to-go orders. Seriously? You benefit by not having me take up a table for an hour, and I pay you for that? Balls. The letter and the stance is awesome though.

It's a matter of kitchen volume. They can only make so much food in a given time period, and if people are placing to-go orders, the work might increase to the point where it was totally impossible to fill all the orders. Discouraging this makes sense.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:26 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


That Slate piece is a load of balls.

That Slate piece is a typical piece of Slate contrarianism. Cleanse your palette by reading some of Will Saletan's stuff there, so you can be told that genetic intelligence, surprisingly, an effective indicator of employment future amongst those who have anal sex at work.
posted by fatbird at 8:26 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the Slate piece: But if, hypothetically speaking, a group of white Americans opened a sushi restaurant and hired an all or mostly white staff, would race still “not matter”? In that instance, race would matter, and quite a bit, because the owners would be capitalizing off of others’ culinary traditions and their own white privilege at the same time.

Holy shit, what a horrible misuse of the concepts of cultural appropriation and privilege. Is there a word for when someone employs social justice concepts to affect the exact opposite of social justice? It seems to be happening more and more these days.
posted by naju at 8:27 AM on September 5, 2013 [19 favorites]


Not to mention, there are many ethnic groups in China.

Yes, same goes for India, and many other places where people basically assume homogeneity. It's so irritating and takes me right out of "authenticity" conversations.

It's like when I tell people I don't particularly prefer going out for Indian food and they're like "that's SO WEIRD CUZ YOU'RE INDIAN" and I'm like "well, the food from my family's part of India isn't popular in American restaurants" and they're like MIND BLOWN what do you even mean
posted by sweetkid at 8:27 AM on September 5, 2013 [39 favorites]


Since my tender college years I've been prone to fits of public awful cursing every time some moron invokes "authenticity" in any cultural context. It feels to me like the kind of argument bawled by spoiled rich kids who should know better. Grumble. Mumble.
posted by Iosephus at 8:28 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I was in high school, there was this racial/diversity/interfaith conference thing that our local interfaith alliance put on, and roped our school choir into joining (we sang something to close the presentation). But the one thing I've never forgotten was one of the speakers, a lawyer in town, who was Asian (I believe Chinese, in particular, but am not certain); she spoke about how some of the comments she got from people, even people who thought they were being nice, were misguided. "My favorite," she said, "is the people who ask me if I know any good recipes." Pause. "....I have a great recipe for lasagna, but that's it."

Sometimes people who aren't racist in any other way make the assumption that "Italian people are the only ones who know how to make Italian food" or the like, and seeing people go "outside the box" culinarily feels wrong.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's also worth pointing out that the Slate piece's take on cultural appropriation is, in this case, functionally equivalent to racist condescension. How about we don't tell the Japanese owners that they are doing a poor job of enforcing proper ethnic/racial purity. Maybe they don't share your own Western views on what constitutes cultural appropriation or not. Maybe they never need to. The world is a big place filled with many different points of view.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:30 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, also, lots of good NY pizza is made by Albanians.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2013


It's like when I tell people I don't particularly prefer going out for Indian food and they're like "that's SO WEIRD CUZ YOU'RE INDIAN" and I'm like "well, the food from my family's part of India isn't popular in American restaurants" and they're like MIND BLOWN what do you even mean

It's my understanding that most joints labeled as "Indian Restaurants" in America are largely Punjabi in orientation. I remember my moment of "Oh yeah, India is hella big that way."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:35 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Everyone knows that the smart racial profiling on Asian restaurants isn't whether Asians are making the food, it's whether there are Asians there eating the food. If you're walking past say, a Pho place, and there are Vietnamese people lined up waiting to eat, that is a good sign.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:36 AM on September 5, 2013 [23 favorites]


Aside: if you're lined up for clear noodle soup, are you standing in the pho queue?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:37 AM on September 5, 2013 [31 favorites]


My wife and I once found a place in the Marais in Paris.

Traditional French cooking, and for some reason the prices were just over half of what we were seeing elsewhere.

A quick glance inside showed the whole staff was Laotian, chef included.

We went in and dined. It was delicious.
posted by ocschwar at 8:39 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Everyone knows that the smart racial profiling on Asian restaurants isn't whether Asians are making the food, it's whether there are Asians there eating the food.

I never understand why this sort of thing is supposed to be OK to say. I don't mean that to be aggressive, but, it's just...it's another sort of weird way to exotify people.
posted by sweetkid at 8:40 AM on September 5, 2013 [12 favorites]


DirtyOldTown: "Aside: if you're lined up for clear noodle soup, are you standing in the pho queue?"

Try the tendon and don't forget to tip your server, folks.
posted by boo_radley at 8:41 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh. If I had to pick a thing other than pop music that's more of less entirely based on cultural appropriation food would have to be it.
posted by Artw at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just popped in to say I hate the URL "sushiwhore" but love the food. As an aside, I've always assumed the distinguishing feature of good sushi is the quality of the ingredients. I've never really understood what makes one sushi chef better than another. (Though dish creation does matter: they have some really interesting dishes)
posted by lucasks at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2013


Holy shit, what a horrible misuse of the concepts of cultural appropriation and privilege. Is there a word for when someone employs social justice concepts to affect the exact opposite of social justice? It seems to be happening more and more these days.

Maybe it is happening more and more because concepts like cultural appropriation and privilege are being puzzled out by mainstream writers more and more often. Many of these writers have never been confronted with these discussions before, and they are learning from bits and pieces on the Internet and not 16-week courses on social justice. It's hard to get the nuance from Twitter.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's my understanding that most joints labeled as "Indian Restaurants" in America are largely Punjabi in orientation. I remember my moment of "Oh yeah, India is hella big that way."

yea also Southern food is popular (idli, dosa). My family is Marathi (west, Bombay/Mumbai) and the famous Marathi food is more like snacky street food.
posted by sweetkid at 8:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is that offensive? I only meant it to be practical. If you're in an area with a healthy number of population X and there is a place saying, "Authentic cuisine of population X!" and yet no one from said group wants to eat there, isn't that kind of damning?

I'm not saying that say, a Chinese place would be bad because my friend David didn't like it. David is a ribs guy. I'm saying that if no one Chinese seemed to like it, maybe that's not a good sign.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:44 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Any time someone uses the word "authentic" to describe what they want in food, I lose 2 points of respect for them.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:44 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: "Any time someone uses the word "authentic" to describe what they want in food, I lose 2 points of respect for them."

"chef inspired" or "place-cuisine inspired" does it for me.
posted by boo_radley at 8:46 AM on September 5, 2013


You should no more insist that your sushi chef be Japanese than you should your pizza chef be Italian. And what of Rick Bayless?

Good publicity though! And I could totally go for that burger, too--what a masterpiece. So hungry.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:47 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]



Everyone knows that the smart racial profiling on Asian restaurants isn't whether Asians are making the food, it's whether there are Asians there eating the food.

I never understand why this sort of thing is supposed to be OK to say. I don't mean that to be aggressive, but, it's just...it's another sort of weird way to exotify people.


If you want to know why, try dining at an Indian restaurant in Berlin, where clientelle is entirely German.

After trying to cater to German palates for enough years, the cooks will bland the recipes down to where the sauces might as wekk be Ketchup.

Nothing wrong with wanting to eat a meal that's like what X-nationals eat in the old country, and doing that by going to a restaurant where the diners are themselves often X-national.

But if you whine that the kitchen staff are the wrong ethnicity, you suck.
posted by ocschwar at 8:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Cultural appropriation," huh?

Sushi is Japanese. Japan is a nation of 127 million people with the third largest economy in the world. Does there ever come a point where it's cultural cross-pollination instead?
posted by tyllwin at 8:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


It's the constant need/desire to prove things outside of their origin "authentic" in the West (or anywhere, for that matter) that bothers me in a way I can't really express. It just seems....unseemly.
posted by Kitteh at 8:48 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where I live every restaurant is staffed by Filipinos, which I guess most people think of as "generic Asian". They make the Mexican food, the sushi, the burgers, the fish and chips, the sandwiches, the butter chicken, and anything else you can think of. If you confuse "race" with "authentic" then you're going to miss a lot of really great food.

But unfortunately there aren't any good Filipino restaurants in my neighborhood.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:49 AM on September 5, 2013


if you're lined up for clear noodle soup, are you standing in the pho queue?

Something, something beef balls
posted by bitteroldman at 8:49 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]



I never understand why this sort of thing is supposed to be OK to say. I don't mean that to be aggressive, but, it's just...it's another sort of weird way to exotify people.

If you want to know why, try dining at an Indian restaurant in Berlin, where clientelle is entirely German


Well then I would Indian it up so maybe people looking in the window would think it was a good place because look it's an Indian person eating there.
posted by sweetkid at 8:50 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm more offended that Mashiko's has a 10% box fee on to-go orders. Seriously?

Possibly the only common thread between Mashiko and Waffle House.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:50 AM on September 5, 2013


Sushi and the Reverend Moon (who is Korean and not Japanese)
Adhering to a plan Moon spelled out more than three decades ago in a series of sermons, members of his movement managed to integrate virtually every facet of the highly competitive seafood industry. The Moon followers' seafood operation is driven by a commercial powerhouse, known as True World Group. It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation's estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants.

