"Technically, spaghetti and meatballs is bad grammar."
February 5, 2021 3:20 PM   Subscribe

"SERVE SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS TO an Italian, and they may question why pasta and meat are being served together. Order a samosa as an appetizer, and an Indian friend might point out, as writer Sejal Sukhadwala has, that this is similar to a British restaurant offering sandwiches as a first course...Each of these meals or dishes feels somehow odd or out of place, at least to one party, as though an unspoken rule has been broken. Except these rules have indeed been discussed, written about extensively, and given a name..." Introducing "Food Grammar", The Unspoken Rules of Every Cuisine
posted by hungrytiger (141 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
You know what they put on french fries in Holland?
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:55 PM on February 5 [5 favorites]


weed?
posted by lalochezia at 3:56 PM on February 5 [34 favorites]


You know what they put on french fries in Holland?

A Royale with cheese?
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:02 PM on February 5 [10 favorites]


A glass of beer?
posted by alamedarchy at 4:08 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


That was really interesting- thank you for posting!
posted by dogmom at 4:12 PM on February 5 [5 favorites]


Recently, I was trying to explain a Chinese restaurant to a friend and was about to call it "authentic" but hesitated. I realized I had no idea what "authentic" Chinese food was, not being any kind of expert on Chinese food and never having been to China. But there was still something I wanted to capture. Instead I told him it was "vernacular" food. Like vernacular architecture, it's created/prepared by the same people who eat it and intended to be sold to people within their community. Thinking about food in these terms  — what kind of grammar is it using? — frees us from the restrictive and all-to-common binary of authentic vs non-authentic.
posted by TurnKey at 4:15 PM on February 5 [61 favorites]


I think this is also a useful concept to people that struggle with the intersection of cultural appropriation and foreign cuisine. Following that culture's food grammar can make eating feel less appropriative.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:30 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Received Pronunciation/Digestion?
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 4:30 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


"Food grammar" is such a perfect way of describing this. I will never forget visiting the house of a first-gen Chinese American friend and having dinner with his family. His brother laughed at the way I ate their dinner before my friend shushed him. He never did explain what I did wrong. I no longer remember what we ate and I dearly wish I did because I suspect it was on the order of spreading peanut butter on fish.
posted by schroedinger at 4:38 PM on February 5 [11 favorites]


So British Indian Restaurant food could be described as vernacular, then, TurnKey?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:39 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Received Pronunciation/Digestion?

Received Mastication
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:52 PM on February 5 [5 favorites]


You know what they put on french fries in Holland?

According to Wikipedia, usually some kind of mayonnaise, though at least one restaurant makes cannabis sauce to go with fries.
posted by hungrytiger at 4:54 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


a hamburger patty coated in thick demi-glace

That actually sounds fantastic.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:58 PM on February 5 [7 favorites]


My favourite example of this is the foreigners at a Chinese restaurant each eating a single dish. THE GUY WITH THE ENTIRE FISH
posted by airmail at 5:07 PM on February 5 [34 favorites]


Last time I was in France I saw a food truck at a small town fair kind of thing and it had a picture of a “taco” on it that was a pita with French fries and some other crap in it. But in a different town there was a place that made these Sri Lankan shawarma and they were really great, so who am I to judge?
posted by snofoam at 5:10 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


My sister realized when she visited relatives in Armenia that the distinctive way our grandma put meals together was in fact just "how Armenians serve meals" rather than being some personal style of grandma's.
posted by potrzebie at 5:20 PM on February 5 [11 favorites]


Wait. So is ungrammatical food a bad thing or not? And are the Ocracoke Island people really like a soulless chain restaurant?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:28 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


What a great article, I love this framing of food and food culture. For another example, there was the reporter who ate at a Somali restaurant, was perplexed by the banana served with his rice and lamb plate, and was promptly schooled by all of Somali-Twitter.
posted by Rora at 5:30 PM on February 5 [14 favorites]


Grammar is an interesting comparison idea, and I wanted to enjoy this article more, but as a piece of writing it is really poorly organized.

If you're going to use writing as a metaphor, please shore up the logic of your outline rather than just randomly ping-ponging between ideas. Also don't state the central premise in passive voice.

/food nerd and writing nerd
posted by desuetude at 5:36 PM on February 5 [13 favorites]


I love Turnkey's suggestion of "vernacular" over "authentic".

I also really love Japanese interpretations of other culture's food: they're often amazing (although occasionally bewildering), which is how I feel about a lot of Japanese culture.

In college, the dining hall did "breakfast for dinner", which was basically chicken and waffles, which is totally not a thing in California where the college was, but I understand actually is elsewhere in the US? It was a very popular meal.

My biggest takeaway is that I think I should just agree with desuetude. This was very poorly organized, but I love trying food that isn't part of my cultural experience. Sorry that my post is just as ping-pongy and all over the place, but somehow it seems appropriate.
posted by grae at 5:46 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


a hamburger patty coated in thick demi-glace

Salisbury Steak
posted by InfidelZombie at 5:56 PM on February 5 [17 favorites]


Oh yeah, right, good point.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:23 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


I feel like one thing this article is missing is the way that immigrants adapt their dishes even for themselves in, say, the US. When I eat meat and pasta in the same dish, it isn't a "mistranslation", it's because of how a line of Italian Americans adapted their cooking traditions in New York City, presumably influenced by things like the Great Depression. (see also "Authenticity is for Tourists," previously.)
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 6:46 PM on February 5 [31 favorites]


I liked the article. However, something missing (at least, missing in my reading, maybe due to the issues noted above about organization) is a recognition that while the plate of spaghetti and meatballs might be bad "grammar" in Italy, it is completely appropriate in a contemporary American context. Things are borrowed, changed, and adapted. Filipino spaghetti with hot dogs is pretty awesome, regardless of how "wrong" that dish might be somewhere else.

To push the articles "grammar" analogy, saying those dishes are "bad grammar" is like calling a creole or pidgin "bad language."
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 PM on February 5 [32 favorites]


You know what they put on french fries in Holland?

Indonesian-derived peanut sauce made with peanut butter T_T which i had to try once I knew about it (it's only one of the many options tho) but i will never get over western peanut sauce using peanut butter claiming it's asian-inspired when they could just leave us alone and claim it's african-derived (lol...?).

Approaching it as food grammar would at least open the dialogue to learn more from the study of linguistics with regards to when it's bad grammar and when it's just a stop in the path of development of the invention of a creole or pidgin language. Or even arrested development the same way say, the Malaysian Portuguese community speaks medieval Portuguese and how Italian Americans kept South Italian cuisine at the state of the history during the era of the last mass migration.
posted by cendawanita at 6:50 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


He Is Only The Impostor and Dip Flash, thank you for making that point. Something that never fails to set my teeth on edge is how the American version of a particular nationality's culture or cuisine is always somehow seen as inauthentic, no matter how many centuries it's been evolving in the New World or even how America has influenced the Old World version (i.e. the potato, tomato, and maize all coming from the Americas). See also: the celebration of St. Patrick's Day by Irish-Americans vs. the unmigrated Irish.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:59 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


spaghetti and meatballs is bad grammar

You mean, spaghetti and meatballs are bad grammar. :-)
posted by TreeHugger at 7:08 PM on February 5 [20 favorites]


(i.e. the potato, tomato, and maize all coming from the Americas)

And the chili pepper!
posted by NoMich at 7:08 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


I don't know. Today, I ate a "burrito" of shredded cheese, some leftover beef and a few cherry tomatoes. I didn't think it was "authentic." It's just what was close at hand. Maybe it's time to stop romanticizing poverty.
posted by SPrintF at 7:13 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


Spaghettis and meatball.
posted by rhizome at 7:14 PM on February 5 [18 favorites]


Please meet the not so humble Rio de Janeiro Hot Dog.
A true carioca podrão completo (which is the complete, all in version loaded dog) includes Parmesan cheese, corn, peas, batata palha shoestring potato chips, all stacked up on top of the hot dog (or pork sausage, my go-to!!!) sitting nicely in a bun. In some areas outside of Rio, you can even find street dogs loaded with olives, ground beef, and even mashed potatoes or a whole freaking quail egg!! It’s out of control.
posted by adamvasco at 7:22 PM on February 5 [16 favorites]


Ok I'm back with one more comment: i suppose it's inevitable once you want to write about good grammar you will get something wrong. Please note:

In China, explains Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, rice is served after the main and before the soup, making the American-Chinese tradition of serving white rice alongside the main seem as odd to Chinese diners as an English-speaker hearing a foreigner say “old silly fool” instead of “silly old fool.”


