Thursday, April 20, 2006

Food Philosophy

"Americans have no taste."

That's what alot of foreigners visiting this country say. All they eat is McDonald's and KFC. And after they eat that, they swear off of American food entirely (to be fair, have you ever tried an "ethnic food," like Bangladeshi, and hated it? Did you eat the Americanized version, or the authentic version? There's a big difference.) And I have to partially agree.

Many Americans, have NO CONCEPT of what good food is. It is NOT Prego tomato sauce or Kraft macroni & cheese, or Wonderbread. Many have never tried fresh fruit off the tree, vegetables in season, or a freshly killed fish. (Agribusinesses have plasticized they way we eat, but that’s another rant for another day.) Which is such a shame, because America today has arguably has some of the most diverse eating options available in the entire history of humankind.

In the area of Long Island that I live, the restaurant scene is predominated by either very upscale restaurants, or chain restaurants like Friendly’s, Olive Garden and Pizza Hut. It’s been hard finding affordable (an absolute necessity for a grad student) food that is also good, without resorting to chain restaurants. But I’ve been able to find some. Jane & Michael Stern’s (also authors of "Roadfood") book “Eat Your Way Across the USA” was about finding the best American food in local diners, shacks, buffets etc. They wrote:

In most parts of this country, the truly wonderful food is not the pricey fare sold in linen-tablecloth dining rooms. From the po’boys of Cajun country and the pig pickin’s of the Carolinas to the pie places of the upper Midwest and the old-time pizza parlors of the Northeast, America’s most distinguished food tends to be of-the-people-fare, eaten without pomp-and-circumstance and fine wine, but with a large stack of paper napkins and a tumbler full of iced tea or a cold beer on the side.

I agree with their assessment of American food, and a few years ago, got to follow their book across parts of the country (I still have dreams about the German potatoes at Otis Café; a tiny little local neighborhood place in Otis, Oregon). But I would argue that there is more to American food. America is about the diversity of cultures. It is also about Santa Fe Tamales, and California banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), and Long Island Turkish food.

Don’t eat the food of people who have been in America a long time. Eat the food of the people who just got here; many of them come from places where vegetables picked yesterday was the norm, and they truly know how to make the best of their food. The secret is to find out where these poorer immigrants (usually ethnic minorities) shop and eat. In the coming days, I’ll post some real gems that I’ve found on Long Island on this blog.


At 5:53 PM, Anonymous lindsey said...

or just come to me! and i'll bake you yummy breads and pastries.

At 6:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't tell southern BBQers this.


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