Although few seafood lovers may consider they're indirectly supporting Moon's religious movement, they do just that when they eat a buttery slice of tuna or munch on a morsel of eel in many restaurants. True World is so ubiquitous that 14 of 17 prominent Chicago sushi restaurants surveyed by the Tribune said they were supplied by the company.
posted by notyou at 8:51 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yet, when I scanned across the restaurant, all the waiters and chefs seem to be non-Asian...Immediately my friend and I exchanged a look - this wouldn't be as authentic as the reviews have suggested.

The way this is said is off-putting, especially "non-Asian" and "authentic", but I have to say that service at a restaurant in Japan is very, very different than what you'd find here in North America. Only a few places in town give you the "IRASHAIMASE!" as you walk in, and I have yet to see a place where anyone belts out a loud "SUMIMASEN" when they want service. I often got very slow service in Japan due to my discomfort at shouting in a crowded room of diners--I think this might have something to do with why no one does this here.
posted by Hoopo at 8:53 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Bigot" is the right word not because it's bigoted against white people but because the assumption that Asian cooks are somehow more naturally suited to make food from their home country than other people is a ignorant stereotype that confuses racial characteristics with authenticity.

And yet there's a whole set of concerns around white folks who learn to cook an "exotic" cuisine and make a lot of money and publicity off of it - either because people who are uncomfortable eating Vietnamese food (for example) in an actual Vietnamese-owned restaurant are suddenly willing to eat it if a white person cooks it or because the white person makes a lot of noise about how "authentic" they are and how their pho is better than every other pho when really it's barely up to average-granny-level or because the white person spins it as "after training for ten years in a rigorous [Exotic, Foreign] tradition, I have brought back these [Exotic, Foreign!] things to enrich my white person cooking, making it the most fancy white person cooking in all the land!!!"

It's the same as with any other strongly culturally marked thing - "exotic" and "foreign" touches are viewed as extra exciting and extra worthy when they are used by white people and they're viewed as dirty/gross/low-class when used by the people whose cultures originated them. And it becomes a thing where white people find it more easy to gain money and fame by cooking "exotic" styles than people of color do, even if the POC are objectively better cooks or their food is more "authentic" or whatever.

I don't think this has anything to do with whether a white woman can make good sushi, though.

I think there's two different sushi-consumption theories in play here - one is the racist "I only want to eat sushi made by undifferentiated Asian people because The Magic of The East"; the other is "I don't want to award fame and success to white people cooking "foreign" food while ignoring or deprecating people of color cooking the exact same kind of food".

I suspect that different subcultures fall into different errors of thinking.

Unfortunately, I suspect that in a society so strongly contoured by colonialism and white supremacy, it is probably impossible not to fall into some kind of error of thinking on stuff like this.
posted by Frowner at 8:54 AM on September 5, 2013 [24 favorites]


This is one of those things that actually makes me proud and a little happy. Going into a Chinese buffet, that's cooked by Hispanic immigrants, serving pizza, jello, and General Tso's chicken, filled with every color eating happily. Go America! Great Melting Buffet!

Although I do question the ability of someone from north of the Mason Dixon line to make decent barbeque, corn bread, or sweet tea. But I'll give them a fair shot at the opportunity.
posted by teleri025 at 8:54 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


At least three times in recent years a Japanese pizza chef has won the global pizza-making competition in Napoli (Makoto Onishi in 2003 and 2006, Akinari Makishima in 2010) so if you don't eat pizzas except from Italians, you're missing out.
posted by gen at 8:55 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Any time someone uses the word "authentic" to describe what they want in food, I lose 2 points of respect for them.

If it's used in any promotional description of a restaurant, or used in a 'authentic = better' way, I agree. The search for 'authentic' is not always a bad thing. Exploring the different variations of food styles through different places and times is not a bad thing in and of itself.
posted by chambers at 8:56 AM on September 5, 2013


I never understand why this sort of thing is supposed to be OK to say. I don't mean that to be aggressive, but, it's just...it's another sort of weird way to exotify people.

*shrug* As a Korean I've always used this "rule" when dining at Korean restaurants that I'm not familiar with. It's served me well.

Sometimes people seem obsessed with eating ~authentic ethnic cuisine because, I don't know, they think it gives them cred? I have no idea. I'm personally only obsessed with authenticity when it comes to Korean food though, because I have such close ties to it; it's comfort food. I have nothing against fusion or newfangled takes on the cuisine, but sometimes I just want to be reminded of my mom's old school home cooking.

(And marketing gochujang as a thin liquid sauce to appeal to Americans is a travesty, dammit!)
posted by imnotasquirrel at 8:56 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


After trying to cater to German palates for enough years, the cooks will bland the recipes down to where the sauces might as wekk be Ketchup.

It's almost like local palates vary! And taste is subjective! And there are different measures of "tasty"!

Wasn't there a Seinfeld episode about this?

But then, Masahiko Kobe was always my favorite Iron Chef.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2013


Yeah, most sushi chefs in the US are Chinese-American. Which is a pretty horrible sign of racism in itself.
posted by miyabo at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2013


We had a lot of this same discussion back in January.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2013


In France, most of the small "Japanese" restaurants are actually run by Chinese people. The restaurant has a Japanese name and a somewhat Japanese decoration but the highly standardized menu (which is the same for all those places) has little to do with what is available in Japanese-run restaurants (not to mention in Japan itself). On one hand, this means that the people who visit those restaurants don't really get Japanese food, just a simplified and localized imitation, i.e. Japanese food translated by Chinese immigrants for the benefit of their European, non-Japanese Asian and North/Subsaharan African customers (halal sushi!). On the other hand it's still nice to have them because "true" Japanese restaurants are more expensive and unaffordable for most people.
posted by elgilito at 9:00 AM on September 5, 2013


When one is in Seattle, don't look for "authentic" Japanese; look for authentic Seattle.

I bet you can get great Seattle-style sushi at Mashiko, especially with Mariah Kmitta at the helm.
posted by modernserf at 9:01 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


if you don't eat pizzas except from Italians, you're missing out.

I'm not sure where the award-winning Japanese pizza chefs cook, but all the pizza I had in Japan was not great. Corn, seaweed, and a sausage that looks like hot dogs were not uncommon toppings. And the cheese...the cheese was wrong so often. Never really figured out what kind was being used, but it didn't even have the edge of a mild cheese like mozzarella.
posted by Hoopo at 9:04 AM on September 5, 2013


sweetkid: "Well then I would Indian it up so maybe people looking in the window would think it was a good place because look it's an Indian person eating there."

I think you're extrapolating something from what I said that wasn't there, exactly. I can understand what you're getting at and why it would get your goat, though.

What I'm not saying is that: if restaurant of cuisine X was good, everyone of ethnicity X would eat there; or that if restaurant of cuisine X was good, people of ethnicity X would appear out of the woodwork to eat there even if the local population had few or none of them.

I fix commercial dishwashers for a living, so I pretty much know restaurant people of every ethnicity. One of my customers (and friends) is an Indian man named Daron. The last time I was having lunch at his place, a diner started blasting another local Indian restaurant.The place is famously bad and gets by off of location, over-the-top decor, and a cheap buffet. We have a sizable local Indian population, but, famously, virtually none of them ever eat there. Daron simply smiled at the woman and asked, "And the other diners... did any of them look like me? They did not? And that did not give you pause?"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:05 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


When I go to a Taco Bell, if there are no surly teenagers behind the counter, I walk the hell out.
posted by orme at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2013 [35 favorites]


You should no more insist that your sushi chef be Japanese than you should your pizza chef be Italian.

In college, I walked down to the nearest pizza place (Presto's Pizza in Cleveland Circle near Boston College) and asked for a job. The manager, a moon-faced guy behind the counter, said Sure! and I started that weekend. He & I were the only American-born employees: the owner was from Italy, the other manager was also from Italy, and every other guy in the place was from Central or South America. *shrug*

I am told that the owner, Sal, had stolen everything about his business -- from the recipes down to the store layout and the white uniforms the staff wore -- from another place half a block away, called Pino's. Which, in turn, was run by an Italian-born guy and a lot of random local who were notably not from Italy.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2013


When one is in Seattle, don't look for "authentic" Japanese; look for authentic Seattle.

Mainly I go to a place that is a rip-off of a London place.
posted by Artw at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2013


They can only make so much food in a given time period, and if people are placing to-go orders, the work might increase to the point where it was totally impossible to fill all the orders.

Isn't that true for...every restaurant in existence?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:08 AM on September 5, 2013


Hey, I guess this story is also about me! I don't make very good sushi (you don't say!), but I do cook up plenty of fairly authentic Japanese goodies in my workshop!

For what it's worth, in the thirty-odd years I have been making Japanese prints, I have been accused exactly once of 'cultural appropriation'. (I suppose there are others who may hold similar opinions, but I sure don't hear about it.)

It seems to me that a charge of cultural appropriation only makes sense when the situation involves people from a 'strong' culture, taking (and profiting) from a culture that can't properly defend itself. (Typically something like westerners buying folk art from an 'undeveloped' region, and selling it for big money in major art markets, etc. etc.) A place like Japan - one of the worlds most 'solid' and respected cultures - needs no defense against such appropriations. Sushi making (and a certain type of woodblock printmaking) may have been born in Japan, but they no longer belong to Japan. They are thoroughly international.
posted by woodblock100 at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I see (for instance) an Indian restaurant where many or most of the customers are Indian, I don't assume that it's necessarily "better" than the one down the road where most of the diners are not Indian, but I do figure that it's serving food that is more in line with its customers' tastes. If that is the taste I also want, it's very useful information.