Is the writer confusing the description of a multi-course BANQUET where the rice comes last (in a, 'well, if you're STILL hungry' kinda way) and the family-style TYPICAL MEAL served in the Chinese-American restaurants. How could the writer noted the cantonese way of having carbs with non-carb dishes at the same time and still make this mistake, i will never know, as well as inventing a new romanization for soong.
posted by cendawanita at 7:30 PM on February 5 [17 favorites]


I found this article unsatisfying, but the "grammar" analogy is fun to explore.

Within a single language, there can be more than one grammar! There are formal and informal registers, prestige dialects and stigmatized dialects, regionalisms, and so on. It's not hard to recognize similar patterns in how we eat and talk about food. IMO, the sin of labeling foods as authentic or inauthentic is that it often flattens all that variety.

(My idiolect is eating the whole shrimp.)
posted by aws17576 at 7:39 PM on February 5 [16 favorites]


cendawanita, I'm further confused that the writer said rice comes before the soup... at a formal Cantonese banquet, the soup course comes way before the rice. At a less formal restaurant dinner, the soup is the first course after the appetizers. And at home, there are all sorts of variations.

"sung" for 餸 is jyutping, or maybe just the informal romanization, because unlike with pinyin, average Canto speakers aren't really familiar with standardized romanization systems. I associate "oong" instead of "ung" with SEA; it's not commonly seen in HK (though I bet you can find a few examples, because HK romanization is all over the place).
posted by airmail at 7:58 PM on February 5 [8 favorites]


Re: spelling - very possible! Though that's definitely the pinyin romanization schema we use (no diacritic marks esp in ex-british colonies).

Re: soup - oh i have been having a think, believe you me and I'm forced to conclude she misunderstood the sweet soups for dessert lmao.
posted by cendawanita at 8:02 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


Spaghetto, surely.
posted by darkstar at 8:27 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Part of my gastronomic idiolect includes occasionally code-switching into a lower register and eating a large spoonful of peanut butter while standing at the sink.
posted by darkstar at 8:31 PM on February 5 [32 favorites]


Last time I was in France I saw a food truck at a small town fair kind of thing and it had a picture of a “taco” on it that was a pita with French fries and some other crap in it

Yeah, my first proper visit to France introduced me to the "tacos" which seemed so odd I had to have one. Not awful, but absolutely no relation to the taco whatsoever.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:52 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


My favourite example of this is the foreigners at a Chinese restaurant each eating a single dish. THE GUY WITH THE ENTIRE FISH

My Vietnamese-American friend said his family ordered extra rice and ate all dishes family-style at all types of restaurants, including ones that served traditional (non-Asian) American food.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:55 PM on February 5 [6 favorites]


In college, the dining hall did "breakfast for dinner", which was basically chicken and waffles, which is totally not a thing in California where the college was

eh?
posted by juv3nal at 8:57 PM on February 5 [15 favorites]


I knew it. "Deep dish pizza" is just a linguistic false friend.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:08 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


My Vietnamese-American friend said his family ordered extra rice and ate all dishes family-style at all types of restaurants, including ones that served traditional (non-Asian) American food.

I'm Danish but grew up in Hong Kong, and I do this when I am in amendable company and feel I can get away with it here in the UK (and resent having to eat only one thing while looking at all the other delicious things when I can't). To my mind, it's just a better way to share a meal with people.
posted by Dysk at 10:13 PM on February 5 [13 favorites]


There are a couple things I’ll get my hackles up about, but not today. I mean, I just sat in Yoyogi park on a day with temps in the upper 50s (16 or so C), munching on a freshly made Cubano by a guy from San Francisco, and that was pretty damn good. Was it perfectly made and “authentic”? Oh, hell no. (Did I used to make a better one when I, a guy from Michigan, made cubanos in Tokyo? Damn straight I did). But it took an okay day and made it something memorable.

On the other hand, I’ll never not wince when I see people trying to eat bbq ribs with a knife and fork.

I am large (because I just ate a Cubano), I contain multitudes (of pork products, which were on the Cubano).
posted by Ghidorah at 11:36 PM on February 5 [13 favorites]


It sounds like "bad grammar" is just another way of saying "inauthenticity" or "you're doing it wrong."

And speaking of getting it wrong, the "hambagu" (not "hambagoo") isn't based on American hamburgers at all, but on Hamburg Steak (aka Salisbury steak), a dish that apparently originated in Germany more than a century ago. If you're going to be scolding people for doing it wrong, at least get your facts straight.
posted by Umami Dearest at 11:48 PM on February 5 [17 favorites]


Analogously, some dishes are the culinary equivalent of people abroad repeating what they've just been saying to someone who doesn't speak their language, only REALLY LOUD!
posted by fregoli at 12:33 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


“Describing this in English requires the awkward word ‘non-starch,’”

Opson! Which I learned from Courtesans and Fishcakes, which definitely discusses a grammar of food (in ancient Greece, derived from religious theory).

They mention a linguist Jurafsky's work -- previously! I think Metafilter would probably enjoy Bourdieu on potato chip packets! -- but all the reviews of his 2014 book and his short-lived blog I've read are about the grammar of talking about food, not the grammar of food itself. Which is a pity as far as I'm concerned, as I find the different expectations in different grammars fascinating. Even our discussion here of sharing opson dishes or getting one each, in a restaurant, is a grammar of food. How we got to the current implications from the differences between French, English, and Russian formal styles, and technical constraints, frames a lot of European history. And WHOO BOY using an unexpected style on people can make them unhappy, even if they get the fish. (opson again)
posted by clew at 12:38 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Seconding Umami Dearest, with hambagoo sticking out like a swollen tastebud. If you're writing about the importance of cultural difference, at least try to understand that Japanese literally has a phonetic language using the Roman alphabet, and its own way of spelling things. It's gu, not goo, and it's not that hard to find that out.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:55 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Classic British Indian comedy: Going Out For An English
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:58 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


hungrytiger: "You know what they put on french fries in Holland?"

According to Wikipedia, usually some kind of mayonnaise


Yup. Mayonnaise, or a rather cheap/bad/lowfat version thereof, which is called 'fritessaus'. Or peanut (butter) sauce. Or ketchup. Or mustard. Or something called Joppiesaus. Or a combination ('mayo', peanut sauce and ketchup is populair).

But not just in Holland, also in the rest of the country. And not even just in the Netherlands. Pommes mit Mayo can be found in Germany, and in Belgium too.

I feel a bit weird about this thread because some of y'all are speaking about us as if we're not right here in the room with you. But we are. And also, weed jokes. Always with the weed jokes.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:11 AM on February 6 [28 favorites]


But Mayo on fries is delicious! Almost as good as, say, mayo mixed with sriracha, sambal, or harissa.

Or, perhaps, a proprietary blend of mayo, cider vinegar, green habanero sauce, black pepper, and... I’ve said too much.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:21 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Personally I like mustard on my fries, but that's neither here nor there.
The thing is, fries are eaten with mayo in their area of origin. So it feels weird to me when people act like that's outlandish or quaint. It's not. Even if some of you didn't know about it, it's really quite common.

