Faux Foreign Dishes
December 13, 2002 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Good Ol' Foreign Home Cookin': Mexicans, Italians and other foreigners are just as surprised with what passes for Mexican and Italian food in the U.S. as Indians are to encounter chicken tikka masala or vindaloos in the U.K. Americans and Brits visiting the countries whose cuisines they think they know and love must be similarly surprised. Well, purists be damned! Not only is "faux foreign" cuisine sometimes very tasty (less pretentious than "fusion" cooking, for instance), in some cases (e.g. Tex Mex) it can be a damn sight better than the supposed original. And let no one argue these confusions aren't fun... [Apologies it the post looks funny and full of ampersands and the links don't work: my first no-right-clicking post on a mac...]
posted by MiguelCardoso (73 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One of my favourite 'faux foreign' recipes is Chicken Everest from Charmaine Solomon's "The Complete Asian Cookbook." As I seem to recall, this is the most blatantly inauthentic recipe in the book, having been invented by Solomon's very un-Asian husband using whatever spices happened to be in the pantry. And it's delicious!
posted by hot soup girl at 5:40 AM on December 13, 2002

its the food. not the culture.
posted by quonsar at 5:50 AM on December 13, 2002

I'd be real careful with a blanket statement that Tex Mex is better than Mexican food (unless you meant it's better than Texan food).
posted by jalexei at 5:55 AM on December 13, 2002

Having been raised in the East Bronx, New York's largest Italian neighborhood, I crave Italian-American food, especially serving all the courses at one time (meat and pasta at the same time... yum...) None of this primi and secondi business! I just came back from eating my way through Bologna and Milan, and while the food there is transcendent, I realized the big difference.

Italian-American cuisine reflected the culinary culture of immigrant southern Italians who were too poor to have ever eaten in a restaurant in the old country (remember the seen in the Bicycle Thief where the man takes his son out for a pizza?) They cooked and served food "just like Mama made" and it became the standard. I remember when our Italian-born neighbors in the Bronx made a trip back to Italy in the 1960s. When they came home they complained non-stop about the food.
posted by zaelic at 6:04 AM on December 13, 2002

Hooray! A food thread!

I think you're spot on Miguel. The results of bastardised regional cuisines can be great. The typical restaurant curry in the UK tends to be defined by some hardy old short-cuts resulting from mass catering process that never seemed to really be an issue in the curry lands. Making a huge pot of stock curry gravy to use as a base for other dishes for example, or boiling onions to make the bhuna process easier. The type of flavour you get is very different too: hot, sour and sweet are common, compared to the sort of "grown-up" bitter and astringent tastes (from fenugreek, asafoetida etc) that you tend to get in an authentic ruby murray. Personally I like both, but in all honesty I think that some of the all-round tastiest and most satisfying meals that I have had have been UK restaurant-style Dhansaks.

It's interesting to see curry-snobbism in decline too. Curry guru Pat Chapman has always been quite relaxed about restaurant styles, but other famous names (Madhur Jaffrey for example) have been much less so. There's an interesting (but sycophantic) interview with Pat Chapman here.

Having said all that, I'd love the opportunity to try real Mexican food. Stuck here in the UK there is absolutely no hope I'm afraid.
posted by bifter at 6:05 AM on December 13, 2002

Bifter: Next time you are in New York try walking around Amsterdam Avenue between 95th and 110th streets in manhattan. New York has enjoyed a flood of Mexican immigrants from the state of Puebla in the last five years and there are lots of cheap, good authentic eateries to be found. Or you can always check the boards at Chowhound.
posted by zaelic at 6:15 AM on December 13, 2002

Simple (that is "simple" in the German sense of the word, which, rather appropriately, has twice as many syllables as ours)...

Since when does "einfach" have more syllables than "simple"?
posted by alumshubby at 6:21 AM on December 13, 2002

hmmm. the problem, for me at least, isn't that it's "bastardized", but that it's homogenous. i don't care, for example, if "chop-suey" is original or not - i just don't want to eat it every time i go to a chinese restaurant. the emphasis on "authenticity" has at least widened the variety of food available

this wasn't particularly obvious to me until i came to chile, where immigrants are unusual, "foreign food" is still an adventure, and every chinese restaurant shares the same menu; although i should add that i had the best indian meal of my life here a few weeks ago - and i used to live in leicester...
posted by andrew cooke at 6:25 AM on December 13, 2002

"Real Mexican food" is a hard-to-pin-down concept. In Texas, where I grew up, it was Tex-Mex food. I lived in Baltimore briefly in the 80s and all the Mexican restaurants served what I would call California-Mex food -- heavy on lemons and limes. Then there's New Mexico's version of Mexican food, which is heavily influenced by Native American cuisine (supposedly); diners choose whether they want red chiles or green chiles. In Mexico itself, there are big differences between the Gulf and Caribbean coasts, the center of the country (well, Chihuahua state, in my experience), and the Pacific coast.