There's a family-run hole-in-the-wall Chinese place near me. Most of the customers seem to be Pacific Islanders. The food there is not "authentic" Chinese food, but it's pretty damn authentic Chinese-Hawaiian-style food, which is what I grew up on and which I still sometimes crave. Again, good information!
posted by rtha at 9:12 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Everyone knows that the smart racial profiling on Asian restaurants isn't whether Asians are making the food, it's whether there are Asians there eating the food. If you're walking past say, a Pho place, and there are Vietnamese people lined up waiting to eat, that is a good sign.

And yet if you use that logic to find excellent American food, you'll end up eating at McDonald's.
posted by straight at 9:14 AM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Does this mean that we shouldn't allow Japanese people to make hamburgers? Because my ex-housemate used to make incredible hamburgers. I know she mixed in chopped onions, but I never could figure what else she added to make them taste so good.

Frankly, Slate is making the same argument that only black people should allowed to play jazz. Which is pretty damn racist.
posted by happyroach at 9:15 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


happyroach: " Because my ex-housemate used to make incredible hamburgers. I know she mixed in chopped onions, but I never could figure what else she added to make them taste so good."

MSG.
posted by boo_radley at 9:17 AM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


That trick for casing an ethnic food joint by whether or not said ethnicity eats there isn't foolproof at all, though. To add to the example about Indian restaurants in Berlin, I would add this anecdote:

Once I was in the mood for some Romanian food, so I tried a place I found with a good-sized crowd of Romanians. I ordered sarmale and it was frigging terrible. The Romanian guy next to me laughed and said, "It's bad, right?" "Then why do you come here?" He shrugged, "Bartender's hot."

In any case, the telltale thing is probably actually when people avoid a place.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:18 AM on September 5, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm not sure where the award-winning Japanese pizza chefs cook, but all the pizza I had in Japan was not great. Corn, seaweed, and a sausage that looks like hot dogs were not uncommon toppings. And the cheese...the cheese was wrong so often. Never really figured out what kind was being used, but it didn't even have the edge of a mild cheese like mozzarella.

When I lived in Beijing, I had several local reinterpretations of US-style pizza and Japanese-style pizza, and I liked them all. I am familiar with that kind of sausage! And corn, and the ones you'd encounter that were really topped with something more like mayonnaise!

I really like the comment about "look for Seattle-style sushi". Lord knows the pizza I was eating was Shanghainese and Beijing pizza, not Italian pizza, and one certainly might not like it because of not liking the cheese or the combination of corn and seaweed, but it could certainly be perfectly acceptable on its own terms.

I used to have a friend who was really down on the kind of pizza you get a lot here at certain local places in MPLS - pizza with a thick, bready crust and a lot of sauce and a lot of emphasis on baking a good wholesome crust and using good quality ingredients. He called it "hippie pizza" and then would inevitably segue into the superiority of "authentic" pizza from Naples, the way Americans (he was American) like bread too much (especially the wrong kind of bread, ie, not dark rye or authentic French), etc etc. The thing is, hippie pizza isn't anything like Neapolitan pizza. And certainly no one has to like it. But there's no epistemological priority to Neapolitan pizza, no morality involved in the conversation. I happen to like hippie pizza. I also like whatever version of "Neapolitan" pizza the local "authentic" places dishes out. I am happy with both, sometimes in the mood for one and sometimes the other.
posted by Frowner at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a whole weird set of expectations by a chunk of white American culture about food from ethnicities that are not their own. In particular, somehow the presence of other white folks dilutes the experience and probably lowers the quality of the food, because it takes away the cachet of "I GO TO THIS PLACE AND I'M THE ONLY WHITE PERSON THERE, MAAAAAAN."
posted by rmd1023 at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [18 favorites]


Er... to finish my thought - Given that, I can't imagine how much the experience is diluted if not only are there other white people there but that they're MAKING THE FOOD.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Saying only Japanese people can create authentic sushi is like saying Julia Child didn't know how to cook authentic French foods.

I use to love a long-gone local restaurant: excellent Northern Italian food cooked by a couple Mexican guys, a Lebanese owner, mostly Korean waitresses, an Irish bartender, and assorted busboys from all over the planet. Should I have refused to eat there because none of the owners or employees were Italian? Heck no: I'd have missed out on some darn fine dining.
posted by easily confused at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2013


And yet if you use that logic to find excellent American food, you'll end up eating at McDonald's.

I guess that sort of means "look for Americans" means "look for white people" which is part of why "look for the Asians" bothers me. I am American.

Again, not trying to call anyone out, and I tend to call this kind of thing even when with other Indian people - people will refer to a Judeo Christian wedding as an "American" one and I'll be like "everyone at this [traditionally Hindu Indian wedding] is American so isn't this wedding American, too?"

It's just something I think about.
posted by sweetkid at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2013 [24 favorites]


That's a fair point, sweetkid. At best, the whole, "I want to try the _____ restaurant because a lot of ______ people eat there" thing is narrowly on the right side of a thin line. At worst... well, yeah.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a whole weird set of expectations by a chunk of white American culture about food from ethnicities that are not their own. In particular, somehow the presence of other white folks dilutes the experience and probably lowers the quality of the food, because it takes away the cachet of "I GO TO THIS PLACE AND I'M THE ONLY WHITE PERSON THERE, MAAAAAAN."

Oh man, this is spot on.
posted by naju at 9:26 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember my sister asking the chef at out favorite sushi place Rio teach her some Japanese words, only to be met with awkward silence. He then whispered that they were all from the Philippines, as if we should keep it a secret.

Then ICE raided the place a few weeks later and deported everyone, sadly.
posted by odinsdream at 9:27 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I GO TO THIS PLACE AND I'M THE ONLY WHITE PERSON THERE, MAAAAAAN.""

I probably forget about this because, while I live in an amazingly diverse place for a suburb (like, mindblowingly so), it's still a suburb and I'm never the only white person anywhere.

But yeah, it's a sort of attitude you see in music, too. I can't tell you how many times someone has used that exact line while gushing about a blues club.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2013


I don't know- whenever I go out for Canadian, I always look for a place with a lot of Canadians in it.


Also, pho qume? No- pho QUEUE!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I go to a Taco Bell, if there are no surly teenagers behind the counter, I walk the hell out.

There's a similar rule here in WNY for Mighty Taco (of great commercials fame):

If the counter staff aren't preternaturally cheerful with blown pupils, you should wait five minutes and they will be. The best was the time the obviously high teenager greeted us with "Welcome! How may we satisfy your nutritional requirements?"

Say what you like about Mighty Taco, but they know their customer base.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:31 AM on September 5, 2013 [17 favorites]


lucasks: "As an aside, I've always assumed the distinguishing feature of good sushi is the quality of the ingredients."

I had a fantastic "chef's choice" meal at the counter of a local upper-tier sushi place in my home town a while back (only time it's ever happened to me; it was wonderful, but that's another story). He told me to always pay attention to the rice. If the outfit is using good rice they are almost definitely paying attention to everything else.

(I treat it as good info but now it's kind of broken me: if I happen to be eating at one of these all you can eat sushi troughs that are sadly more and more common in my Uni town, I always notice that the rice is crunchy nuggets o' bland, dry, flavourlessness.)
posted by hearthpig at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2013


these are people who care more about some misguided notion of "authenticity" than good food. they deserve california rolls soaked in butter.
posted by echocollate at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2013


A Thai family owns a chain of sushi restaurants in my area, and the cooks are of varying national origins. It's OK, but we live in the desert, and they include green chili in some rolls, so it's better than sushi from a grocery store deli section. But they get bonus points for their joint Japanese/Thai restaurant. Why yes, I did want larb* AND a New Mexico roll, you read my mind!

*Wait, larb is Laotian? I've learned so much today!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on September 5, 2013


echocollate: they deserve california rolls soaked in butter.

I've heard that called a Georgia roll. Deep fry the whole thing, and it's Texan.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:36 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cultural appropriation: taking recipes invented by African-American slaves and selling them as part of an implicitly white down-home Southern cuisine, all the while treating your black employees like crap

Not cultural appropriation: the mere act of making, doing, or enjoying something not solely invented by "your" culture

Exoticising the Other: "What a strange dish! I guess they invented this because they were poor, or maybe it has some sort of secret healing power. What odd tastes the Ruritanians have!"

Not exoticising the Other: "I'm glad that my curiosity led me to try this! I love trying food that is new to me. This food is different from what I am used to, and that's okay. The world is a big place."
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:38 AM on September 5, 2013 [38 favorites]


"Yet, when I scanned across the restaurant, all the waiters and chefs seem to be non-Asian...Immediately my friend and I exchanged a look - this wouldn't be as authentic as the reviews have suggested."

Hey, Yelp dumbass: do you want authentic sushi or an authentic restaurant? Because anyone with the right skills can make the former, but you can only find the latter in Japan.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:41 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


My wife and I have a favorite sushi place here in Vancouver. It is nearly entirely staffed by Japanese people and mostly full of Japanese patrons (I kind of assume they have their name in some local guide for homestay/Japanese students), with a fair number of locals from the nearby highrises as well. The food is sort of a take on contemporary izakaya food rather than your traditional sushi-type place.

