Every culture is passionate about food; some are just passionate about food and the food is shitty.
September 20, 2012 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Believer Magazine interviews Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold as he waxes poetic on Marcela Hazan, the peculiar aspects of Korean food, Pago Pago's love of Spam, and douche food.
posted by lemuring (27 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
"Imagine a tank full of fifty pink, uncircumcised cocks—with the foreskins kind of wiggling."

Now try NOT to imagine it.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I came for the douche food, stayed for the crab's brains.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

The brilliant point Colman makes is that it’s a dish of necessity when you’re eating it, because you don’t have much money and that’s what is in the store. If you’re going to special lengths to get this udder, the purpose of the thing is completely defeated. It becomes something different.

This is something I commit to when shopping/cooking that drives my SO batty. I will not use high quality meat/foodstuffs in dishes that don't allow them to be featured. I will not chop up the good beef to make burgers. If we have the good beef we're having simple stakes cause you are missing the *point* of the dish so to speak, to save on meat or lengthen indgidents or as a way to store rapidly aging pesto....

It's possible I have over thought this.
posted by The Whelk at 12:09 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

lengthen indigents

...this sounds either weirdly erotic, or horrifying, and I'm not sure which.

I am sure, however, that I do not want to personally lengthen any indigents. Nevertheless, I will not judge you. Lengthen away!
posted by aramaic at 12:21 PM on September 20, 2012

There is an octopus intelligence. I don’t know what it is, and nobody really knows what it is, but it definitely exists. Their nervous system is totally different. You’ve had sannakji? The tentacles will climb up the chopsticks. The suckers will adhere to your mouth. You figure that it’s like chickens with their heads cut off, but then you read about the decentralized nervous system, how they may have “killed it” by ramming a knife through its brain, but that it doesn’t have a brain like we do. Suddenly, what was a fun, gimmicky thing becomes horrifying.

That's what you get for eating the children of Cthulhu.
posted by MsVader at 12:23 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I recently started a food blog and have been using it to work on my writing skills. As an amateur food writer, this was a fascinating interview to read.

The first question asked is if Gold takes notes while eating. He responds that he has a good "food memory" and compares taking notes during eating to taking notes during sex, in that both ruin "the flow."

I laughed. I hope that with enough time, I develop a food memory as good as his! I do take notes while I'm eating. My schedule and writing pace are such that I end up finishing posts two to three weeks after my meals, and while I consider myself to have a relatively good "food memory," I sometimes find it difficult to write a full paragraph about a dish that I had half a month ago. Notes help to jog my memory.

Gold talks about how to put food into words, and how food words (like "salty") are pretty specific. I was reminded of how a friend told me that his parents have specific ways of describing food they love. His father's phrase is "like butter," his mother's is "to die for." I don't know what my phrase is. I'll start looking out for it.

I wish I hadn't known that octopuses can still move after death. My boyfriend and I found a small market nearby that serves "exotic meats" that you can't typically find in regular grocery stores around Boston. We became interested in trying python, which was described as similar to white fish. He was looking up python recipes online and discovered that snakes can still move around after being killed (like chickens). I will never forget the look on his face as he watched a YouTube video of a piece of snake meat starting to move around on a grill. I don't think I'll ever be able to eat snake now.

Anyway. This is a long way of saying, thanks for posting this!
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 12:29 PM on September 20, 2012

A lot of that was reading Balzac’s twenty-page descriptions of somebody’s socks. The nineteenth-century guys used tons of physical description because there wasn’t photography yet, much less movies. In Dickens, the wrinkles in somebody’s jodhpurs actually meant something. And they would have to be described exactly. That transfers to food writing.

That's ridiculously wrong.
posted by yoink at 12:33 PM on September 20, 2012

I enjoyed that thoroughly. Thank's for posting. Wished I'd been able to say that before the oh-so-predictable hater showed up.
posted by kjs3 at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2012

I like the interview, but his claim that poor countries and 'foods of necessity' make for great cuisine seems bizarre and stupid. Burgundy has one of the world's great cuisines because it was a lush agricultural region with a lot of wealth. His example of Southern Sweden as a boring cuisine from a wealthy (!) place is bizarre, Sweden was a poor country until recently. Etc. The best formula for a great cuisine is a good tradition of peasant cooking from a fertile, well-off agricultural region combined with a wealthy, sophisticated royal court that creates sophisticated, perfected versions of that peasant cuisine.
posted by zipadee at 12:38 PM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I will not chop up the good beef to make burgers.