I'll bet a lot of people don't realize that some of the best Mexican cuisine is seafood. And some of the most enjoyable meals I've had were Chinese cuisine served in the border city of Juarez, Mexico -- Chinese food with Mexican and American influences.

But nothing beats cheesy, gooey Tex-Mex when it's made right., as it's done at the wonderful Joe T. Garcia's in Fort Worth, Texas.

What I'm wondering, Miguel, is how and where you formed your excellent judgment about Tex-Mex food, you cosmopolitan guy you.
posted by Holden at 6:27 AM on December 13, 2002

Bifter: Or get Robert Sietsema's "CounterCulture" e-mailed to you every week [scroll down]. Very little escapes the great man.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:32 AM on December 13, 2002

I'd be real careful with a blanket statement that Tex Mex is better than Mexican food (unless you meant it's better than Texan food).

Well, as someone who was raised a Texan, and been to Mexico on numerous occasions, I'll make a blanket statement that TexMex is better than authentic Mexican. Keeping in mind that there are good and bad examples of both.
posted by Lafe at 7:02 AM on December 13, 2002

Most of the "Mexican" food I've had here in DC is actually Salvadoran, due, I suppose, to the large number of Salvadoran immigrants here, and to the fact that most DCers don't seem to know the difference. I very much LIKE Salvadoran food, mind you (pupusas rock my world); it's just that I'd like a tamale that's not the pudding-like Salvadoran type.

I went to Guatemala a few years ago, and the food there was quite unexceptional, except the sweets, wonderful molasses and toasted seed concoctions. Though I'd recommend skipping the candied squash. Bleh.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:18 AM on December 13, 2002

texmex outside of texas: horrible
texmex in texas: priceless
posted by goneill at 7:35 AM on December 13, 2002

my first no-right-clicking post on a mac...

To right click on a mac hold down the control key when you click.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 7:53 AM on December 13, 2002

Let me just say that for me, real Mexican mole (the sauce, not the blind rodent) trumps just about anything else on the typical Tex-Mex menu. The best mole enchiladas I've had are made at Curra's in Austin. Great restaurant. I won't be trying their menudo (the tripe soup, not the 80s boy band) any time soon, however.
posted by picea at 8:06 AM on December 13, 2002

I know how a dope fiend feels when I'm on a plane back to Southern California (Mexico del Norte) and the Mexican food that is my native cuisine. I ate Mexican food last weekend here in Kyoto, and boy does something get lost in the translation. (There was one Portuguese pork-based dish on the menu, Miguel, but there was one kanji I couldn't identify in the description, and I elected to order something else). I took my Japanese (I think) wife to an authentic, Japanese-owned and operated restaurant in my hometown a few years ago, and was amused at how Americanized it was, with giant portions and all that Teriyaki stuff.
[ my first no-right-clicking post on a mac...]
All together: "One of us, one of us, Gooba-Gabba..."
posted by planetkyoto at 8:08 AM on December 13, 2002

> as someone who was raised a Texan, and been to Mexico on numerous occasions, I'll make a blanket statement that TexMex is better than authentic Mexican

Well, as someone who is an authentic mexican, and been to Texas on numerous occasions, I'll make a blanket statement that "authentic" mexican is way better.

No really, something to really like about mexican food is that it's so varied it sounds funny to me when I hear the term "authentic". From many very different types of enchiladas, and tamales, to tostadas, tortas, an infinite variety of tacos (including burritos and flautas), chiles rellenos, mole poblano, etc., etc., etc. and many many things that would bring on Moctezuma's revenge on the unexperienced, to even... hot dogs.

Funny how the article linked mentions how the americans improved on the German, because the best hot dogs (american style) IMNSHO are to be found in Mexico.

Oh (while I haven't been to Italy) when some italian friends let me have some "real pizza" my reaction was... I'll take Pizza Hut over this, any time.
posted by tremendo at 8:17 AM on December 13, 2002

You can find a whole host of taquerias in dallas which serve up authentic tacos (corn tortillas are the first step. if you're using flour, you've already screwed up.) That said, I love tex-mex too. It just depends on what I'm in the mood for.

There are also a couple of Salvadorian joints and a recently opened Honduran restaurant here, Mr. Pie. My girlfriend being from Honduras, every time she gets an itch for a pupusa (quite often) we have to load into the car like the apartment is on fire. For good Central American food, though, I'll opt for the sopa de caracol, graciasverymuch. And some fried platano. Mmmmmm....plantain.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:29 AM on December 13, 2002

Pizza Hut, provocative, that can't stand up... however... when I was in Florence the pizza in restaurants was great however street pizza was uniformly of an entirely different style. It was more like lasagna (and sold by length rather than slice). Wasn't exactly my cup of tea. However in general I definately wasn't missing American Italian food.
posted by Wood at 8:30 AM on December 13, 2002

That Portuguese dish in Japan could have been good old tempura, which the Japanese adopted in the 16th century from the Portuguese Jesuits who were busy converting Japan and ticking off the Tokugawa family. the Japanese word for bread - pan - is also from Portuguese.