I've heard it called out as being inauthentic by some of the white patrons who don't really know what a izakaya looks like and expect everything Japanese to look like a small family-run sushi place like in the movies or whatever. But I've also heard it called out by my buddy from Fujisawa who came to visit. I was telling him about the place when he was in town, and my favorite roll there, which contains mango among other things. He was flabbergasted. "THAT's not Japanese! No Japanese person would put mango in sushi!" I told him it's actually pretty common here, and you'll find avocado and mango frequently. We eventually went there, and he tried the roll with the mango, and fucking LOVED it and it blew his mind. He even talked with the owner for like 10 minutes about how much he liked mango in sushi, then ordered us all a round of some stuff called tan-taka-tan which was some kind of shiso-flavored liqueur I'd never tried before.

I don't know what my point is anymore. It's not even 10am and I want sushi now.
posted by Hoopo at 9:43 AM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


So, according to Slate I can't open a sushi restaurant, despite my love of sushi and restaurants? Fuck that.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:48 AM on September 5, 2013


if you're lined up for clear noodle soup, are you standing in the pho queue?

I've always loved the plethora of Pho King restaurants you can find around.
posted by kmz at 9:51 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


For what it's worth, in the thirty-odd years I have been making Japanese prints, I have been accused exactly once of 'cultural appropriation'. (I suppose there are others who may hold similar opinions, but I sure don't hear about it.)

Did this accusation come from a white American rather than a Japanese person? (Let's just say I have my suspicions...)

It seems to me that a charge of cultural appropriation only makes sense when the situation involves people from a 'strong' culture, taking (and profiting) from a culture that can't properly defend itself.

Exactly, this is no more cultural appropriation than Japanese people eating KFC on Christmas.
posted by atrazine at 9:53 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


atrazine: "Exactly, this is no more cultural appropriation than Japanese people eating KFC on Christmas."

Whaaaaat.
posted by boo_radley at 9:54 AM on September 5, 2013


What I never quite got was why there are so many Japanese sushi chefs in America in the first place. Let me start by saying that my sample is not very scientific - I can't really tell Asian people's countries of origin visually from 10 feet back to be honest. But now that you can get sushi in grocery stores I usually see someone who at least looks potentially Japanese making it behind the counter.

I mean, if you were a Japanese person who was going to go all the way to the USA wouldn't you have some aspiration to do something other than being a Japanese Uncle Tom making sushi? It strikes me as unlikely that they're all so eager to make sushi.

Also, I had to laugh - I was in the Cupertino Whole Foods the other day. For those who don't know Cupertino, in addition to being the home of Apple, it's a really Asian community. To the extent that the public schools are like 90% asian kids, etc. There are lots of Korean, Chinese, Japanese restaurants, stores, etc. Your typical ethnic neighbourhood really. Anyway, the Cupertino Whole Foods sushi counter seems to double as the Cupertino Japanese seniors' center. There must have been a dozen retirement-aged Japanese people puttering away making sushi. So I guess it was authentic. Or something.
posted by GuyZero at 9:57 AM on September 5, 2013


Whaaaaat.

I'm led to believe that the Japanese have sort of blurred Colonel Sanders and Santa Claus together.
posted by GuyZero at 9:58 AM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Does anyone else think that they have somehow moved "concern trolling for pageviews" up into their mission statement?

Since when was "concern trolling for pageviews" not in Slate's mission statement?
posted by Gelatin at 9:59 AM on September 5, 2013


I'm led to believe that the Japanese have sort of blurred Colonel Sanders and Santa Claus together.

Make me a meme Internet
posted by Kitteh at 9:59 AM on September 5, 2013


I've always loved the plethora of Pho King restaurants you can find around

There was a Japanese chain called "First Kitchen" that was abbreviated by the locals in my town as "Fah-Keen". It meant you could say things like "I'm gonna go get a fah-keen burger and fries." Though in my opinion MOS Burger rules the Japanese fast food burger game, that place is so fah-keen good.

Whaaaaat.

Colonel Sanders looks like Santa, and sometimes they have a Colonel Sanders statue out front that gets dressed up as Santa at Christmas time.
posted by Hoopo at 10:00 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article is idiotic. It acknowledges that a white person could be a talented sushi chef and that much of the attachment to a stereotypical sushi chef is orientalist fantasy. Then it launches into an explanation about cultural appropriation by white people in America

...which is acknowledged to irrelevant since Mashiko's owner is Japanese.

But then what about this hypothetical made-up example of all-white owners/staff of a sushi restaurant, surely THAT would be cultural appropriation, because they'll make money that belongs to the culture of Japan and the hypothetical Japanese owners/chefs who are being hypothetically pushed out of their sushi business birthright by white privilege?!

Um, well, speaking of oversimplifications, that would really depend on the situation, wouldn't it.

Which is why it seems unfair to accuse consumers who are wary of a white sushi chef of bigotry and discrimination. Sure, they might be attached to some exotic fantasy of a sushi chef, in which case they deserve Mashiko’s owners’ public shaming. But they might just be trying to look at race in a historical context rather than a vacuum.

If so, they'd need to try harder.
posted by desuetude at 10:00 AM on September 5, 2013


For the record, I've had perfectly satisfactory Indian food in Berlin.
posted by hoyland at 10:02 AM on September 5, 2013


[Internment camp joke deleted. Really?]
posted by jessamyn at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dining is, among many other things, a form of cultural tourism.

I don't think there's anything wrong with that. We recognize that people around the world do all sorts of things—art, religion, architecture, clothing, and yes, food—in a thousand different ways. And we think, not without reason, that exploring this cultural diversity might help us to understand other cultures, our shared humanity, or at least be interesting and enjoyable.

There are plenty of people willing to profit from that impulse by offering a product that *superficially* resembles the original, but which has been tweaked to make it more palatable and salable to the new audience. Is that bad? Of course not. I'm well aware that much of the "ethnic" food I eat in the US has been Americanized, sometimes heavily, and I don't mind. In fact, that cross-pollination has created some entirely new cuisines. My Chinese takeout isn't any less delicious or nutritious just because it's *different* than what most Chinese people in China eat.

But, sometimes, we want more than that. We want to know what a typical meal for a Chinese person in China (or an Indian person in India, or what-have-you) *is* like, to have the experience that a person from another culture has when they sit down for a meal. That's what we generally mean when we talk about the "authenticity" of food: authentic food is that which hasn't been adapted for local palates, food that would be familiar to an Ethiopian in Ethiopia (or a Peruvian in Peru, or what-have-you).

And, coarsely speaking, you *are* more likely to get this kind of "authenticity" from a chef who grew up with a particular cuisine, who has been exposed to many different aspects of it over decades, who understands it not just on a technical level but a cultural one as well.

Can you *also* get great, "authentic" sushi from a white person who has dedicated herself to the craft? Sure. (And, for that matter, you can get terrible sushi from a Japanese chef who just isn't very good.)

It's complicated, obviously. But I think that charges of bigotry (on the part of the diners) or cultural appropriation (on the part of white sushi chefs) are both a little extreme. Not everything that involves race (or, in this case, culture, really) is racist.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


My heart bleeds for the poor Kentucky coal miners whose culture and heritage are being pillaged by Tokyo yuppies.
posted by tyllwin at 10:09 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


GuyZero: I'm led to believe that the Japanese have sort of blurred Colonel Sanders and Santa Claus together.

You are correct.

But I'm not sure how coal mining is involved.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:19 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


No stranger than American Jews eating Chinese on Christmas.

I have fond memories of being in Hong Kong for Christmas. SO MANY CHRISTMAS PANDAS
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:27 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think this big tent inclusive race blindness can work, but only somewhere like Seattle or another very metropolitan place. I can buy that a white woman under 30 or so, and from the PNW, could have been around sushi long enough to be just as qualified and authentic as anyone else in making it.

But leave those kinds of places and try to keep that open attitude, you are bound for heartbreak. OK, maybe not heartbreak, but some really shitty and inauthentic food. Would you really want the Italian style spaghetti cooked by Malays in a halal kitchen, here in Kelantan, where it's quite likely none of them has ever even tasted a real plate of Italian pasta before? OK, I know, that's a part of that thing you do, but I promise you will not order it the second time.

In much of the world people come from tightly delimited cultures, is all I'm saying. (Some parts of) North America is a massive outlier.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:29 AM on September 5, 2013


Would you really want the Italian style spaghetti cooked by Malays in a halal kitchen, here in Kelantan, where it's quite likely none of them has ever even tasted a real plate of Italian pasta before?

Sure. Why not?

Food is judged on inherent qualities, not on its lineage. Anyone can make good food. Anyone can make bad food. If a dish is good who care how close it comes to the Platonic ideal plate of Tuscan pasta? It's not like there aren't Italians out there fucking up a simple plate of gnocchi right this minute.
posted by GuyZero at 10:33 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't think this is "anti-white" bigotry though. It's not just that people think white people can't be good sushi chefs. It's that being a sushi chef is only a suitable job for a Japanese man. It's one of the things only suitable for Asian men, making sushi or cooking hibachi. If your sushi experience is spoiled for you because you didn't get it prepared by a grinning, bowing Japanese guy then that's anti-Asian bigotry.
posted by Cookiebastard at 10:33 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


hoopo's comment about how "Only a few places in town give you the 'IRASHAIMASE!'" reminds me of how on a trip to Portland back in 2004 I discovered that BOTH of the top-rated sushi restaurants are Korean-run. My then-boyfriend was a giant sushi snob (Japanese American but came to sushi relatively late, after getting a steady IT paycheck) and always joked about all the Korean immigrants masquerading as Japanese and peddling mediocre sushi to oblivious San Franciscans. (He thinks Koreans aren't picky enough to make truly high-end sushi and always give too big pieces of fish in an attempt to seem like a better value.)