But I wouldn't say that eating your fries with (only) ketchup is bad grammar. It's just a local dialect derived from the same language still spoken in the country of origin (Belgium, in this case). That's not inherently bad, just different.

(Just don't expect me to enjoy it. Much too sweet for my liking.)

The only bad thing in this context is adopting a culinary practice from elsewhere, making it your own, and then telling Elsewherians that they're doing it wrong because they're not doing it the same way that you are.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:43 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


In Edinburgh you put brown sauce on your chips (or as you would have it "fries")
posted by bifurcated at 1:52 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


This reminds me so much of Jon Stewart losing his shit about pizza, twice.

Also, it took me years to get over the fact that Americans eat mustard with pretzels.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 1:52 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


TurnKey: "I realized I had no idea what "authentic" Chinese food was, not being any kind of expert on Chinese food and never having been to China. "

You know what they call Chinese food in China?

Food.
posted by chavenet at 2:06 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Oh, a-and +1 for the use of the picture of FOUR SEASONS CHINESE RESTAURANT
posted by chavenet at 3:28 AM on February 6


Grammar isn't a moral hierachy, with some 18th-century schoolmaster's Latinised English at the apex and everything else being judged against that and falling short to some extent, but a type of unwritten set of rules as to what is probable, with each idiolect having its own variant of the rules. The rules are more stringent than just what is “bad”, and transgressions against them are not so much condemned as sensed as being a bit weird or not-from-here, in the way that someone speaking like a Jane Austen character would be in 2020s California. (There are a lot of these rules, and in reality, pretty much everything breaks a few of them, and one only notices the weirdness if the transgression exceeds a perceptual threshold.)

The grammar metaphor (a lot of rules, lazily enforced) applies to a lot of things. Music theory is one of them: a piece of music that follows all the rules would be boring and mechanical, a piece that follows none would be noise, so a good piece of music rations its transgressions, just enough to stay interesting. Cuisine would be another one, with its own metaphors (fusion dishes as loanwords, adapted into the structure of their adopting cuisine, for example).
posted by acb at 3:57 AM on February 6 [28 favorites]


I feel a bit weird about this thread because some of y'all are speaking about us as if we're not right here in the room with you. But we are. And also, weed jokes. Always with the weed jokes.

Here in England we call them 'chips' and eat them with warm, flat beer. With crooked teeth. In the pub. While calling each other 'tossers' and 'wankers'. In an East London accent.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 4:21 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


acb, you've now done more to justify the article's metaphor than the article itself.
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 4:35 AM on February 6 [10 favorites]


I mean it's like not knowing when to eat the glazed cinnamon roll that you get on the side of your plate in a real down-home restaurant: before or after the main?

(I ate it first, to the hilarity of my midwestern [now] inlaws. I mean, wtf, a cinnamon bun on a dinner plate next to the meat and 2 veg, asks this Scot?)

This has been your daily reminder that yes, you too have ethnicity.
posted by scruss at 4:59 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


I like this post, not least because it (predictably) has generated some interesting comments.
Things change, and that is a good thing. "Everything must change in order for everything to remain the same" (From Lampedusa's The Leopard) was a healthy conservative dictum before conservatives went off the rails.
In my family, it's a joke that I couldn't eat a burger when Burger King first arrived here, in 1977, because there was no knife and fork at the "restaurant". No one in the younger generations can imagine that, and they think I was being coy. But the thing is, when something is really weird, it can seem disgusting. I don't remember my feelings that day, but I do remember that they were 100% real. Even though I'd been brought up to enjoy food from many cultures, because we lived in different countries and generally travelled a lot, no one had thought of explaining or even presenting American popular food culture to me, except when it overlapped with English popular culture. So I had tried chips with ketchup and liked it.
Many Americans find elements of other food cultures disgusting. As a child (and today) I loved snails, liver, cartilage, fish, shellfish and much more including all the vegetables. And of course mayo on my chips / fries. Who wouldn't?
Here in Denmark, I still look the other way when people eat their smørrebrød in the wrong order, or use the wrong condiments. Food is such a deep-seated part of one's identity and culture, I really get it when Italians fight big culture wars over the true recipe for bolognese. Even though I don't mind having another version.
posted by mumimor at 5:05 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


it's a fairly minor grammatical gaffe in the grand scheme, but a few years back we were travelling by train across the south of france stopping in various small towns and after a week my travel pack had 2 or 3 wrapped chunks of cheese from local markets (it was october so daily weather was cool and damp). We visited friends in Annecy and I asked if I could stick the cheese in the fridge, and the family looked at me like I had sprouted a second head for a few seconds and then laughed and laughed as though I had said the funniest thing.

They then took my cheese and placed it on the designated platter on the shelf in the kitchen with all the other cheeses.
posted by hearthpig at 5:08 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]


I'll join the choir praising the article for the choice of subject and for being a starting point for an interesting discussion. That said, it seems the many criticisms of the piece point towards a rather hasty research. For example, omitting the Jewish roots of bagels is inexcusable. And I hope languagehat will forgive me for trying his linguist hat on, but "jungli/jungle" is an odd choice for a false friend example, as both words come from sanskrit "jāṅgala", rough and arid (terrain).
posted by hat_eater at 5:28 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


It sounds like "bad grammar" is just another way of saying "inauthenticity" or "you're doing it wrong."

I didn't get that from the piece. Right up front it says that the grammar varies from place to place, and the variation provides insight on how something came to be. Seems to be clearly avoiding a prescriptive frame: "But bringing a culinary grammar into a new setting can also result in the creation of interesting, new dishes," plus comments on how searching for "authenticity" doesn't work because adaptation and evolution is part of this culinary linguistics. Rather than saying "bad grammar" = "inauthentic"/"you're doing it wrong" I think the author of the piece is saying that there are different rules in different places, and those rules are constantly evolving with culture, migration, etc - like language.
posted by entropone at 5:29 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


The guy at the New York deli I used to go to for lunch almost every day invariably groaned and rolled his eyes (in a friendly way) when I ordered my usual: pastrami on rye with lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
posted by Transl3y at 5:31 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Maybe because of this post, I got a YouTube recommendation with a Mormon missionary describing Danish culture. I'm not linking because racism. But they made a point which I think is true for a lot of cultures that aren't as food proud as France and Italy and maybe China, that it's hard to get "authentic" Danish food unless you get invited into a Danish family. Within the context of immigrant culture, that becomes even more complex, as many have stated above.
posted by mumimor at 6:04 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


entropone, I feel like the author has good intentions along those lines. It is interesting that "bad grammar" only appears in the headline, so probably not written by the author. On the other hand, I have trouble reading "mistranslation" as anything other than prescriptive. Small errors like that, combined with some structural choices, and the missing "immigrant culture" angle, make it a bit of a confounding read for me, an American with Italian roots. Interesting thesis, post, and discussion, though.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 6:10 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the article because I always like reading about food, so thanks for posting.

We visited friends in Annecy and I asked if I could stick the cheese in the fridge, and the family looked at me like I had sprouted a second head for a few seconds and then laughed and laughed as though I had said the funniest thing.

I admit that I am getting prickly (more prickly) in my old age, but it seems to me that laughing at one's guests is far far ruder than putting the cheese in the "wrong" place.