My girlfriend is from Tokyo, and she forces me to eat Japanese curry, truly the bastard of the curry family. And of course, there is Japanese Pizza!
posted by zaelic at 8:38 AM on December 13, 2002

The results of bastardised regional cuisines can be great.

I think a better term is "hybridized," and we all know about hybrid vigor!

Oh, and the best Mexican food in the world is in Tucson, although I like (okay, love) it most any style when prepared well (the blue corn enchiladas in Santa Fe are sublime).
posted by rushmc at 8:45 AM on December 13, 2002

I won't be trying their menudo (the tripe soup, not the 80s boy band)

Ah! Tripe soup - the lowliest soup of all...

posted by bifter at 8:45 AM on December 13, 2002

In the Deep South, the echilada eats you!! God damn! all i gotta say is Sweet Tea is so good!!

love what you eat, eat what you love!!
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 8:53 AM on December 13, 2002

I grew up in California, where the "Mexican" food at least contains the right kind of cheese. When I moved to NY in '84, there was nothing to speak of, though it was better when I left in '00. In Austin, this ridiculous travesty called Tex Mex nearly put me off "Mexican" food for good. All those stupid chopped carrots and other stuff . . . ugh. Luckily there are some decent "Interior" restaurants there. But far and away the most amazing Mexican food I've had was in Puerto Vallarta, at a restaurant that didn't even open till after midnight, where the locals ate and called the waiter over with a noise I'd feel guilty using with my dog. Sublime.
posted by divrsional at 9:09 AM on December 13, 2002

the best hot dogs (american style) IMNSHO are to be found in Mexico

Based upon my experience in Mazatlan, I'd have to agree with this startling contention.
posted by rushmc at 9:14 AM on December 13, 2002

Why stick with food? What other bland American imitations of other cultures do you guys prefer?
posted by troybob at 9:16 AM on December 13, 2002

> ...authentic tacos (corn tortillas are the first step. if you're using flour, you've already screwed up.)

Flour tortillas are much more common in the northwest part of Mexico (perhaps because the state of Sonora is the main producer of wheat), but no less mexican.
posted by tremendo at 9:16 AM on December 13, 2002

Yao Ming won't even eat American Chinese.
posted by the fire you left me at 9:22 AM on December 13, 2002

Yeah, I can't tell you how sick I am of Japanese curry and pizza. Corn and Mayonnaise on a pizza is actually pretty good, but it sure isn't a pizza. This is one case where bastardization has not sown any great culinary seeds. Although McDonald's here is a lot better than in the States, so maybe that counts? Another thing that is funny is the Chinese food. In America, of course the Chinese food is Chinese-American food, and I have had no luck finding any General Tso's Chicken here at all. But whenever I eat with my Chinese friends, they laugh uncontrollably at what passes for Chinese food in Japan. Unfortunately I don't understand them well enough to discern what exactly is so funny about it, but apparently it is hilarious.
posted by donkeymon at 9:28 AM on December 13, 2002

You want nasty? Try Japanese ice cream (via boing boing)
posted by bifter at 9:32 AM on December 13, 2002

How do they prepare hot dogs in Mexico?
posted by Holden at 9:34 AM on December 13, 2002

You won't find any French dressing in France

*scream* Yes you will. It's called vinaigrette. What's he arguing about, the name or the food?

There are no English muffins in jolly olde England

? Yes there are.

Seems like a pretty simple concept, doesn't it? Cut the bun, insert the frankfurter and then garnish with appropriate condiments. Yet this simple and logical method of preparation has failed to gain any acceptance in the hot dog's place of origin, Frankfurt,

Right, I'm not going to quote the whole German incident, but it's nonsense. I haven't been to Frankfurt but I have been to Munich and Cologne and in both places I received sausage in a bun. And not only that, there's a choice of about five or six sausages (Wiener, Krakauer etc), all completely delicious. With sauces you add yourself out of bottles. To compare German hotdogs negatively with American hotdogs is total blasphemy. If Germany does one thing exceptionally well it's pork product in bread.

But we've been here before haven't we? Articles like this are designed to make countries with little indigenous cuisine feel better about themselves. They're always full of ill-informed xenophobia.
posted by Summer at 9:35 AM on December 13, 2002

Is there such thing as American food? In my limited travels, I don't recall ever seeing a restaurant overseas that specialized in "American" or "U.S." cuisine except for fast-food places (that Big Mac in Berlin really hit the spot). Is there such a thing as non-fast American food? If so, what is it -- meat loaf and mashed potatoes?
posted by Holden at 9:39 AM on December 13, 2002

Is there such a thing as non-fast American food?