So anyway, we walk into the first restaurant and the chefs behind the sushi counter yell 'IRASHAIMASE!' After we sit down, I look at the decor and there is a framed brush painting with Korean calligraphy. I point that out to him, he stares at the Korean cheeks of the chefs and he asks if we can order only a few things to be polite and then try the other "BEST OF PORTLAND" restaurant. OK sure, no problem. I am still chortling yet troubled by Koreans shouting welcome in Japanese, but decide to tell my ex that this is pay back for Japanese colonial rule of Korea. "Your people tried to erase the cultural identity of my people! So there!" Anyway we are peering suspiciously into the second restaurant near the entrance and when a clearly Japanese national waiter comes out to seat us, he relaxes. We know our East Asian accents, and that my friend, is a Japanese accent. But when we start flipping through the menu I see kimchi, and galbi, and at least a handful of Korean dishes...
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:01 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anyway, I think customers or Yelp reviewers looking for Japanese staff at Japanese restaurants in the US are a) forgetting that there has been very little Japanese immigration to the US in decades (Hawaii is the exception) b) if you want an immigrant making the food of their people's for their people you would be better off looking at ethnic enclaves c) Japanese food and especially sushi is pretty much in the "fine dining" camp and plenty of non-Japanese people train in Japanese cuisine .

I know plenty of non-Koreans who love to eat Korean food but it's not considered a high-end fine dining experience in the U.S. (even if not cheap) I think that's why cuisines more associated with working class immigrants or immigrant enclaves are expected to cater to only "their" population.

Unrelatedly, my favorite LA Koreatown experience was going to get a big bowl of hangover cure at the equivalent of a Korean diner and seeing two tables of Latino families enjoying their Sunday afternoon meal in the restaurant. Yes! Immigrants eating at other immigrants' restaurants!!
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:10 AM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Would you really want the Italian style spaghetti cooked by Malays in a halal kitchen, here in Kelantan, where it's quite likely none of them has ever even tasted a real plate of Italian pasta before?
Maybe if it tasted good. Sometimes the blending of the foodways is a beautiful thing and leads to some really interesting tastes, like pizza for example, and crab rangoons. I recently had porkbelly topped with Honeycrisp Apple Kimchi. It was beautiful and fabulous and a blend of flavors that I would have never expected.

Granted sometimes the blending of flavors is tragic and much like a horrific trainwreck. But "authentic" cooks can screw up their "authentic" cuisine as easily as they can someone elses. A bad cook is just a bad cook, sometimes.
posted by teleri025 at 11:13 AM on September 5, 2013


One of the ways that I know I'm a horrible person is that I would not go to a Chinese food place where the staff was non Chinese.

OVer here that would basically mean you'll never eat Chinese, as the vast majority of Chinese restaurants here are run by Indonesians.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:15 AM on September 5, 2013


One of the ways that I know I'm a horrible person is that I would not go to a Chinese food place where the staff was non Chinese.

How would you know?
posted by GuyZero at 11:16 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


an Assyrian place

Today I learned two things:

1.) There are still Assyrians around. I'm not a professional historyologist or anything, but I knew about the empire from thousands of years ago. However, in my world-history-by-way-of-Larry-Gonick brain, I think I assumed that once an ancient empire fell, that was it for the people too. (Patent nonsense, obviously, but it was one of those weird little epistemological blind spots.)

2.) There is a cuisine that I haven't tried yet, and it sounds pretty damned tasty.

MetaFilter is awesome.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:40 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just an aside: if you're in Brazil try the sushi. Reliably awesome. This is a travel tip and has nothing to do with the huge component of Japanese living there.
posted by surplus at 11:42 AM on September 5, 2013


Where I live, the Japanese-run places have high quality standards for the fish they serve, and correspondingly higher prices. The Chinese-run places serve lower quality fish at lower prices. There's room for both in the market, but I prefer the good fish now I can tell the difference.
posted by w0mbat at 11:43 AM on September 5, 2013


Agreeing with Potomac Avenue and sonic meat machine and others --

This isn't the famed "reverse racism against white people" it's straight up racism against Asians that makes people insist on having an Asian chef because there's something special about Asians which makes them Authentic Sushi Chefs. (And yes -- most people complaining would never notice or care when they got a non-Japanese Asian sushi chef.)

It's the same kind of racism that might make an old-timey rich white golfer insist on having a Black caddy. He has certain roles which people of color are supposed to fit into and he is unhappy when those expectations are violated.
posted by edheil at 11:46 AM on September 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


I worked at a fancy sushi place in London. Our regular customers included diplomats and world famous entertainers. I started as a dishwasher, made it to second chef, along with an Algerian kid.

The problem was that once we made it to second chefs and started preparing sushi rolls and sashimi and all that stuff, we had to work from the cramped sweltering basement and send the stuff up to the chefs working on the beautiful kitchen upstairs, were customers can see the cooks.

Only Japanese looking cooks were allowed to to be seen touching the sushi.

You know how many Japanese cooks we had? Zero. All the Japanese cooks were Mongolians on 5 year work visas.

I expect there to be some good sushi places in Mongolia by now.

BTW, most Japanese restaurant in San Francisco japantown does this. Lots of Latinos working behind the curtain. I like the looks I get when I ask the asian looking Peruvian cook I know for
"un churro de atún y unas bolitas de erizo por favor"
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 11:51 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


"does raising your eyebrows at a white sushi chef really make you a bigot?"

Of course it does, if you are raising your eyebrows for that reason rather than the quality of their sushi. I mean, there isn't even any possibility of arguing about that. It's the very definition of a racist reaction.
posted by Decani at 11:57 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


edheil, yes, exactly! When Paula Deen wanted to cater an event and hire black slave-servants no one was accusing her of being racist because she wasn't giving white people those jobs.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:58 AM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Hispanic chefs at my parents' local kosher-style deli make excellent matzoh balls and other assorted Jewish goodies. I suppose you could argue that the owners have hired all the Mexican Jews in the area, but I'm thinking not.

(Of course, this deli also serves pulled pork sandwiches with bacon, which...um...well...I did say it was kosher-style. I await with some trepidation their decision to slap some cheese on the sandwich, which would make it a trayf trifecta.)
posted by thomas j wise at 12:00 PM on September 5, 2013


I confess to there being a time in my life when I was deliberately seeking out Chinese restaurants with a Chinese customer base.

But not for the reason you think - it was because my ex spoke fluent Mandarin, and wanted to practice it or just freak people out that this Caucasian guy could talk so well, and so he'd ask the waitress a question or ask the guy at the next table a question and watch their minds get blown and they'd always get into a happy conversation with him, and a couple times that ended up in them buying us beers or giving us their leftovers so awesome.

But then he dumped me and ran off to Atlanta with a stewardess so I can't do that any more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:01 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]



Only Japanese looking cooks were allowed to to be seen touching the sushi.


"Japanese looking," wow. Never mind if they ARE of Japanese heritage, just how they "look."
posted by sweetkid at 12:02 PM on September 5, 2013


spamandkimchi:

I can only speak for myself and my extended family and 4 or 5 friends and their extended families, but we Mexicans love Korean food. The concepts and flavors are different enough to be interesting but familiar enough that you can relax. And Korean restaurants, like most Mexican restaurants, tend to have big tables available and seem to be perfectly happy to cater to a table of 8 plus 3 kids.

You get all the small dishes at the start, which is the equivalent of the "botana" you get in Mexican restaurant, lots of small assorted appetizers free of charge. You get lots of meat and spice, you get lots of organ meat. The fish is awesome, I love fish roe soup, both mexican and korean versions. You are expected to have a 3 hour meal. But the most important thing that makes us Mexicans feel safe in Korean restaurants is that it always looks like the whole family works at the restaurant, and there is always great grandma sitting in a chair watching some of the worlds best soap operas.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 12:04 PM on September 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


As a longtime patron of Mashiko, I'm sort of baffled that the Yelp reviewer would expect "authenticity" there. I'm pretty sure Hajime has never tried to claim that his restaurant is similar to sushi restaurants in Japan. Maybe looking at their menu would have helped? A place that has prosciutto-wrapped scallops and a section titled "American-style" rolls that includes a "cheesy alligator roll" is probably not what you're looking for if you want only traditional Japanese sushi.

Which is not to say that there's nothing traditionally Japanese at Mashiko--just that Hajime and Mariah and the other chefs are experimental and are willing to use non-traditional ingredients and methods to create tasty food. When my husband and I had a kaiseki dinner there a few years ago, Mariah made us the prosciutto-wrapped scallops, but also fresh tamago (the traditional method that took her 15-20 minutes to make). Both were fantastic.

We've had meals prepared by Mariah and meals prepared by Hajime, and it's pretty clear to me that she's putting out the same kind of food that he is--the idea that it has to be different because Hajime's a man born in Japan and she's a white American woman is ridiculous to me.
posted by creepygirl at 12:13 PM on September 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


sweetkid:

Yes, I don't know if I made it clear that I was quoting managment there. Customers had complained that non-japanese cooks were making their food, but they seemed to be OK with the Mongolians. Management hired Mongolians on temporary work visas.