On the other hand, I am glad to see from all these similar stories that the astonishment of NOT EVERYONE DOES THINGS THE SAME WAY I DO is worldwide; I'd been worried it was just a U.S. thing.
posted by JanetLand at 6:37 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


mumimor your comment about Danish food made me realize I feel the same is true about Dutch food. Canadian child of dutch immigrant family, and I don't wave a lot of my Dutchness around but eat dark licorice and cheese and stroopwafel etc. But every now and again someone asks me what dutch food is all about and I generally feel like starting with "well, step one is you need a legit Oma to be cooking it" (step 2 is "put a nutmeg grater on the table")

ha, as a somewhat unrelated aside I just thought of: my oma and opa were big in my life as a kid and I ate with them a lot, and it was all rural canadian versions of classic dutch table meals: starchy potatoes, steamed greens, applesauce, and some kind of meat. Except here there was a twist: everything ended up being overcooked and mashable because my grandparents had cheap false teeth and this informed how she cooked. I didn't realise to separate this from the food itself for a long time.

also also: usually at our house they'd end up eating something that was very unusual for them day-to-day: lasagna and stir fries are what jump out at me as examples. And they would sing praises all over the food, and again it didn't really occur to me until later that they ate the same ~10 meals in their little house outside Welland for 40 years straight and walking into lasagna was really a curveball they took with grace.
posted by hearthpig at 6:38 AM on February 6 [6 favorites]


@janetLand for what it's worth I didn't take it as rude or mocking, I think I'd just baffled the shit out of them. refrigerated cheese didn't fit the paradigm -- especially a good French Comte...
posted by hearthpig at 6:40 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I got a YouTube recommendation with a Mormon missionary describing Danish culture

ohhh one of those... welcome to a niche of youtube - mormon mission reports from those young men completing their 2 years (i think?) abroad. finding out the seasian ones a couple of years back was an interesting (and personally off-putting) diversion for me for a day or so.
posted by cendawanita at 7:26 AM on February 6


Transl3y: The guy at the New York deli I used to go to for lunch almost every day invariably groaned and rolled his eyes (in a friendly way) when I ordered my usual: pastrami on rye with lettuce, tomato, and mayo.

Why? Is that order unusual in some way?
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:32 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


i will never get over western peanut sauce using peanut butter claiming it's asian-inspired when they could just leave us alone and claim it's african-derived

fries are eaten with mayo in their area of origin.

ketchup

At the risk of pedantry, peanut sauces originated in Peru, if they really want to go back to the source.

And fries originated elsewhere in Latin America, presumably what's now Peru or Chile; not sure what they put on them back then.

Ketchup of course has multiple origin stories but is generally assumed to have become part of the English-speaking world's food during the colonial era, probably from trade with SE Asia. And whichever origin story you buy, we're positive it didn't originally contain tomatoes. So eating fried potatoes with tomato ketchup is full-on pidgin, but it's not any more or less so than eating them with mayo.

AFAICT, just like language, very very few modern foods are untouched by colonialism.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:03 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine tells a story of hosting a Chinese business delegation many years ago when this was still a ground-breaking activity. In an attempt to return the hospitality shown him on his earlier visit to China (they had been treated to an elegant dinner hosted by the Mayor), he opted for an authentic American experience and invited them to stay near Bob Evans Homestead in Southeast Ohio where he was better connected and could show off a little more.

On the first night, dinner was an experience due to translation challenges and the unfamiliarity of Midwest comfort food to the Chinese palate, but the real kicker came at breakfast. After the challenges of ordering the night before, it was decided that the entire delegation be served pancakes and bacon. The bacon was an immediate hit, but the guests only made small, cautionary advances towards the pancakes and syrup. After some tense moments, the translator took my friend aside and asked if they could have some of the “sauce” from the night before. One brief exchange later, it was determined that the “sauce” was actually Italian salad dressing. A very confused waiter was informed and filled this unique request.

Every morning for the rest of the trip, the Chinese came to breakfast eagerly to enjoy pancakes covered in Italian salad dressing.
posted by Mr Stickfigure at 8:13 AM on February 6 [15 favorites]


cendawanita: Indonesian-derived peanut sauce made with peanut butter T_T which i had to try once I knew about it (it's only one of the many options tho) but i will never get over western peanut sauce using peanut butter claiming it's asian-inspired when they could just leave us alone and claim it's african-derived (lol...?).

That's snackbar food, Fast, cheap, lowest common culinary denominator. Next time you're around try Koningsvogel, Ratu Culinair or Asli from one of the toko's, and specify what kind of peanut sauce it is that you want.
posted by Stoneshop at 8:14 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


This article hits different for me. After reading it, I sat staring into space for several minutes, just thinking.

I have severe celiac disease, which means I have to be VERY careful about what I eat and where. Even if the food itself is (like rice or vegetables) inherently gluten-free, the smallest amount of cross-contamination has severe effects on my health. I promise I'm not being a precious snowflake, I just don't wanna shit my pants later, you know?

Framing cuisine as grammar helps clarify why it feels so isolating. Having to pass up restaurant experiences feels like living in a country where you don't speak the language.
posted by ErikaB at 8:22 AM on February 6 [21 favorites]


stoneshop, thanks for the tip! that doesn't surprise me at all, because that's exactly where i got the chips. and i probably ended up in a more downscale indonesian restaurant as well (this was a company thing) because even the gado-gado sauce was distinctly peanut butter-y.
posted by cendawanita at 8:50 AM on February 6


aspersioncast: fries originated elsewhere in Latin America, presumably what's now Peru or Chile

Potatoes, or fries? I can't find a source for that, so if you do mean fries and have a source, that would be interesting and welcome.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:05 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


My mom's father was a Norwegian immigrant who came to the US in the early 1930's, when he was about 8 years old. Most of his family remained there, and he maintained very strong cultural ties to both the country and to the family farm just outside of Tønsberg. My sister and I ate a LOT of traditional Norwegian fare when we were growing up, much of it unsalted and boiled (because Grandpa grew up poor on a farm, and that was the filter through which all of his experiences came), and didn't like much of it. Except for the traditional breakfast spread, which I'm sure has a name but which we just referred to as "Norwegian breakfast." It was composed of thick slices of dark rye bread, and all manner of toppings that you'd assemble into open-faced sandwiches: traditional breakfast fare like boiled eggs, but also butter, sliced vegetables, cheese, pickled herring, cold cuts, and whatever else was in the fridge on a given day. We freaking LOVED these sandwiches, and delighted in piling them high with foods that you don't usually find on the same plate--hard-boiled egg and salami and pickles and strong cheese make a hell of a combo, once you get used to it. My grandfather died when I was little, but his wife and my mom tried to keep a lot of his culinary traditions alive in the house, so we ate like this maybe twice a month.

Cut to a decade later, when my Grandma and the rest of us all go to visit the family farm in Norway. It's every bit as rustic and agrarian as you would imagine a rural potato farm to be, but our extended family is fantastic and kind and open the place up to us, as my sister and I struggle to pick up the language enough to talk to THEIR grandma, my grandfather's cousin who has lived there her entire life. On our second day there, they serve the traditional breakfast spread, and my sister and I are elated to see that it's exactly what we've been eating for years. We both take a slice of bread and start piling on every ingredient on the table, which includes some really potent local cheese, and some species of preserved fish I've never seen before. Not one to shy away from novel cuisine, I load it all on to my slice of bread, take a big bite... and meet the eyes of the rest of the table, who are staring in collective horror. On their slices of bread are single ingredients--an egg sandwich for one, a cheese sandwich for another. The notion of loading it all onto a single piece of bread is unthinkably gauche, because what kind of madman eats cheese and pickles and herring on the same sandwich? Americans, apparently.

I still don't know if my grandfather did it intentionally for a laugh, or if something got lost in translation between him and the rest of the family, but yeah, food grammar matters.
posted by Mayor West at 9:32 AM on February 6 [27 favorites]


There is such a thing as "bad grammar," though; there are structures that would not be considered grammatical to any group of speakers of a language. This is different from stigmatizing a language that groups of people use to communicate with each other; when I mix up my subject-verb agreement in Spanish, I'm not (99.99999% of the time) inventing something usefully new or adapting it to my native English structure; I'm just making a statement that does its job oddly, or poorly.