Some cuisines just don't make attractive restaurant food. You don't often see German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, English, Scottish or Irish restaurants outside of the countries concerned. The food is just too basic and hearty. You'd wonder why you were paying for it.
posted by Summer at 9:58 AM on December 13, 2002

And just to add, on top of that, a country's like a brand. Some brands take, some don't. The American brand has only taken in relation to unsubtle food. You need to remarket yourselves. Take your lead from France, which has made mediocre food for quite a while with no dent in its reputation.
posted by Summer at 10:02 AM on December 13, 2002

The hamburger, not just the fast food version, is American, regardless of the name.
posted by liam at 10:10 AM on December 13, 2002

A theory I think deserves more looking into (as it requires eating lots of interesting food in interesting places) is that the translation of dishes between cultures so often fails because of the quality of raw materials available to the chef. For example, I am convinced that quotidian Greek food in Astoria, New York City, is better than your run-of-the-mill food in most of Greece, strictly because the quality of the meats and vegetables is better. That's it. Then there's substitution: I cringe at those "Fresh Tortilla" places in New York City, owned and operated by Chinese, which have taken the Chinese food concept and applied it to Mexican food. It's not even good imitation Mexican food, and the reason I believe this is so is because they go to Chinese food distributors for the raw materials, instead of going to Mexican distributors. So the tortillas aren't accurate (or aren't even tortillas), the onions are the wrong type, the hot sauce is more like siracha than it is like poblano (or anything jalapeño-based), and the ground beef comes, well, ground differently, and so forth. Even the cooking styles, that is, what you do with the utensils and pans, are different.

Some cuisines just don't make attractive restaurant food. You don't often see German, Dutch, Swedish...

Swedish! It's an up-and-coming trend, and quite good. Pytt y panna, the most basic of dishes, is a treat. Pickled herring, salmon, crawfish, new potatoes, sour cream, dill, caviar spreads, hard bread: these are some of the components of a good, modern Swedish meal. Yum.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:13 AM on December 13, 2002

Some cuisines just don't make attractive restaurant food. You don't often see German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, English, Scottish or Irish restaurants outside of the countries concerned.

Your mileage varies tremendously. There have been multiple German and Irish restaurants in every city I've lived in, and frequently an English and/or a Dutch place (Hungarian seems popular, too). Have yet to spot one of the others, alas.
posted by rushmc at 10:21 AM on December 13, 2002

"...my Japanese (I think) wife..."

planetkyoto, this is twice in the last week I've seen you use this phrase. Would you please explain it so I can stop obsessing over it?

Thank you.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:28 AM on December 13, 2002

(Holden:) Is there such a thing as non-fast American food?

The closest we have, I think, are the regional cuisines: New Orleans, southern and Texas barbecue, "soul food", Maryland crab, etc. If these are disqualified because of ancestral influences (Caribbean, French, etc)... then possibly the U.S. hasn't been around long enough to develop its own?

In music, jazz is recognized as American even though you can trace its roots to earlier music. Could our "fusion" food get the same respect?
posted by kurumi at 10:52 AM on December 13, 2002

Is there such a thing as non-fast American food?

California cuisine
Mennonite cooking
Cajun food
Southern cuisine (and let's not forget barbecue, which is as non-fast as it gets)

I could go on.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:53 AM on December 13, 2002

Is there such thing as American food? In my limited travels, I don't recall ever seeing a restaurant overseas that specialized in "American" or "U.S." cuisine

Are you nuts? Fried chicken, the Philly cheesesteak, the fresh deli sandwich, barbeque pork, chili, for crying out loud apple pie...

I suspect that the lack of American restaraunts may be due to the lack of a substantial American immigrant community in other countries, but freely admit that I have no data to back that up.
posted by jaek at 10:53 AM on December 13, 2002

for crying out loud apple pie

I'm sorry, but the apple pie is a Dutch culinary creation. Although some insist it is English.
posted by four panels at 11:03 AM on December 13, 2002

In my limited travels, I don't recall ever seeing a restaurant overseas that specialized in "American" or "U.S." cuisine.

Oxford, England used to have an "American Restaurant". It was about as tacky as one would come to expect from "authentic" places in the US -- entirely overdecorated with a pastiche of "American" decorations (mostly oversized beer signs). Lots of burgers & fries and somewhat odd imitations.

No grits, though...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:22 AM on December 13, 2002

Is there such thing as American food?