The Peruvian sushi chef I know looked Latin American to me immediately, but he was greeting people in Japanese. He was in the same situation, his non-asian-looking Peruvian friends worked unseen.

The only Japanese people were a hostess and a waitress. The second one was an American who learned Japanese in their teens.

These people should only buy guns, grenades, plows, paper, books, etc.. from Chinese owned Chinese companies. Otherwise non authentic.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 12:13 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]



Yes, I don't know if I made it clear that I was quoting managment there.


Oh, completely, I understood those weren't your thoughts. They're just very ick thoughts.
posted by sweetkid at 12:16 PM on September 5, 2013


Mr. Bad Example: "Today I learned ... There are still Assyrians around. "

Oh yeah. I wouldn't know how to fact check it, but it's commonly said that Chicago has the largest population of Assyrians outside of the Middle East (80,000 or so I think). Heck, my next door neighbor is Assyrian. My wife and I both worked for years at Andies on the North side. (That's where we met, actually.) Andie doesn't advertise that he's Assyrian, though, as his place got big during a time when explaining that he was from Iraq didn't go so well. He likes to say he "came to the US from Lebanon." That's technically true... he was in Lebanon for a month or so after Iraq before immigrating to the US.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:16 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always loved the plethora of Pho King restaurants you can find around.


There is a 'Pho Kim Long' near my house.
posted by Quonab at 12:19 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I feel like I am uniquely suited to comment on this here, as I am:

1. A sushi chef.
2. By most definitions, white.

And for the record, yes it makes you bigoted. Not for the reasons most would assume however. As has been pointed out already by a few commenters, most people with this view just want to see an Asian behind the bar. They don't know or care what the national/ethnic origin of the person actually is. That's just terribly bigoted in my view. The chef I use to work for most recently was Korean and was constantly asked when he came to America from Japan.
I have worked with Hmong, Burmese, Thai and Vietnamese chefs, and yes . . . Japanese ones. Ironically and coincidentally the Japanese guys were not so great.
The best sushi chef I have ever worked with and the one I learned the most from? He was . . .

A black guy from Queens, NY. Great chef. But the looks and comments! That's when my young (at the time) eyes were really opened to the constant background radiation of racism in America.

Good on Sato for calling these people out.
posted by kaiseki at 12:34 PM on September 5, 2013 [19 favorites]


If I ate fish and I lived in Seattle, I'd eat at Mashiko all the time.

Good for therm.
posted by freakazoid at 12:41 PM on September 5, 2013


kaiseki
I hope you still greet customers with konnichi wa or konban wa. OK at least on April 1, just to mess with them.
posted by surplus at 1:22 PM on September 5, 2013


> "Would you really want the Italian style spaghetti cooked ... where it's quite likely none of them has ever even tasted a real plate of Italian pasta before?"

So, you're arguing that a cuisine largely based on pasta, which was probably introduced to Italy by Arabs during the conquest of Sicily, and tomato sauces, which didn't even exist in Europe at all until a couple of hundred years ago, might be ruined if non-Italians dare to touch it?
posted by kyrademon at 1:24 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Cultural appropriation," huh?

Sushi is Japanese. Japan is a nation of 127 million people with the third largest economy in the world.


Seriously. I've never heard a Japanese person express anything other than interest or approval when Japanese food / fashion / entertainment is successful with non-Japanese people.

I mean, do Americans get upset when other cultures like Hollywood movies or open a McDonalds?

[If you had a white person talking like Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffanys making sushi, THEN you'd have a problem]
posted by wildcrdj at 1:31 PM on September 5, 2013


When I was a grade schooler I wondered if the relationship between Syrians and Assyrians was somehow like the relationship between Baptists and Anabaptists.
posted by XMLicious at 1:41 PM on September 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Mashiko's rules
#20 Visa and master card and washing dishes are all acceptable methods of payment
I wonder how many people have taken them up on the dishwashing, and how long it would actually take to pay for a sushi meal that way.
posted by ckape at 1:43 PM on September 5, 2013


My wife's Chinese relatives have taken us to two restaurants (one in Toronto, other in Hong Kong) which featured Chinese takes on what the proprietors apparently believed was White People Food (i.e. chicken wings, pasta and various casseroles in cream sauce). I'm not even talking about one of those "Chinese-Canadian" places where you can get fries with your chicken balls; there was no Chinese food on either menu, and both places were decorated like a Norman Rockwell theme park. They were bizarre, and the food was similar to but even worse than the crap I used to cook myself in university. The sad part is, I think we were taken there because they thought maybe we wanted a break from all the amazing Chinese food they usually take us out for.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:52 PM on September 5, 2013


I wish there was a button I could push that would make a person's head explode whenever they uttered the word "authentic", especially with regard to food.

There's NO SUCH THING AS AUTHENTIC.

"Traditional", sure. But if you're not in Japan right this minute -- and probably even if you are -- your sushi is not authentic. In an American context, "authentic" means "very closely modeled on a Japanese-American dining tradition from the 70s and 80s". I mean, if these people see a California roll on the menu do they jump up and start screaming and waving their arms? There's nothing "authentic" about those, if that word has any meaning (which it doesn't). Do they gob tons of mixed wasabi-and-soy sauce on everything? Nothing "authentic" about that. Sushi itself, as commonly encountered today, even in Japan (where American trends have crossed back over) is nothing like traditional.

But who cares? Is it good? Is innovation allowed, even by Japanese chefs? If you say no, then nothing on the menu is allowable, either. But innovation isn't authentic. Japanese chefs who drop the Inscrutable Oriental screen and do the "authentic" thing and fool around and try new things will be attacked for inauthenticity as well, but never as fast as the most painstaking traditionalist who happens to be white.

What people want when they say "authentic" is in fact "fake, but covered with better symbolism". It's still Americanized Japanese food -- c'mon, the menu's in English characters, isn't it? YOU CAN'T READ JAPANESE: you're not authentic. You probably couldn't handle "authentic" -- it might have a tiny live crab on top of it, for instance, or have spent the last ten years buried in the back yard.

This is at its heart racism: it's locking an "ethnic" food into an ethnic ghetto, where white folks can go to enjoy it and the fun rituals of foreignness without any icky discomfort or language barrier, where the foreign cooks know their place and play their role the way they're supposed to. Anything that deviates from this norm is off-limits -- and the reason a white sushi chef is discomfiting is because white people are expected to stay out of the ghetto, and roam freely. A white chef doing something avant garde with sushi-related concepts and ingredients would be cool, but seeing one doing traditional Japanese food (or what you think is traditional) breaks the stereotype: the wrong actor for the part.

The only authentic food most Americans will ever eat in their entire lives is Kraft macaroni and cheese, MacDonald's burgers, Hamburger Helper, Twinkies, Wonder Bread. Completely and utterly authentic.

I have this same rant all ready to go for Mexican food, if you're interested. Never, ever use that word "authentic" -- it doesn't mean what you think it does.
posted by Fnarf at 1:53 PM on September 5, 2013 [16 favorites]


Yes everything you said Fnarf. It's like people don't believe immigrant cultures change upon arrival in America, or anywhere else. Like everytime you walk into x "ethnic" restaurant you have actually stepped into Japan, or India, or anywhere.
posted by sweetkid at 1:59 PM on September 5, 2013


There's a very valid way to complain about the lack of authenticity in a sushi restaurant, but it has as little to do with race as correlation does with causation.
A quick case study: "Sushi-ya," in humble little East Lansing, was owned and run by two alcoholic chefs. They did not have ootoro, inari, or most of the standard sushi types that you'd expect out of a "sushi" shop and not a "fusion cuisine" shop. What they DID have was, as it was called at the time, the "Godzilla roll." I may be missing one or two of the ingredients, and they may have changed over the years, but it at least involved red peppers, the flesh of a mammal, being deep fried, and covered in flammable alcohol which was then lit before being served. It was monstrous and disgusting.

Another place, about twice as expensive, whose name I've forgotten, was Korean owned, but had traditionally trained people, both male and female, Japanese and American, and had absolutely every traditional roll that you would expect to find on the menu of any expensive Ginza sushi shop. It was delicious. While this is neither here nor there, they were also the only sushi shop I've ever gotten food poisoning from. The tekkamaki was worth it.

The moral of the story is that nationality does not factor into any of this in even the slightest. It's the intent and motivation of the restauranteurs that matters. Those two Koreans from Sushi-ya don't speak a single word of Japanese that isn't on their menu, don't care about Japanese culture, and don't seem to suffer for business because of it. Meanwhile, at the other place, even the white guy was fluent in the language, and had clearly been over to the archipelago for a not insignificant number of years. Those guys were going for "authenticity," and nobody was stupid enough to pretend that nationality had anything to do with it.

Also, there is absolutely a very real and persistent line of thought, particularly with the older generation, that women and gaijin should not at any point be involved in traditional Japanese restaurant food. I can't imagine anyone younger than 40 years old giving a flying fuck, but it's out there. A good example that comes to mind is the owner of Ivan Ramen, a good enough restaurant, to be sure, but the real reason it gets put on TV every once in a while is that the shop owner is a white guy. Holy shit you guys. The white people can make our food. I bet he can even use chopsticks!