This would be less like having a good recipe for spaghetti and meatballs; more like, at an American banquet, making a little appetizer sandwich of your dinner roll and your endive salad. It's making something that is odd and likely kind of unsatisfying in an attempt to interface with the foreign. Someone taking that experience and making delicious salad sandwiches for their friends, family, or customers, *would* be more like adapting and evolving a new grammar, but drinking the finger bowl in one context, or spreading a hot towel on your lap, or taking the whole fish off the turntable and putting it in front of yourself to eat solo, are just mistakes.

Part of this really seems to have to do with context and expectations: as people both here and in the article seem to understand, "authenticity" is a trap of an idea that often fossilizes a particular moment of history as being The Real--a kind of synthesized nostalgia that can feed particular types of toxic nationalism. But understanding what's "vernacular" means understanding that food exists in multiple contexts in any given geography. It's not *wrong* to have a cafe latte after dinner, but it would be churlish to *demand* one in Italy if it weren't on the menu. It's not wrong to have an "English Restaurant" that serves beans on toast as part of a Sunday roast, but I'm guessing that that doesn't seem quite normal, or "vernacular," to an English person, and the diner shouldn't overestimate any insight they think they're getting into English culture from that meal, as satisfying as it might be.
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:37 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]


Dangit, now I want a salad sandwich.
posted by darkstar at 9:51 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


darkstar If you think about it, a sandwich wrap (mostly lettuce and tomato with some meat and cheese) is a salad sandwich.
posted by SPrintF at 10:15 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I'm more of a lunch side of brunch person, so the concept of pancakes and Italian dressing (haven't had either from Bob Evans in forever) is somewhat appealing.

I've also made salad sandwiches out of dinner rolls and the salad course. Maybe I just like vinegar and oil.
posted by ghost phoneme at 10:21 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


kleinsteradikaleminderheit: Wait... what _are_ you supposed to have with pretzels?
posted by SansPoint at 10:22 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Potatoes, or fries? I can't find a source for that, so if you do mean fries and have a source, that would be interesting and welcome.

Potatoes were fried in pre-conquest Latin America, whether or not they were precisely what we would call fries/chips -- they had potatoes and oil, so the magic could happen. The wikipedia page offers a historical citation:

As the place of origin of the potato, the earliest records of fries are found in Latin America. One of the first documented mentions is given by Chilean criollo Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán in his work Cautiverio feliz (1673), where he says that Mapuche women "sent fried and stewed potatoes" in a dinner while he stayed in the Fort Nativity during 1629.[20]
posted by Dip Flash at 10:24 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


I feel this is relevant: Falling for Groundnut Soup in Ghana
And so, it was in a bowl of groundnut soup that I found some solace in Ghana. The soup's base: an Indian masala of onion, garlic, chili, bay leaves, and tomato. The meat: a tender, long-simmered goat, as in so many Trinidadian curries I had grown up on. The heat of the chili and the depth of flavor: my motherland. The peanut butter, the goat, the smoked fish, plantain, and cassava: my fatherland. It was a welcome break from the cycle of fried chicken, jollof rice, and bread and egg. It was herbaceous, silky, and fresh, with the deep, complementary intensity of spice, smoke, acid, and umami. I was insatiable. The miracle of food is its ability to transport, to comfort, to provide a sense of safety, to allow for stillness. Food can be an acknowledgment, a warm touch. When one is traveling and away from home, food can bridge gaps in language, resolve homesickness, forge friendships, and cement memory.
posted by mumimor at 10:45 AM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Dip Flash: Potatoes were fried in pre-conquest Latin America, whether or not they were precisely what we would call fries/chips -- they had potatoes and oil, so the magic could happen.

It could, but we don't know whether it did. Fried potatoes and fries are related, but not the same.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:58 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Last time I was in France I saw a food truck at a small town fair kind of thing and it had a picture of a “taco” on it that was a pita with French fries and some other crap in it.

Mitraillette. Definitely a thing in Wallonia and Northern France, but it's quite possible it has, eh, spread. Although it hasn't displaced the Frietje Kapsalon in most of the Lowlands.

French fries in a bun of some sort is also somewhat common in the Middle East.
posted by Stoneshop at 11:05 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I've never had mayo on french fries/pommes frites/chips, but I have enjoyed aioli on them. And while I know that purists will recoil at the suggestion that there is any commonality whatsoever between aioli and mayo, they are, in my opinion, similar sauces.*

Especially when you make the mayo with olive oil, and add a bit of garlic, then the distinctions between the two are diminished.


*cue gasps and fainting from gourmands
posted by darkstar at 11:25 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Just to expand on that, the first time I had aioli with potatoes, it was in a tapas joint in Antequeras, Spain and called "patatas alioli". (Yes, spelled that way.) I honestly don't recall if it had egg yolk in it.

In contrast, the "aioli" I ate often when I lived in Provence was made with garlic, egg yolk and olive oil.
posted by darkstar at 11:36 AM on February 6


Just to expand on that, the first time I had aioli with potatoes, it was in a tapas joint in Antequeras, Spain and called "patatas alioli".
Weird, I just had that for dinner (if you can call tapas dinner)
posted by mumimor at 11:41 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the whole chicken-and-waffles for breakfast thing, I grew up in Georgia (the state) just south of Atlanta in a moderately poor family.

We ate black-eye peas, hominy, grits, fried chicken, corn bread, turnip greens with pot likker, pimento spread and all other manner of traditional Deep South cuisine. But I never once ate, saw, or even heard of chicken and waffles being a thing. It wasn't until about 20 years ago that it seemed to explode on my consciousness via the internet.

Just one of those strange cases of vernacular cuisine that I never encountered.


On preview: tapas works for any meal, imho!
posted by darkstar at 11:44 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Too-Ticky: ""You know what they put on french fries in Holland?"
But not just in Holland, also in the rest of the country. And not even just in the Netherlands. Pommes mit Mayo can be found in Germany, and in Belgium too.

I feel a bit weird about this thread because some of y'all are speaking about us as if we're not right here in the room with you.
"

It's a Pulp Fiction reference. The whole scene is (kinda) about the kind of grammar discussed in the article.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained as a Simpson's quote.
posted by team lowkey at 11:45 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained as a Simpson's quote.

(I'm stealing that, team lowkey!)
posted by darkstar at 11:46 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


team lowkey: It's a Pulp Fiction reference.

Oh. Thanks. Now I feel dumb, or laughably out of touch.
It's not the first time this happens to me and it feels like shit every time.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:51 AM on February 6


Nothing to feel dumb about, it's a 25 year old movie, and somewhat niche outside of the dominant culture of Metafilter. You're not alone in this thread in not catching it. That's why I wanted to point it out. It's just a throw-away joke, nothing more.
posted by team lowkey at 11:59 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I actually saw the movie, but forgot that scene.
posted by mumimor at 12:04 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


And while I know that purists will recoil at the suggestion that there is any commonality whatsoever between aioli and mayo,

The vocalisation does have a certain likeness.

Plus, here in this depraved country where we put mayo on fries, mayo variants can be obtained that contain garlic, as well as ones based on olive oil (purists recoil in horror), thus closing in on aioli from both sides (purists start digging trenches and preparing for battle).
posted by Stoneshop at 12:27 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Reading the whole french fry origin debate here and on the wikipedia page, I find that the idea that my ancestors in Perú and Chile –over the millennia they where domesticating the potato from a barely digestible root to the culinary mainstay it is today– never once thought to cut them into pieces and fry them, and that therefore fries must have been invented by some european so let's argue about which european it was, to be odd, mildly insulting and evidence of lingering culinary colonialism, and quite apt for the interesting conversation on food as grammar.
Anyway, if we're talking about the origin of the potatoes we eat today, i.e. Chiloé, they should be eaten as Milcao, part of a big serving of Curanto, steaming hot, fresh from the hole in the ground it was cooked in.
posted by signal at 12:38 PM on February 6 [12 favorites]


Too-Ticky:

"Transl3y: The guy at the New York deli I used to go to for lunch almost every day invariably groaned and rolled his eyes (in a friendly way) when I ordered my usual: pastrami on rye with lettuce, tomato, and mayo."