Classic American Diner Food, if properly cooked with good ingredients, is definitely something Americans should be very proud of -- I'm not entirely sure it's healthy but it's so tasty. The Cheeseburger -- not the fast-food variety but the real kind of course -- is an American form of art

Steak is hardly an American concept, but very good beef and competent seasoning make an American steak a very interesting -- if expensive -- experience (if you happen to be in Tuscany, check out the steaks there tho -- the classic Fiorentina is to die for, if you happen to be a meat-eater)

Italian restaurants in the USA can be an appalling sight for an Italian -- there's actually food Italians have never heard of and it's also pretty hard to recognize (Fettuccine Alfredo is not a staple on Italian tables to say the least). Other weird sights: meatballs spaghetti (the ragù is tomato sauce with the meat blended in, no big meatballs in sight whatsoever)

Also, pepperoni pizza can be funny: Americans call pepperoni what in Italy is called "salame piccante" (in Italy a peperone -- one p only -- is a bell pepper, plural is peperoni, i.e. bell peppers)

when some italian friends let me have some "real pizza" my reaction was... I'll take Pizza Hut over this, any time.

posted by matteo at 11:26 AM on December 13, 2002

as someone who was raised a Texan, and been to Mexico on numerous occasions, I'll make a blanket statement that TexMex is better than authentic Mexican

This is not even up for debate. Tex-Mex is a frontier cuisine and though it has innovated, has yet to surpass the variety and originality that is Mexican cooking. As tremendo points out, any student of Mexican cooking will quickly realize that it is highly regional. Sometimes it can vary from town to town - I recall visiting one town named Apatzingan where everything was served with sticky white rice and beans but none of the neighboring towns (no more than miles away) cared for that at all. The coasts have developed a rich variety of seafood dishes whereas the tropical central interior has adopted and hybridized much of the native cuisine (very fruit and vegetable based) and on occasion fused it with traditions from from Spain and France.

The most under-appreciated food in Mexican cooking has to be the soup. Mexicans love their soup (or caldo), rich stocks often made with exotic vegetables, chiles, spices etc. Off the top of my head...

soups include albondiga (meatball), vegetable soups, tortilla soups etc and also the infamous menudos and posoles, hominy soups.
atoles- rich hot drinks made from cornmeal, including the champurrado, a non-diary hot chocolate (lets not forget that this is the land of chocolate and corn and tomatoes)
mexican hot chocolate - spicy, cinnamon variation on the hot chocolate
tamales - a huge variety including the sweet uchepos, dark tamales in banana leaves and a variety I adore called nejos which are served with goat cheese and then 'dipped' into a bowl of spicy tomato soup (mmmm)
carnitas - a regional, pork dish from the state of Michoacan, a deep-fried pork which is tastier than bacon and is a gourmet delicacy
mole - these dark thick spicy sauces can contain even chocolate and are a cusine unto themselves
nopales - in the north, many dishes are accompanied by cactus, fried and seasoned
barbacoa - is mexico's unique barbecue style, meat cooked in an underground pit, as flavorful as you might imagine. birria is goat meat prepared in this style
ceviche (raw fish) is not just found in the coasts and is mexicos own sushi mixed of course with onions, tomatoes etc.
chayote squash, jicama, mangoes - much of the richest side dishes are prepared with fruits and vegetables most americans have not heard from, these are often salted or sprinkled with chili and served on street corners
chorizo (con huevos) - a spicy mexican sausage. mixed with scrambled eggs (mexicans love to mix meats in their eggs) and accompanied by tortillas, its the perfect breakfast
fruit drinks and popsicles - rice based drinks like horchata, cold jamaica tea, tamarindo and all of these made into popsicles
bunuelos/ cajeta -mexico's caramel, probably derivations from flan, sugared tortillas, goats milk caramel, etc.

I've left a lot out (i just thought of chilaquiles and chicharrones) but my point was that if you were not aware of many of these things, you have not even begun to discover what mexian food is about. I'm off to grab a tequila...
posted by Winterfell at 12:10 PM on December 13, 2002 [1 favorite]

I would pay to see some pretentious American ordering a grande latte at a cafe in Italy. After getting their large glass of milk, they probably asked if there was a Starbucks nearby.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:29 PM on December 13, 2002

And don't forget elotes -- ears of fresh, white corn, boiled and then slathered with butter and crumbled white cheese and often dusted with ground red chiles. Some of my fondest memories of northern Mexico.
posted by Holden at 12:30 PM on December 13, 2002

In Mexico (and Los Angeles, CA), Hot dogs are wrapped in bacon and cooked together. Then they're placed in a bun with crema (mayo), ketchup, grilled onions and grilled bell peppers.
posted by inviolable at 12:32 PM on December 13, 2002

Is there such thing as American food?

We've been through this before. I know it was a whole week ago, but come on, let's exercise those memory cells -- use it or lose it!

Those who think Tex-Mex or Cal-Mex or New Mex-Mex are better than Mexican Mex either have never had good versions of the latter or have taste buds that refuse to assimilate new experiences. Thank goodness real Mexican has come to NYC (along with the Mexicans themselves) in the last 15 years. You can even get huitlacoche. Here's a bunch of Mexican food sites.