You're so missing out! Properly aged Angus steak, ground and lightly seasoned with fresh black pepper and sea salt and grilled to perfection, makes an amazing burger.
posted by xedrik at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2012

Out of curiosity, which culture are passionate about food yet have shitty cuisine?
posted by Keith Talent at 12:58 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by The Whelk at 1:02 PM on September 20, 2012 [15 favorites]

I actually live in a rural part of South Africa where several kinds of insects are a popular food, part of the local culture since forever. They're a pretty ultimate cheap food source; you just harvest them outside. I guess this is a cuisine inspired by poverty. People are passionate about it.

But then again the rest of the cuisine is dominated by empty carbs, with a bit of fat/meat/gravy as flavor. I think this is a more representative "cuisine of poverty", though it's not nearly as sexy to consider. 21st century peasant food: KFC.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:19 PM on September 20, 2012

Out of curiosity, which culture are passionate about food yet have shitty cuisine?

JG doesn't seem to think much of Swedish cuisine!

I've also seen some episodes of No Reservations/The Layover where even Anthony Bourdain couldn't work up very much genuine enthusiasm for the food -- The Netherlands and Romania were two I remember. Maybe also the Philippines.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 3:24 PM on September 20, 2012

Out of curiosity, which culture are passionate about food yet have shitty cuisine?

I gather you have never lived in the American Midwest?
posted by brennen at 3:29 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've eaten with him, as a guest for a place he was reviewing, and at that time, at least, he made notes. Maybe he doesn't every time he goes to a place, but he did that time.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:46 PM on September 20, 2012

Hmm. Paul Liebrandt dig. I do not approve. Atlas was out there, but he's really the most interesting Chef in NYC I think. Also I have no idea what Gold is talking about him cooking in the Village and blindfolding people.
posted by JPD at 4:13 PM on September 20, 2012

I gather you have never lived in the American Midwest?

I was going to make that joke, too -- I have never had such bad food about which people were so proud. (There's fantastic food in the midwest, too, obviously, though I found the not-good stuff more memorable.)
posted by Forktine at 4:21 PM on September 20, 2012

Gold was the first interviewee on the Food is the New Rock podcast (which has its ups and downs but is currently in my itunes subscription rotation...)
posted by gen at 5:17 PM on September 20, 2012

Maybe also the Philippines.

What?!?! in No Reservations: Philippines, Bourdain names the lechon from Cebu as the best pork he's ever had anywhere in the world. Which episode were you watching?
posted by gen at 5:21 PM on September 20, 2012

cite for Bourdain's comment.
posted by gen at 5:39 PM on September 20, 2012

That was a great interview. I need to go get some Korean food now.

However, as someone who lived for a bit in Tutuila and set up what I think is the only ever meetup in Pago Pago, I think there needs to be some corrections on the spam situation. Mind you, I'm not Samoan, but spam certainly wasn't the dish du jour there as described in the interview and FPP. Tinned tuna and canned corned beef were definitely eaten way more. I think he's mixing up American Samoa and Hawaii, where they love their spam passionately.
posted by barnacles at 7:21 PM on September 20, 2012

K-town in Los Angeles has one of the largest communities of native Koreans outside of Seoul. Yes, you are right, you do need to try some Korean food. More to the point, you need to try all of it.
posted by apathy at 8:23 PM on September 20, 2012

omg this makes me want korean food.

i kind of agree with his assessment that (super-summarizing here) peasant cuisine is awesome, but largely because (as noted in the interview) its undiscovered/rare/way-too-common. personal example/preference:: bangladeshi liver samosas >>> other ones.

tangent: has anyone tried the "all you can drink" spot mentioned in the article? (i think its this one).... sounds like a bad idea to me.

a good idea would be a k-town meetup. anyone??
posted by raihan_ at 8:29 PM on September 20, 2012

JG: Look at Europe, for example. You have the land of plenty—in the low country, plenty of meat and cheese—it’s the cuisine of abundance, and it’s boring. Guys like [René] Redzepi are making huge inroads in Nordic cuisine, but the cuisine of southern Sweden is, like, giant portions of meat and gluey gravy eaten in complete silence in ten minutes.