I'm sure this racist, bigoted view of "authenticity" exists pretty much everywhere, but I've been living in Tokyo for eight years and haven't been home in six, so this is just what I see often in my daily life.
posted by GoingToShopping at 2:17 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


At a hibachi restaurant I went to in South Carolina a few months ago, the hibachi chef was Asian-American, as in his family probably immigrated to America from somewhere in Asia in the recent past, but his accent was pure Rural South Carolina. So he'd clearly been living in the South for most or all of his life. I swear to God, he sounded like Larry the Cable Guy. So he was doing the usual hibachi-chef schtick, juggling spatulas and flipping shrimp-tails into his hat and calling soy-sauce "Japanese Coca-Cola, y'all", and all his standard-hibachi-cheff patter was in his wonderful Rural South-Carolina accent. And the food was really good, for one of those chain-hibachi places. And a lovely time was had by all.

Until one of the diners (whom I did not know) sitting next to me whispered to me, "I wish we had a real Japanese chef"

*Sad trombone*

What the hell? The chef may well have even really been born in Japan, for all I know. But it would have been more "authentic" if he'd just sounded more Japanese.

I didn't say anything to the other diner. I was just really uncomfortable about the whole thing. And this thread has kind of helped me figure out why.
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:18 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


But, sometimes, we want more than that. We want to know what a typical meal for a Chinese person in China (or an Indian person in India, or what-have-you) *is* like, to have the experience that a person from another culture has when they sit down for a meal.

But you won't get that in a Chinese (or Peruvian) restaurant.

For one thing, restaurants in the American sense aren't very Chinese. But you wouldn't be very comfortable having your experience at a roadside stand with trucks driving by and a guy cutting the heads off chickens a few feet away and pools of gas and oil all around. But really, in a lot of countries, "traditional" means home cooking, I remember talking to a guy from India about Indian restaurants (which are rarely run by Indians), and his response to my question about which is "best" was "none of them, they all suck, there's no such thing as a good Indian restaurant, even in India, because the only good Indian food is cooked at home by your servant". OK then.

For another, there's really no such thing as "Chinese food". There's food made by people in China, some of whom are Chinese and some who aren't, and no matter how well-versed in the differences between Sichuan and Mandarin, etc. (or Oaxacan vs. Puebla), you're only getting a tiny fraction of the story. Most of the story is also carried by women, who again have never set foot in a restaurant, on either side of the counter.

What you're getting is the product of a process of cultural manipulation, taking recipes from various sources and working them into a workable sales project. This isn't "authentic" at all -- but on the other hand it IS, because culture in China isn't fixed either, and that idealized Chinese grandmother did the same thing when she learned how to cook (minus the sales part).

That sales part is important. Every restaurant in the US is selling food that the owners think people will buy, modified to local tastes and local availability and price of ingredients. Restaurants are businesses first. The best food in the world can't keep a restaurant open if the owner can't run a business (and the converse).

One of the interesting things about the spread of Mexican food across the US in recent years is how traditional regional variations are making better inroads in places that never had significant Mexican immigration than in places that did. The spread of restaurants tends to be much more localized than people realize, with every Mexican restaurant in, for instance, Seattle, where I live, coming from essentially the same damn tiny village until comparatively recently, who grew up working in the same couple of restaurants in town and then opening their own. Traditionally, new immigrants would start in those restaurants and be immediately told "no, forget all that weird stuff, white people here won't eat it, cook it like this", which is how you get the sameness of combo-platter Mexican everywhere, even, or especially, in places with lots of Mexican-Americans. Places without a "welcoming committee" of long-term immigrants don't get that cultural lesson, so they make and sell what they know, because they don't know any better, which is why it's sometimes possible to find unusual regional food in bizarre places far from the Mexican-American center of LA, like Montana or Iowa or Alabama.

Another thing to consider is that the people cooking "ethnic" food in America, even if they're cooking in the "correct" ethnicity (which is not usually true), are probably not originally chefs. Chefs are not likely migrants from most countries; what you get instead are engineers and doctors and construction workers and every other job description you can imagine -- like cab drivers. They may not even be able to cook worth a damn. So a super-authentic Chinese restaurant run by a real live Chinese person might be horrible. But it will certainly be compromised and inauthentic, just because America is such a different place.

And ANOTHER thing (this is one of my favorite topics, forgive me): One thing "authentic" always, always means is "not from here" -- "not American". But Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Assyrian-Americans, Mexican-Americans -- they ARE Americans. By wishing for an "authentic" foreign experience, you're basically saying "you're not one of us, that's why you're interesting". But they are us. They eat at MacDonalds on their day off, they know what flavors of Monster energy drink are at the convenience store, they know how to use the microwave.

And the secret is, the people back in the Motherland know too. One of the meanings of "authentic" is "unmediated", or even "before time". But there is no unmediated world. They have TV in Thailand and KFC in Botswana and every kind of food in the world in Mexico City. We expect our good little foreigners to have lots of interesting folkways we can poke through, and they do, but they live in the same world we do. They know and talk about what kind of national foods white people know and like, both here and there. Their traditions ARE interesting, but too often white people go into an ethnic restaurant thinking they're like Amazonian explorers making First Contact -- but they probably know more about you than you do about them.
posted by Fnarf at 2:35 PM on September 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


none of them, they all suck, there's no such thing as a good Indian restaurant, even in India, because the only good Indian food is cooked at home by your servant

This is entirely untrue, the only good Indian food is cooked by my parents. In Virginia. Yes, both of my parents not just my mother. Actually my father has a good case going that he's better.
posted by sweetkid at 2:46 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


no but for real your comments are spot on Fnarf.
posted by sweetkid at 2:47 PM on September 5, 2013


A quick read of Trevor Corson's book "The Story of Sushi" (HarperCollins, 2007) will also quickly disabuse you of any notions of "authentic" Japanese sushi in America. For starters, there's no one kind of sushi in Japan; the kind you find in America is almost always Kyoto-style, sweeter, with more sugar and less vinegar. And modern sushi of any kind would probably be considered an abomination by any Japanese taster a few hundred years ago, as the rice is no longer fermented; what we eat today, even in Japan, is "quick sushi". And sushi doesn't necessarily have anything to do with fish, but with rice, seasoned with sugar and vinegar (but obviously often served with fish).

And sushi isn't Japanese; it probably originated in the Mekong Delta, where people first learned how to preserve fish by packing it in rice, which they threw away when they wanted to eat the rotten fish -- the fish was better when preserved in rotten rice. The Japanese innovated by eating the rice, too, and eventually started skipping the "rotten" part altogether when they discovered that they could get the same taste components from (fermented) rice vinegar, soy sauce, and bonito flakes.

The point being that sushi, like all foods, is an evolving food, and has changed continuously over thousands of years, and this process is of course authentic, but isn't what people mean when they use that word. Your local sushi place, whomever it is staffed by, probably doesn't serve funa-zushi, and it also (counter to the authenticity myth) most certainly involves a number of wholly industrial processes in its making -- the soy, the vinegar, the bonito, and the rice itself.
posted by Fnarf at 3:03 PM on September 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Even if you somehow managed to find an isolated home somewhere that was somehow completely untouched by the wider culture and was just a family making its own food in its own traditional ways, the food you ate could only possibly be authentic to the specific time and place you were having the meal, partly because of choices about which of the available foods to prepare and partly because of the personal preferences that make up any menu whether at home or at a restaurant. Plus there's the issue of how well any person's interpretation of the food they make matches their intention and the food tradition they're working in. My mother isn't, for the most part, a particularly ambitious cook and while we were growing up she mostly worked from a pretty small menu that was nothing to rave about, but the spaghetti covered in tomato sauce and fake sour cream that I ate would have to be considered an authentic example of 90s American cuisine by most metrics, even if no one would ever pay money for it in a restaurant.

To take another example, there is a set of foods prepared in certain ways that I would identify as my family's traditional Thanksgiving foods, but every American I've ever known had a different set of foods that they usually ate at Thanksgiving from mine, and none have any claim to any higher amount of authenticity than the other. Hell, as it's gotten harder to get the whole family together for Thanksgiving, we've started having turkey tetrazzini instead of a whole roast turkey, thus removing the one compulsory part of the traditional Thanksgiving menu, but if you asked my aunt and uncle, they'd tell you the meal was even more traditional because it's got a lot more root vegetables than we used to. What does any of it mean? I have no idea.

What I do think is clear is that if authenticity-seekers thought about their own food traditions and the meals they make for themselves they'd see how quickly the idea of it stops making any sense. Food is complicated enough without this particular game of oneupsmanship.
posted by Copronymus at 3:28 PM on September 5, 2013


This is entirely untrue, the only good Indian food is cooked by my parents. In Virginia. Yes, both of my parents not just my mother. Actually my father has a good case going that he's better.

I have to respectfully disagree, as it is obvious to any informed observer that the best Indian food came out of my maternal grandmother's kitchen.

The second best Indian food, though, is at a restaurant called Pintu's in West Springfield, MA. I made Pintu, the owner and chef, come out to our table afterwards and told him he cooked almost as well as my grandmother. He laughed and said, "That's the best compliment I'm ever going to get." Then we both laughed, cause yup.

And yeah, Fnarf and sweetkid, y'all are killing it in this thread.
posted by Errant at 3:35 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh great, a billion Indians in the world and all of them have the world's best chef in their mom's kitchen!