And planetkyoto, I too am curious about your maybe-Japanese wife; what gives?
posted by languagehat at 12:35 PM on December 13, 2002

Great of you to notice this Mig.

its the food. not the culture.

Once at a pot-luck, a hispanic friend of mine brought this verde sauce which to him was mild to his taste yet for the rest of the folks at the party, burning hot.

So a neighbor of mine said you want hot goes and retrieves some Vietnamese garlic sauce from his refrigerator. Now for my neighbor it was mild but to the rest of the folks even my hispanic friend, burning hot.

Odd how our taste buds can be affected with just the change of the cultural ingredients in it, though the ingredients mixed are called a sauce, hot.

PS, in some cases (e.g. Tex Mex) it can be a damn sight better than the supposed original

I honestly think Tex-Mex is for sight only, very pretty but very bland to me as even the hot sauce is just tomato paste for me. Give me some real caliante, verde sauce anyday.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:40 PM on December 13, 2002

On the subject of "authentic" trumping regional variations, I'm willing to assert, despite having never eaten the tikka masala from a UK curry house, that the best tandoori chicken on the planet is at Karim's in Old Delhi. Maybe it's because the restaurant's owners are descendents of the chefs who cooked for Moghul royalty.

Neither drowned in gravy nor red-hued and dry like the stuff you get at many North Indian restaurants (in India and North America), the chicken at Karim's has a yogurty, slightly viscous glaze on it. Comes with some of the best naan anywhere. Sublime. If you're ever in Delhi, seek it out.
posted by gompa at 12:45 PM on December 13, 2002

I work for a Mexican food company that has its feet firmly in both the Tex-Mex and the "authentic" camps. We sell stuff (tortillas mostly) to local places that want some tacos on the menu and really have no idea what Mexican food is beyond that, and we also deal with places owned by Mexicans that are making the same stuff they made before they emigrated from the home country.

Upon reflection, I'd say that both sides have their strong suits, and yes, mole is to die for. A good spicy chorizo is da bomb, but you might want the windows open when you're cooking it, otherwise you'll be smelling it for the next two days. But the Mexicans have simply no idea how to make sweets, or bread; Mexican cookies can be used to break windows with, and any candy is so incredibly sweet as to cause diabetic comas simply by looking at the stuff. No subtlety at all.

And another thing: I've never seen a Mexican slaughterhouse before, but I've a sneaking suspicion that cleaning up at the end of the day must be really easy, since everything that came in has been sold. Mexicans eat everything on a cow, pig or chicken, and not in ground-up-and-mixed-so-you-can't-identify-anything tasties like hot dogs; no, pig feet and pig heads and cow tongue and cheek meat chicken feet and beef knuckles are bought and cooked as they are. Yum!
posted by deadcowdan at 12:48 PM on December 13, 2002

rushmc writes: Oh, and the best Mexican food in the world is in Tucson

Careful now: a Tucson mayor once claimed that, and the mayor of San Antonio laughed derisively and publicly challenged Tucson to a cookoff. One ensued. It was a slaughter.

Almost all Mexican-American food is Sonoran style; a fellow I know from Mexico City said he'd never even heard of a burrito until came to America.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:26 PM on December 13, 2002

Is there such thing as American food?

Being from Buffalo, I am under legal obligation to mention the humble chicken wing.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:37 PM on December 13, 2002

Boy this thread went south with its taste in food must be the Latino side of you Mig.

Having said all that, I'd love the opportunity to try real Mexican food

Make it, that’s what I did while in Paris. I wanted to treat my hosts to some home cook`in that you wouldn't think of as a traditional American dish.

So I decided to make tacos something they had never tasted. I spent half the day finding corn tortillas & sour cream, the hot sauce I can make with ease. One item I thought I would have trouble finding was avocadoes, no way on every corner fruit stand and cheap compared to Dallas prices. (Well they were first grown in Europe before America)

Now several of the guys said they might try it while eyeing me cooking it up but mentioned that they had leftover they needed to finish first, hog ears from the night before. One bite they said they wanted tacos every night. It was how the food was mixed together that made the meal a dish, as I'm just a fair cook.

a Tucson mayor once claimed that, and the mayor of San Antonio laughed derisively and publicly challenged Tucson to a cookoff

Aslo faitas were invented in San Antonio, and the frozen margarita Dallas.