Why? Is that order unusual in some way?"

Pastrami is normally eaten with mustard.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:40 PM on February 6


Yeah, I actually saw the movie, but forgot that scene.

Pulp Fiction is kindof memorable for Samuel L. Jackson being somewhat uncouth and quoting a Bible verse. The mayo/fries line is in there, but it didn't click with me either.
posted by Stoneshop at 12:43 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Aren't variations of pasta served with meat in the dish traditional and commonplace in Italy?
posted by Bwithh at 10:43 AM on February 6 [+] [!]


Not really. The versions that have become internationally famous are outliers. Mostly, the pasta/rice/soup dishes are grouped as primi, a dish that is served between the appetizer and the main course. Obviously, poor people have often only been able to afford the primi, which has led to their bad reputation. It is no different from other places in Europe, where grains and soups were a filler served before the more expensive main.

Anyway, most pasta dishes are made with vegetable and/or cheese sauces. The meat variations like lasagne were often served as main courses, breaking all the rules!* Because even Italians don't alway stick to the rules. But again, they were rare exceptions, even in Northern Italy.
The idea is to have some filling starch and veg before you have a more elegant main, which can be meat, fish or even a more elaborate vegetable dish.

And today all these traditions are breaking up. When I was a child and teen, not having all four courses or more would be frowned upon, as low class or foreign. Today, it's completely normal to simplify the meal. On the other hand, back then, a pasta dish at a restaurant was a small portion, since you were expected to have a secondo. Now, the pasta is served as a full meal. I guess you can ask for a half portion.

* or technically, you will have the meaty pasta dish as a primo, and then a lighter secondo or a salad.
posted by mumimor at 12:55 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


purists will recoil at the suggestion that there is any commonality whatsoever between aioli and mayo

Hello from Maó, the place where mayo was originally invented as salsa maonesa, and where all i oli are just the words for "garlic and oil" in the local language. Here most people make their own mayo and allioli, and so they know that they're not just similar sauces, they are the exact same recipe made with the same techniques. They're both made by emulsifiying oil by adding it slowly to an emulsifier, either egg yolk or garlic, while mixing continuously. Not sure who those "purists" are, but they have no idea.
posted by fuzz at 1:58 PM on February 6 [13 favorites]


I strongly dislike both Mayo and mustard, so I don’t know how I can eat a pastrami sandwich :-(

Help!
posted by freecellwizard at 3:35 PM on February 6


Aren't variations of pasta served with meat in the dish traditional and commonplace in Italy?

most pasta dishes are made with vegetable and/or cheese sauces.

It’s complicated, not sure where to start... so: though it’s true there are more veg&cheese based recipes for pasta (as a “primo”) on record across Italy, basically because recorded Italian recipes are more often than not popular (= poor peoples’) recipes, there is definitely an abundance of pasta recipes with meat included in the sauce. These are generally treated as special occasion (or “Sunday”) recipes simply because meat was/is expensive, but all regions will swear by a number of them. (A nice “grammatical” formula features the pasta with the meat-sugo as a “primo”, and then the meats that were involved in the preparation of the sugo subsequently served as the “secondo”.)

But to address the flogged-to-death spaghetti&meatball trope the title lazily opts for: it’s a recipe that is foreign to northern (and even central) Italians, but in Sicily it’s absolutely traditional. So the lame Italians vs. Olive Garden video is a waste of time because she’s from Bologna and he’s from Rome so, sure, it’s alien to their vocabulary (not “grammar”). In fact, since we’re here to put too fine a point on it: the only grammar issue with that dish is if instead of the traditional multiple mini-meatballs dotting the sugo on your plate of pasta, someone thinks plonking one lone meat-bolus on top of a pasta pile is the same thing - then we might do well to discuss the grammatics at play. Otherwise... someone’s overstretching their noodle of a metaphor, methinks.
posted by progosk at 3:59 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


I used to get shit from my family for eating corned beef on white bread with mayo. They’re all scarfing theirs down on rye with mustard, but here’s the thing: I don’t particularly like mustard, and have never liked rye bread. On the other hand, I adore thinly sliced tender wonderful corned beef. They’d complain I was wasting it, or doing something awful, but if I ate it they way they thought was proper, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. The way I ate it gave me happiness, and that was that to me.

I mean, don’t get me started on sauerkraut, which I despise. Pastrami is wonderful, but I’m not ever having a Reuben. There’s more than the prescribed way to enjoy your food.

And besides, the best dipping sauce for French fries is a chocolate shake, just like Rice Krispie treats are best with a light dusting of salt.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:18 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


It’s complicated, not sure where to start
I know, the moment I posted, I wanted to edit and include a lot of caveats and exceptions, but then I decided that since the vast majority of north and south and in between pastas are meant to be eaten as a primo, it works as a general beginners rule. And actually the language/grammar metafor works very well when it comes to Italian food. But I also hoped you would comment with your specific insight.

And besides, the best dipping sauce for French fries is a chocolate shake, just like Rice Krispie treats are best with a light dusting of salt.
Not exactly the same, but in Denmark, the traditional drink to have with a hotdog is a chocolate flavored milk. I haven't heard of anyone dipping, though. A Danish hotdog is served with mustard, ketchup, raw onions, roasted onions and pickled cucumber. As a recent development there might also be remoulade, a mayo-based condiment, but I am old and will not accept this addition.

After I wrote above about my struggles with the burger, this is probably the right place to note that food culture is not rational or transparent, which is in my opinion OK.
posted by mumimor at 4:45 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


I like the grammar concept. It reminded me that a common complaint from the Top Chef judges is "these ingredients aren't talking to each other".
posted by Emmy Rae at 4:49 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


The talk of pastrami reminded me of an excellent NY-style deli on the other side of town from me, that makes a heavenly pastrami reuben which I always end up getting on the rare occasion I'm ever in the vicinity. And now I want one really badly!
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:14 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to me how Italians have "Americanized" their own cuisine. When my wife and I had our honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, we fell in love with this little cafe where we could get pizza and paninis. However, when we saw what the little kids in the village ate, they all wanted pizza con wurstel a patatine fritte, which is basically pizza topped with French fries and chopped up hot dogs.
posted by jonp72 at 5:55 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


On their slices of bread are single ingredients--an egg sandwich for one, a cheese sandwich for another. The notion of loading it all onto a single piece of bread is unthinkably gauche, because what kind of madman eats cheese and pickles and herring on the same sandwich? Americans, apparently.

It sounds like you and your grandparents might have been influenced by the American phenomenon of the Dagwood sandwich. From the 1930s to the 1950s, there was a series of Blondie movies, which had many scenes of Arthur Lake as Dagwood eating an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Dagwood sandwich. I suspect Americans might have eaten Dagwood-style sandwiches even before the 1930s, but the lack of this cultural background in Norway probably explains the difference.