Fortunately I can't compete in this arena, as my dear mother, bless her heart, was the worst cook in the world. Though as a result, I still derive a lot of comfort when I'm not feeling well from a can of Campbell's Cream of Celery soup with four slices of bread dunked in. And I know a hell of a lot of things you can do with Jell-O.
posted by Fnarf at 3:40 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


And of course this change happens both ways. I saw California roll on the menu in some places in Japan. No culture is static, and especially in todays world ideas are moving back and forth rapidly. There is no isolated cultural clean room you can have "authentic" things in.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:42 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


My parents actually mixed Indian food nights with 'traditionally American' fare like tacos, burgers, some Tuna noodle casserole thing, lots of stuff. But whenever I go home now they always make Indian food (Marathi food) as much as possible.
posted by sweetkid at 3:47 PM on September 5, 2013


Last time I went to visit my mother in Mexico we went to the new mall and had dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. I have never set food in a CPK in California, but the Mexican one was clean, with great service, and a good tequila selection.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 4:00 PM on September 5, 2013


sweetkid, just warning you (well, your parents, I guess): if gingerbeer and I go East for xmas this year (which means central VA), we will somehow track down where your parents live and we will turn up on their doorstop all "Hi we know your awesome kid from the internet can you feed us please?"
posted by rtha at 4:05 PM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


As a whatever aside, speaking of soup and KFC and real authentic Japanese cooking, sometimes it looks like this: KFC deep-fried soup. And yeah, I want some.
posted by Fnarf at 4:28 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been made to understand that most of the chefs doing knife tricks for the guests sitting at the burn-your-fingers tableside at 'Frisco Benihana are Mexican.

For that authentic bullshit-Japanese dining experience.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:14 PM on September 5, 2013


I was in Montreal several months ago - I'm in a restaurant with bilingual menus and I order a dish described as "Shepherd's Pie" in English, but in French it says "Pâté Chinois." Now I don't speak French, but I'm thinking "doesn't that mean 'Chinese Pâté'?" So I looked it up, and apparently the legend is that back in the day the Anglo bosses had Chinese cooks feeding Shepherd's Pie to Québécois railroad workers.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:19 PM on September 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, there is absolutely a very real and persistent line of thought, particularly with the older generation, that women and gaijin should not at any point be involved in traditional Japanese restaurant food.

Well of course. Everybody knows women cannot be itamae. Their hands are the wrong temperature to form the balls of rice and handle the raw fish.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:39 PM on September 5, 2013


Stop making me sad about the pathetic state of Indian food in Seattle, everyone.
posted by Artw at 5:53 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have never set food in a CPK in California, but the Mexican one was clean, with great service, and a good tequila selection.


I'm a bit jealous. I went to the Philly Pizza Company up here in Canada, and they didn't even have hot tea.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:02 PM on September 5, 2013


Stop making me sad about the pathetic state of Indian food in Seattle, everyone.

No shit. I don't understand it at all.
posted by Errant at 6:28 PM on September 5, 2013


Stop making me sad about the pathetic state of Indian food in Seattle, everyone

Well, there's Shanik, which is pretty awe-inspiring if not quite up to the standard set by its parent (or husband, to be accurate) Vij's in Vancouver -- but you'll pay an arm and at least part of a leg. And you'll, uh, be served by staff who aren't Indian (gasp)

The majority of the (India) Indians in Seattle live across the water in Bellevue and other suburbs. Punjab Sweets in Kent is pretty great. Mayuri in Bothell is very good. And I'll admit to having a soft spot for Chutney's in Wallingford -- old-fashioned bins of glop style buffet -- but only on the days they have goat. I'll eat anything that's goat.

What we don't have and really need is cheap rundown storefronts that have been there forever and do just one or two things really well, but that's true in all categories, not just restaurants. You can't have an affordable restaurant in a new building, it's just not possible -- and Seattle seems to be almost entirely new buildings these days.
posted by Fnarf at 6:44 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anything has to be better than the state of Indian food in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. God help me. There were better places in my home town a tenth the size.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:54 PM on September 5, 2013


I make sushi using fried chicken, doritos and BBQ sauce. Which is to say you can take being open minded a bit too far.
posted by srboisvert at 7:40 PM on September 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anything has to be better than the state of Indian food in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

If you ever find yourself in Chapel Hill, I cannot recommend Vimala's highly enough.
posted by Token Meme at 9:01 PM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was in Guatemala, I did a home stay with a Mayan family while I was taking Spanish classes. It came with three meals a day. It was about what you'd expect. Rice, beans, meat, tortillas. One day, she made a rice dish that I thought was really fantastic, and thought it was some traditional Guatemalan food that I'd never heard of before, so I asked her what it was. She said "Chinese stir-fry" and handed me a bottle of soy sauce, with the recipe on the label.
posted by empath at 4:01 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only authentic food most Americans will ever eat in their entire lives is Kraft macaroni and cheese, MacDonald's burgers, Hamburger Helper, Twinkies, Wonder Bread. Completely and utterly authentic.

Fnarf, I mostly love your excellent comments - except for this part, unless there's a joke here that I'm misinterpreting. It just sort of seems like you're reiterating the same error that most "authenticity"-seekers make, except more naively and/or cynically. To the extent that any foodstuff can ever be "authentic", there's plenty of non-fast food "authentic" American food (scrapple, apple cider donuts, etc.). If you're arguing that the people who seek "authenticity" are really seeking Disneyland-style not-American-ness, then it makes the opposite of sense to say that Twinkies, etc. are "authentic" American cuisine - that doesn't even make sense as a joke.

If anything, it's all the more illustrative to point out how syncretic "authentic" American food really is. To take two heavily syncretic examples, the Greek diner and Italian-American restaurant down the street from where I grew up are perfectly "authentic" American cuisine, while also reflecting the culinary heritage of both their owners and that of Greek-American and Italian-American cuisine in general. The food you get in those places will obviously not be the same as you would get in any part of Greece or Italy - it is distinctly, recognizably American, both in terms of content (what's on the plate) and context (the Greek "diner" is an American "thing" in and of itself, distinct even from a Greek restaurant in America).

"Authenticity" is best killed when we show how it's both inherently impure and boringly everywhere. To me, the Glenville Queen is a simple diner where you can get bland french fries and listen to old white people complain. However, to a tourist who had never experienced such a diner before, it could be fascinatingly different experience. The food is not very interesting, neither awful nor great, but it's not as if the diner is trying to pretend to be anything it's not. It is, to the extent that anything is authentic, perfectly authentic.

...

I'm also a bit leery of saying things like there's no such thing as authentic Chinese cuisine, since after all there are many different regions and ethnicities in China, and few people eat regularly at sit-down restaurants, and the people of China are thoroughly exposed to the non-Chinese world. Those facts all go into what actually would be "authentic" about Chinese cuisine: hugeness, diversity, cross-pollination. It's beside the point to say that no one restaurant could contain everything, and that even if a restaurant did contain "everything", of course nobody in China would regularly go to such a place. Nobody's a big enough boob to think that a sufficiently detailed restaurant would actually replicate the experience of living in China.

If someone didn't already know these things about China, then they would learn these things through the act of trying to answer the short-but-complicated question, "yeah, but what do Chinese people eat?" That's part of what makes food so interesting - if you take it in the right spirit, it can be like how studying art can teach you about history.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:10 AM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I make sushi using fried chicken, doritos and BBQ sauce. Which is to say you can take being open minded a bit too far.

Are you serious? That actually sounds really good. (Maybe depending on which kind of Doritos?) It sounds like some kind of awesome sushi to bring to a Super Bowl party or something. Maybe with a wasabi-ranch dipping sauce. Memail me your recipe, please!

But I like to buy the big slabs of unagi from my local Asian grocer and eat them McRib-style on a toasted bun with onions and pickle slices sometimes.

À chacun son goût.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:09 AM on September 6, 2013


I make sushi using fried chicken, doritos and BBQ sauce.

At this local sushi fusion place, they have a chicken fried steak roll (Cholesta-Roll). It's not my cuppa, and I like both sushi and chicken fried steak, but apparently it's very popular. This is the sort of place that purists will faint at in general, though, and it makes no pretense of authenticity.
posted by immlass at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2013


I really enjoyed the El Torito at the top of the Sky Building in Yokohama.
posted by notyou at 1:16 PM on September 6, 2013


Every region seems to have it's own taste, which permeates all food. In France, Chinese food, Vietnamese food, Italian food, etc. tastes French, and the "French" food tastes completely different from "French" food in the US, or in Japan. And so on. As has been said above, now multiple times, you will never get the taste and feel of India in California, even if the restaurant is owned and staffed by Indians, and most of the patrons are Indian. And no, Julia Childs could not cook exactly like a French housewife when she was in the US - maybe not even in France. But it's all OK. It's still interesting to try new combinations of food-stuffs, to be able to by products from different regions, and to meet people with different methods of cooking.

Personally, I prefer the Japanese-owned sushi shop in my neighborhood to the others, but that is because he serves eel. I know I shouldn't eat eel, if I want my grand-children to be able to taste it, but every once in a while I have cravings.
posted by mumimor at 2:49 AM on September 7, 2013


Every region seems to have it's own taste...

Partially due to the taste of vegetables and other things grown in those regions, and the spices or other commercial ingredients that are available. My wife constantly bemoans the lack of good shrimp paste in the US, for example, which means American-made bún bò Huế never tastes quite the same as it does in Vietnam.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:01 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there's an argument to be made that the most American food is a peanut butter sandwich. Eaten by most Americans (at least as a kid), invented here, and many people in other cultures think its weird and gross.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:19 AM on September 7, 2013


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