PS, does sour cream exist in Europe, I wonder because the dairy sections in the larger markets were gigantic to the ones found in the USA but I couldn't find it. I had to substitute plain yogurt, which has the same taste with less fat.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:40 PM on December 13, 2002

Well they were first grown in Europe before America

Actually, avos are a new world fruit thought to have originated in Central America. Mexico is the world's biggest grower and puts out the fruit for tremendously cheaper than in California (10x cheaper per pound, almost), where I think most Texans get their commercial avocados. The price in Europe and the rest of the world is cheaper because I believe they import from Mexico, and even with the shipping costs it's much, much cheaper.
posted by cell divide at 2:04 PM on December 13, 2002

I hate to say this considering my screen name....but wouldn't the "Cola" drinks everyone loves so fondly around the world be authentic American?
posted by SweetIceT at 2:10 PM on December 13, 2002

does sour cream exist in Europe

French crème fraîche works pretty well. It's not as sour and a little bit thicker, so you have to beat it well before using.
posted by fuzz at 2:12 PM on December 13, 2002

Wow cell divide, my mistake. I was under the impression that most of american's fruit was brought here from other continents, no the souther part of the continent.

And you are right Texans prefer the Californian(I had class mates that had orchards & a tree in the back yard was always near by in Cali we never bought). The texan avocado is shipped north per the news here in Dallas.

French crème fraîche works pretty well

Thanks fuzz, I'll note this. With my poor french all I could get back when asking for sour cream was, thom, cream that tastes bad, why?
posted by thomcatspike at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2002

Thank you Mr. Roboto, for putting the holy Barbecue on it's pedestal, where it belongs.
Crash: My wife is genetically Japanese, born in an old house in traditional Kyoto. She spent one year at LSU, however, and became some kind of Dixie-subversive-non-Japanese thinker, so I use that " I think" gag whenever someone here asks me if my wife is Japanese, which they all do.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:30 PM on December 13, 2002

I'm actually Chinese (born in Hong Kong), and I really know nothing about "Chinese-American" food around here, which I just categorize as takeout Chinese. I admit however, that despite the fact that it is about as un-Chinese an item as one could ever imagine, I am a sucker for crab rangoons. But I've discovered most of the American Chinese menu is pretty weird. There is of course an extreme overuse of the deep fryer. I'd also say that the tendency towards thick, heavy sauces comes more specifically from the Hunan or Szechuan foods.

My dad actually explained what he thought about this to me once, and in my experience it makes a lot of sense. Hunan and Szechuan food is prone to heavier sauces and more spices for one main reason: the general poverty of the areas and China's historically bad internal transportation. The result was that these places had less fresh food than the richer, coastal areas, and thus had to mask this with thicker sauces and spice. In Cantonese food for example, you find much "clearer" (not sure how to translate that to English) food, with less emphasis on overpowering sauce.

My dad also happens to be a food freak around the rest of the world, and I get to reap the rewards - he has taken me all over for, if nothing else, eating food... Italy, France, Japan, and so on. One thing about fettucine alfredo is that it's not a staple in Italy as it is here - and, having been to the original "Alfredo" in Rome, I found out that a true Alfredo is just fettucine, butter, and parmesan cheese... no "cream sauce" anywhere. It's just a LOT of butter and cheese, which results in a cream-like sauce.

This is getting long.. but as for Mexico - wow, does California sure have it good. Though I am fully aware a burrito isn't really as Mexican America would have us believe, you can still get a DAMN good burrito in San Francisco. I have nightmares over what passes for a burrito here in Boston. And tacos, though not quite as good as the real thing I've had in Mexico, come a whole lot closer in SF too. I'm also a sucker for mole and guacamole. I've never had "true TexMex", since I've never been to Texas. I imagine it is damn good too, but I have my doubts that it's better than Authentic Mexican food.

Japanese is my current favorite food, and despite all the teriyaki we have here, I think it suffers from a little less destruction than most other kinds of food. The difference is often more the quality of ingredients and preparation. Sushi and sashimi are the obvious example, where in Japan the fish is just so much better that it can't even compare.
posted by swank6 at 5:58 PM on December 13, 2002

People need to start doing this sort of thing in their own kitchens. From personal experience, quasi Italian and Indian foods go well together. Ditto Vietnamese and Mexican. Spaetzle and chana masala makes for an interesting combination. Hummus is excellent on top of hamburgers.

Oh, and you Tex-Mex-is-better-than-Mexican people? You're nuts.
posted by fidelity at 6:19 PM on December 13, 2002

This one has been bugging me for years: the Gyro. When I travel the country for the company I work for I always try to grab a Gyro. You'd be surprised at how much they differ. I was shocked in Minneapolis when they put lettuce and mayonnaise on it. Blech. In Europe, Shashlik (sp?) is popular. Seems like the same concept, but made with coarse chopped meats. We all know Chicago is the home, well at least that's where the ubiquitous "Gyro Cone" was invented. You know, that conical slab of meat slowly rotating above heated coils. A greek woman I work with says the closest they have is kabobs of meat spiced similarly. So is Tzatziki a traditional Greek sauce or not?
posted by sharksandwich at 8:18 PM on December 13, 2002

Baltimore, ( Fells Point), 1996: Habanero pepper sushi (maki rolls, actually)...Wasabi PLUS habanero pepper (!) Habanero salmon maki taught me about the fabled "hot pepper wall". It exists. I've been there....push past the burn, Luke...push past the burn
posted by troutfishing at 9:01 PM on December 13, 2002

Roger *that*. Like an express elevator to hell...going down...

