Monday, November 25, 2019


I was reading an article on the BBC's website about the teapot tempest stirred up when United States Naval War College professor Tom Nichols said "Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn't."

But this also caught my eye: "I'm honest enough to say that my mostly Irish taste buds can't handle whatever it is that is called 'Indian' in the US and UK." And while it was lost in the ensuing fracas, it raises an interesting point about foreign cuisines in the United States. An ex-girlfriend from China hated my taste in "Chinese" food, saying that my favorite local Chinese restaurant was "too American."

"Hello!" I replied. "American here." I understand that, as an American who has never been to China, I don't actually have any first-hand knowledge of what genuine Chinese food is like. I completely understand that most Chinese restaurants I've ever been to cater to primarily American palettes. They are, after all, in the United States. (One interesting side effect of this is that, at least for Chinese restaurants, the food varies regionally. Chinese food in Chicagoland is as different from Chinese food in the Seattle suburbs as the pizza is.)

But it's as inaccurate to say that there is one way that Americans like to eat as it is to say that there is only one style of "Chinese" food. Not all Americans like all "American" food. And so non-American cuisines often find themselves in something of a squeeze. It's widely understood that many Americans are not adventurous eaters, and so there is an "Americanizing" that happens. But many Americans are unaware enough of this that they don't realize that many of the dishes they eat would be unrecognizable to people in the countries they are supposedly from. And so, either way, the food is panned as terrible; authentic cuisines by the non-adventurous and the Americanized versions by those who find the habit of sweetening and calorie-bombing cheap foods to be distasteful.

I had, I believe, a few opportunities to eat authentic Japanese food when I was in Japan, and I quite liked it. Of course, not speaking, or reading, Japanese, when we were away from the tourist areas, I had no idea what it was I was eating, and so I can't now look for it here in the United States. But perhaps it's better that way.

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