I've gotten exposed to Norwegian-American foodways myself as a result of marrying into a Norwegian-American family. Every year, I go to a lutefisk supper between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Lutefisk is basically dried whitefish that gets reconstituted by getting soaked in lye until the fish turns into a completely gelatinous mass that can be served with butter or a cream sauce. What I know is hearsay, but what I'm told is that lutefisk is primarily Norwegian-American, not authentically Norwegian, because the whole reason the fish was soaked in lye was to preserve it during the sea voyage while emigrating from Norway to the United States. Norwegians evidently view their American cousins as bonkers for trying to eat lutefisk, but for many Norwegian-Americans in the Midwest, there is no food more "authentic." Meanwhile, the Olsen Fish Company, the leading American supplier of dried whitefish for lutefisk, has rebounded from a massive decline in lutefisk consumption among Midwestern Scandinavian-Americans, because Nigerian-Americans buy the dried fish for their own cuisine. Evidently, dried whitefish became popular in Nigeria, because Norway shipped a whole bunch of it to Nigeria back in the 60s during the Biafra crisis.
posted by jonp72 at 6:19 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


Ketchup of course has multiple origin stories but is generally assumed to have become part of the English-speaking world's food during the colonial era, probably from trade with SE Asia. And whichever origin story you buy, we're positive it didn't originally contain tomatoes. So eating fried potatoes with tomato ketchup is full-on pidgin, but it's not any more or less so than eating them with mayo.--aspersioncast

I've never heard the word 'pidgin' used this way--I'm not quite sure what it means here. The 'ketchup' that colonialists brought from SE Asia did not have tomatoes in it--Asia didn't even have tomatoes before 150 years ago, so I am hesitant to say it is the same thing we are talking about when we talk about putting ketchup on fries. American companies took the idea of an Asian sauce called 'ketchup' and made it with tomatoes to get what we call ketchup today.

Tomato sauce in the forms of many types of salsa originated in Mexico. Since they had tomato sauce and fried potatoes in America, my guess is this is the first place someone tried them together.
posted by eye of newt at 6:40 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Dangit, now I want a salad sandwich.

Dangit, now I want a pan bagnat.
posted by aws17576 at 7:12 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Isn't the fries thing more that ketchup is pretty much just a US thing? That link mentions other descendents of the Original Ketchup of Centuries Past, but I would probably tend to go with a name like the Australian "tomatoe sauce" for products that are not like US ketchup. It just makes no sense to say "sure, we have ketchup in [country], but it's not the sweet US kind and also it has chocolate and capers in it." It would seem "ketchup" is a malleable name, like "curry" or "funky." Maybe "catsup" can be the category, and "ketchup" the US version.

But I never once ate, saw, or even heard of chicken and waffles being a thing. It wasn't until about 20 years ago that it seemed to explode on my consciousness via the internet.

I can't imagine anybody older than about 35 wouldn't know about chicken and waffles.
posted by rhizome at 7:13 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Dangit, now I want a pan bagnat.

Spagett! sorry
posted by rhizome at 7:15 PM on February 6


So the lame Italians vs. Olive Garden video is a waste of time because she’s from Bologna and he’s from Rome so, sure, it’s alien to their vocabulary (not “grammar”).

An added component to this is of course how pervasive american culture is globally so what's known to us outsiders as italian cuisine is actually american is actually southern. Like the aforementioned Japanese napolitano is a consequence of American presence post-ww2 (it's basically initially an attempt at spaghetti and meatballs but if all your supplies you had were tomato ketchup and franks but is its own thing now). Or these ever-popular Reactistan videos which are basically urban pakistanis filming their rural tribal brethren eating 'foreign' food but it's just basically them eating American chain versions of them so inevitably the comments are full of ??? at the producers' choice rather than the tribespeople reaction (to wit, here're the italian installments - pizza & pasta). Anyway these videos are absolutely pertinent to the grammar angle because you can tell (especially as time went on and producers shifted from simple lulz to actually at least explaining what they're about to eat) how much the video talents tried to understand the food and contextualise to what they know.

And in this there's a dovetailing with actual language - not for nothing American English, and its common features, is widely understood and even spoken (if you haven't met any English as Second Language speakers eg in Asia or even Europe feeling utterly befuddled after listening or speaking to British English speakers and their choice of vernacular despite usually finding no difficulty with the kind of English they get on TV/movies, well maybe it just never came up yet in your life), and in a lot of ways a big part of why 'non-americans' feel a noticeable eye twitch in their soul it's because it's that american understanding that gets exported worldwide.

I mean, a friend of mine has Milanese relatives but we're still Malaysians, and so during one visit when I joined my friend, imagine the absolute offence they took when we inquired innocently how come the minestrone we had didn't have any tomatoes.
posted by cendawanita at 7:43 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


feel a noticeable eye twitch in their soul

That's a phrase I never knew I desperately needed until I read it just now.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:34 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


My favorite food is a crunchy peanut butter, lettuce, and turkey sandwich (fight me, it's delicious). I feel like my taste buds abandoned whatever sense of culinary grammar they might've had a long, long time ago.
posted by lock robster at 8:38 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


No meat with pasta in Italy? Carbonara.
posted by joeyh at 9:10 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


re: Mr Stickfigure's anecdote about visiting Chinese back in the day and Italian dressing on pancakes, that makes total sense to me.

Pancakes of all kinds are a common breakfast staple in many parts of China, but all tend to be savoury (for breakfast) and the inclusion of (green) onions are very common.

Naked N.Am. pancakes are neutral-savoury and take on the properties of the sauce (maple/ syrup/ chocolate sauce/ whipped cream/ butter/ jam/ etc.) and Italian dressing - the herbs and oil and onion - is umami/ savoury-like. Its not uncommon to season root vegetables with Italian dressing for grilling (typically in a foil pouch/ pan) to give it some umami/ "salt."

There's an amazing "Middle Eastern" grill place hidden inside a light-industrial zone in New Westminster that doesn't identify with any particular background (other than, long-ago immigrant Canadian) that adds a spice or two to their Sysco-sourced Italian dressing that is absolutely phenomenal to my tastebuds - a real oomph of umami.

Owner won't tell me what he added, to make me keep going back.

But I would absolutely drown pancakes with it happily.
posted by porpoise at 9:15 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Probably an inexpensive, easy-to-get ingredient like MSG or soy sauce.

Or possibly butter. Just today I made this "classic" marinara sauce; it turned out pretty darn good but there was still something missing. I (carefully) tried more salt, then a touch of balsamic vinegar...but it was when I added about a tablespoon of butter that the magic happened.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:49 PM on February 6


Greg_Ace if your butter reply is to mine, I'm fairly certain its some kind of herb, but can't pin down which one.

I use MSG non-ironically, have used various preparations of yeast and powdered mushrooms - all preparations that produce free amino acids (including glutamic) with our without freebasing (but fish sauce is my go-to for extra free-aa).

It's definitely not tarragon (liquorish-y), could be thyme (probably not, definitely not rosemary) or sage? I've tried super-charging Italian dressing with extra onion (granules, raw, juice) and it doesn't do the same trick (although extra onion juice is fantastic, if tearful to make).

I'm really rubbish with my Western/ Middle-Eastern spices/ herbs - I would love to find a resource where I could sit down and smell/ taste a wide range of spices and have their uses/ applications explained to me (preferably with practical demonstrations of using them in various "test" cookings with and with-out to taste what various spices add to a given cooking treatment of raw ingredients).
posted by porpoise at 10:42 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Maybe za'atar?
posted by taz at 10:50 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Then again, as accepting and understanding as I try to be, some of the standard "sandwiches" available at convenience stores and supermarkets across Japan still cause a slight "recoil in mortal terror/WASPy disgust": yakisoba piled into a hot dog bun, just piles of cold noodles, topped with pickled ginger and sprinkled with seaweed, or the bizarre refusal here to sell a single pack containing two halves of a tuna fish sandwich. Nope, the half a tuna fish sandwich must always come packaged with half of an egg salad sandwich, though you can nearly always get two half egg salad sandwiches. It's arbitrary and mind boggling to me, really.