Yeah, about that. Sweden was a very very poor country until relatively recently. I studied some archaeology when I was in school there and the bones of the peasants are all gnarled from malnutrition. I remember one hovel from the time before potatoes were cultivated- huge cellars just for storing turnips and rutabagas. That's what got them through the winter. The game was for the king. To kill it was to die.

The poverty is still detectable in the cuisine. Most sausages aren't so much meat as they are a little meat diluted with cheaper things. The famous Swedish meatballs are a great way to treat people into thinking they are having a meaty meal, when in reality they are eating mostly bread. Knäckebröd, that cardboard-like (but oddly addicting) "bread" is hardly the food of a wealthy culture.

Why then does Korean cuisine seem so diverse, so interesting, compared to Swedish food? I think a lot of it is the continental influence. Until very recently there were almost no nice restaurants in Scandinavia that served Scandinavian food. Going out to a nice restaurant meant eating Italian or French food. I also think the climate probably had something to do with it. But I sincerely doubt Gold or many people who haven't lived in Sweden and made a really good effort have actually tasted some of the really old stuff. People there thought I was really really a weirdo for seeking it out. "Only old people like that" they told me. Other international students were amused that I enjoyed things like Filmjölk (there are many different kinds and it is hard to describe them all) which they often made an effort to avoid after mistaking it for milk and pouring it in their muesli. Hopefully the New Nordic movement will change attitudes.

The flavors present are not flavors fashionable at the moment like the heavy spicy, umami, and lactic acid flavors in Korean peasant food. They are rather sour, earthy, woodsy, creamy, heavy, gamey, and sometimes a bit pungent. New Nordic cuisine uses many of them, but adapts them in innovative and fashionable ways. It's telling that the Nordic Food Lab run by Noma is using Asian fermented food cultures on Nordic ingredients.

But I really really like the really old stuff too. The salt pork Kolbulle topped with sour lingonberries and strangely sweet salty brown caramelized messmor. Or wild reindeer meat, from animals who ran wild up north and fed on lichens, which is indeed very strong, but goes rather perfectly with the gem of the north, which is the cloudberry, or a sauce made with sour bubbly Filmjölk. Or wolffish with fresh mussels. Or nettle soup. Or a flan-like sweet creamy dessert that is made with the first milk of a newly calved heifer called "calve's dance." Or elderflower cordial. Or "old-fashioned" milk, which is by far the best creamiest fattiest most buttery milk I have had in the entire world, even better in my opinion than the vaunted Swiss milk. Don't get me started on the completely incredible mushrooms.

Yes, there are some very bad things, like Surströmming, which almost no one really likes. Also some truly offensive bland miserable casseroles. I am also not crazy about the cheeses or the sausages. I hate the pates.

But there are some really good things there too and it's too bad there isn't really a restaurant in the US (or even in Sweden) where you can get really authentic Swedish food that I know of. Pelikan in Stockholm is close, but there really isn't much of a restaurant scene around that type of food. You have to find it at random street fairs or (vanishingly) in people's homes.
posted by melissam at 9:46 PM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

BLVR: I try to eat every other meal I eat out in Koreatown. Still I feel I’ve not even scratched the surface. It’s as if it’s unknowable.

BLVR: Octopus is often completely ruined. I think everyone remembers the first time they had it done the right way. I had it in Greece when I was in college and it was grilled—charred, perfectly tender—so unlike baby octopus that had been totally hammered.

You can this is a Believer interview, all right. Edit yourself, dude.
posted by ostro at 10:31 PM on September 20, 2012

There's some amazing Korean "fusion" food (and NOT in an upscale way) in San Francisco, like food trucks selling Korean tacos, and a particular diner I often go to for lunch near South Park that makes things like kimchee burritos, Mongolian cheese steak sandwiches, and "Crunchy Roll Special" fried rice.
posted by mike3k at 8:25 PM on September 23, 2012

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