Actually, I used to make one-pot "fusion" bachelor disasters all the time: kimchi gyozas over couscous, pita stuffed with Mexican-spiced tofu and tzitiziki, chana masala burritos, that sort of thing.

Truly, you can have the world's cuisine in one bowl when you are a single man with recourse to San Francisco's markets.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:50 PM on December 13, 2002

Wonderful thread!

I'd just like to add my own particular conviction that delicious food only tastes 100% delicious in the region where it's made and eaten as a way of life, day after day - or on special, seasonal holidays - by the working classes.

Even in small countries, with the same ingredients, with native cooks, it'll taste different and not quite right in a different region. Something to do with the surroundings - the air, the water, the ambiance.

There really is no such thing as Italian food or Chinese food or Indian food. Even French food varies wildly. We're talking about vast networks of different traditions with but a few things in common. Food in the U.S. (even fast food) is no exception.

So anything goes outside the place where a dish tastes best. Although Neapolitan food is probably a bit better in Milan than outside Italy, it's still inferior.

It's way more honest and rewarding to accept that certain hybrids, no matter what their "inauthenticity", are traditions in their own right and, as such, should be judged on their own merits.

But it you're looking for food at its unadulterated best, proven by centuries of habit and adaptation, you really have to up and go to where it's eaten unthinkingly and without fuss, because it's part of living.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:09 AM on December 14, 2002

sharksandwich: The "gyro cone" was not invented in Chicago but in the Middle East; gyros (pronounced "yiros") is the Greek equivalent of Turkish döner, both derived from the verbs for 'turn' (i.e., on a vertical spit). In (Levantine) Arabic it's shawarma, made the same way. Oddly, here in NYC, with the largest Greek population in America, "gyro" is pronounced "JYE-row," completely Anglicized, whereas in California (and probably elsewhere) it's pronounced "YEE-row" as in Greek. My brother in California chastised me for my pronunciation: "You know Greek, you're talking to Greeks, why not say it correctly?" So next time I was in a Greek diner, feeling very awkward, I said "A YEE-row, please." The counterman hollered "One GYE-row!" I gave up.

And yes, tzatziki is traditional; it's the Greek equivalent of Turkish cacik (pronounced jah-JICK, and obviously the source of the Greek word). Anyone interested in Middle Eastern foods should try to locate a copy of Culinary Cultures of the Middle East; I think it's out of print, but it's worth seeking out. Chapters include "The Meyhane or McDonald's? Changes in eating habits and the evolution of fast food in Istanbul," "The taste for Layered Bread among the Nomadic Turks and the Central Asian Origins of Baklava," "Rice in the Culinary Cultures of the Middle East," "Jewish Food in the Middle East" (by Claudia Roden, for you Roden fans), "Food and Gender in a Yemeni Community," "You Are What You Cook: cuisine and class in Mecca," and a dozen or so others. Culinary history is a fascinating field just emerging from neglect.
posted by languagehat at 8:07 AM on December 14, 2002

When I make caesar salad, I use raw egg and anchiovies
posted by Fabulon7 at 8:25 AM on December 14, 2002

Thomascatspike: you can make sour(ed) cream by adding a couple of teaspoons of lemon or lime juice to single cream. The juice causes a minor chemical reaction: thickening the cream, as well as making a sour taste. That really is all the sour cream that you buy in pots actually is.

Creme fraiche is fantastic - but not quite right for Mexican I think. Now with poached fruit, that's another thing entirely...
posted by bifter at 3:22 AM on December 15, 2002

Troutfishing, I have had those! I had hoped to never again remember that day...

Now, there is a restaurant down the street from me (outside Tokyo) called Rocky Canadian. I suspect the name is derived solely from the log-cabin architecture of the building, because the food is the typical Japanese version of Italian pasta and super-thin crispy corn-fish-and-mayo pizza.
posted by donkeymon at 7:24 AM on December 15, 2002

When I was in Norway, I asked to go out to a restaurant and partake in the traditional food.

My hosts refused. They said that Norwegian traditional food is gawdawful, and that I should banish the very idea from my head.

Go figure. In Norway, I ate Turkish, Greek, and Japanese...
posted by five fresh fish at 11:55 AM on December 15, 2002

Hey! You're talking about my mom's cuisine! OK, some of it is godawful (lutefisk springs immediately to mind), and a lot of it is bland... Well, all right, pretty much all of it is bland, but some of it is bland in a good way. Norwegian meatballs, for example, and komla (a sort of cannonball made of potatoes that goes great with ham). Anyway, drink enough akevit (Norwegian aquavit; Linie is the best) and you won't even notice.
posted by languagehat at 3:01 PM on December 15, 2002

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