The thing is, sandwiches exist in Japan, but for the most part, the grammar here suggests that sandwiches aren't a meal (aside from a quick breakfast bought at a convenience store). About 18 years ago, it was honestly a challenge to find a decent sandwich. I was thrilled that I worked near one of the few shops that the British chain Pret a Manger opened in Tokyo, but they were trying to sell high end, not all that cheap sandwiches in a market that just wasn't interested, and they were gone within a year, maybe two, even with the clout and money the chain had behind it. Since then, I honestly can't count the number of foreigners (usually Americans, sometimes Brits or Aussies) that I've tried to warn away from their dreams of opening a sandwich shop. Again, using the idea of grammar, when you're going against the local received grammar in opening a restaurant, you'd better have a very, very solid grasp of the market along with a really locked in customer base, or you're not going to make it.

Recently, there are more restaurants selling sandwiches opening up, and it might honestly have more to do with the increasing number of Japanese people having lived abroad than with any real increase in the number of foreigners from sandwich loving countries, though I still caution people who ask me for advice when they say "I really miss this food from home, I think I should start a restaurant to fill the void, everyone will love it!"

I mean, a lot of times, if no one is selling it, it's not necessarily because no one has tried, it's more often the case that no one is buying it.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:53 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


No meat with pasta in Italy? Carbonara.

That contains meat, sure, but it isn't really a meat dish like spaghetti and meatballs in my opinion - it's more like so many southern US recipes for greens: contains a bit of meat, but more in the role of a spice almost, still fundamentally not a 'meat dish'.
posted by Dysk at 11:51 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


No meat with pasta in Italy? Carbonara.

Less of a mic-drop than you might think: for one, the favoured ingredient to round out the other three, guanciale, is actually predominantly fat with hardly any meat to it at all. But beyond this, the recipe’s post-WW2 origin - literally due to a specific can of US army rations slopped onto a plate of plain boiled maccheroni - makes it one of the least “really Italian” dishes there is (though personally I’m wary of too much nativist orthodoxy: food, like language, has always evolved with the times).

One more lexical note about meat in Italian pasta dishes: there are various sughi that carry the term “scappato”, meaning it’s the version of that sauce without meat, the animal having, as it were, “bolted”.
posted by progosk at 11:53 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Guanciale appers in a couple of classic Roman dishes, though.
I, for one, will just have to admit that I didn't think of it as meat. Just like I don't think of the sauce a meat has been cooked in as "meat", and specially not when you then have the meat for secondi.
I can see I wouldn't make a good vegetarian. What about seafood? My favorite pasta dish is spaghetti alle vongole, and generally I like seafood pastas a lot. They are not meat, but they aren't vegetable, either...
posted by mumimor at 12:07 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


For lunch yesterday, I had udon with leftover sage-heavy chicken stock, crispy bacon and bok choy. The fact is that when you taste these things you get to combine them and the result is, well, food. Damn good food as it turns out.

Bear in mind we wouldn't be the people we are if this sort of repurposing didn't happen. Imagine Europe without potatoes or Asia without chillis (or chile without cumin, if you want the reverse direction).
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 2:02 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


where he says that Mapuche women "sent fried and stewed potatoes" in a dinner while he stayed in the Fort Nativity during 1629.

Sounds more like what's now known as Reibekuchen in Germany, or the Swiss Rösti: potato shavings formed into small patties and fried, but not specifically deep-fried.

I expect deep-frying to be more common in areas where the base ingredients for cooking oils are plentiful: olives, rapeseed, oil palm fruits, and the like. Central/ South Chile doesn't strike me as one such area, but correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by Stoneshop at 4:52 AM on February 7


Salad sandwich? Have you tried Gilgeori Toast? It's delicious! Plus, when made this way, it includes sugar, ketchup, and mayo! Also, I use pastrami instead of ham, which also keeps it kinda kosher. You know, for my favorite Jewish boat captain friend.
posted by valkane at 5:45 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Oh, and when made "this way" by Chef John of Food Wishes, it's as inauthentic as you can get. And sooooo delicious!
posted by valkane at 5:46 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


weed?
Weed would need to be the appetizer for good grammar, no?
posted by waving at 6:57 AM on February 7


Pastrami or corned beef can get coleslaw rather than sauerkraut, and that's mayo.

My "russian" dressing is mayo based - add mustard (flour) paprika (not a spicy one) some Worcestershire

on the side

mustard between the meat and the not too rye-ey bread

swiss cheese melted on top of the pile, served with crisps and a big crunchy sour dill pickle

Anything but corned beef and sauerkraut it's a Rachel rather than a Reuben
posted by goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes at 4:41 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


"SERVE SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS TO an Italian, and they may question why pasta and meat are being served together.

I find it interesting that this thread talks 'grammar' but if you actually check the Olive Garden menu, technically all the pasta meals (except those for kids) come as meat-free and meat is an add-on for extra cost, $3 for meatballs and $4 for chicken added to the top of alfredo. They have a meat sauce that actually contains about a teaspoon of ground beef. So the point of the meat is very clear- to push up menu prices.

I think the idea about different cuisines being akin to grammar is a very cool idea - but you must couple that with the idea that we spend many years studying grammar so you can't dabble and expect to get it right - like this article appears to have done, at least based on the comments.

I'll also stick up for Fazoli's - after eating nothing but fast food hamburgers and burritos on a trip across half the country, fast food fake-italian is pretty awesome.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:46 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


I've never heard the word 'pidgin' used this way

Riffing on this whole "food grammar" concept is all.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:52 AM on February 8


correct me if I'm wrong.
I think you're probably wrong, even based on that single wikipedia quote above, but I'd encourage everyone who has this sort of reaction to read signal's comment and think about where your reaction might come from.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:58 AM on February 8


Related: A scene from the movie Big Night wherein a diner asks for her risotto to be served with a side of spaghetti to the consternation of the Italian restauranteurs.
posted by mhum at 7:01 PM on February 8


Suddenly I remember taking a visiting Dutch friend to Wendy's, lo these many years ago when they had a taco bar - and he dunked his fries in my refried beans, thinking it was peanut sauce. A tasty mistake. Good times.
posted by infodiva at 9:07 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


There's a real problem in saying "In X cuisine, rice is only eaten at this point in the meal..." when rice is such a broad staple that it is used in lots of different ways. Sometimes it's a little round bowl you hold in your off-hand to tap morsels against to shake excess sauce off before putting them in your mouth. Sometimes it's pressed into a patty with saltwater to eat as a stand-alone snack. Sometimes it lines the bottom of a larger dish, or floats in a soup to give it texture, or fried with loads of ingredients.

So yeah, when a slightly-more-in-the-know-reviewer-than-most visits a certain kind of restaurant to eat a certain kind of meal, they'll learn the grammar of some very specific situation for rice. And we may end up in a game of telephone where context is stripped and we're left with weird statements about "Oh no, rice must be served at..."
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:28 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]


This thread is super dead, but I'm writing this here because I just thought that another factor in immigrant cuisine must be that people from all over, say, Italy (not to mention Sicily) would be interacting in whatever Little Italy would crop up and mingling their food traditions in a way that they wouldn't in their home country. This would create variations that would not be recognizable in the old country.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 4:57 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


'Stop this madness': NYT angers Italians with 'smoky tomato carbonara' recipe using bacon and parmesan cheese attracts ire of chefs, foodies and farmers’ association.
posted by adamvasco at 7:55 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I just thought that another factor in immigrant cuisine must be that people from all over, say, Italy (not to mention Sicily) would be interacting in whatever Little Italy would crop up and mingling their food traditions in a way that they wouldn't in their home country. This would create variations that would not be recognizable in the old country.

I think that's talking about the French colonial influence on Vietnamese cuisine, which is probably one of the food world's greatest "turning lemons into lemonade" accomplishments.

NYT angers Italians with

What was the previous instance of this, pea guacamole or something like that? I forget.
posted by rhizome at 3:50 PM on February 25


« Older the PIP is a pip   |   Masking is grounded in trauma and is a trauma... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments