Sunday, July 10, 2011

the american palate

my wife told me that the phrase "american palate" the other day (here) was offensive.  sorry.

i'd now like to undertake a little defense of the offensive.
here is a blurb from the washington post about an american in india, and americanizing indian flavors.  here's another article on how the american palate is shifting to more extremes from the wall street journal.  i'm going to attack this from an anecdotal perspective though.  let's play a game i played with my wife.  it's like a rorchach test with food.  i'm going to name a type of food, and then you think about its characteristics or classic flavors and elements of it.

middle eastern.

your responses probably went a little something like this:

italian.  tomatoes.  pasta.  olive oil.  basil.
thai.  curry.  peppers. basil.  peanuts. 
indian.  curry.  vegetables.  paneer (cheese).  naan.  spices.
mediterranean.  fish.  light.  herbaceous.  olive oil.
spanish.  yellow rice.  saffron.  small plates.  bell peppers.  
korean.  kim chi.  small vegetable sides.  bbq.  lettuce wraps.
mexican.  mole.  crumbly white cheese.  tortillas.  fresh salsa.  corn.
greek.  feta.  olives.  olive oil.  lamb.  yogurt.
middle eastern.  kabobs.  yellow rice.  lamb.  strong spices.
japanese.  noodles.  sushi.  fish.  gyoza/tempura.
german.  sausage.  mustard.  potatoes.  pork.
chinese.  noodles.  sauce.  rice.  stir fried food.
caribbean.  jerk spice.  spicy.  mangos.  seafood.
vietnamese.  fresh rolls.  vermicelli noodles.  fresh lettuce and herbs.  pho.

american.  grease.  sugar.  creame.  fat.  processed foods.  hamburgers.  fried foods.  corn/vegetable oil.
maybe you didn't think of all those things after reading the list of food from other countries.  maybe you wanted to say something like beef and corn and chili and bbq.  either way, it just doesn't look good for america.  heavy, fatty, gut busting foods in huge portions.  and just look at the transition that corn has undergone over the last hundred years or so.  now the field corn that is produced is so waxy and single strained and inedible so as to cause it's primary uses to become cheap feed for animals or a precursor to ethanol.  aka.  gas.

and what do we do to food ourselves in america?  we take something, like mexican, and we add heavier cheddar cheese.  we make things greasier.  like pizza vs its italian progenitor.  or more sugary and salty.  like our cakes and desserts.  we cut down on spice, generally, and add more butter or fry them, like sushi rolls, fried tempura style.  it's not to say that other countries do not fry things, japan themselves do have tempura and katzu, but somehow they have mastered creating light, fresh fried foods vs our heavy greasy offerings. 

new american is changing this.  the influx of so many immigrants and more authentic foods are altering the american palate.  slowly.  our desire for more extremes universally is also having an impact, but hopefully we'll resist the extremes and find more appreciation for fresh, light, authentic, tasty foods.  lots of genuine spices.  it's not bad if we use our american ingenuity and creativity in the kitchen, say to take the spices of indian food and put them into beef (verboten in india), or fusion (like a rather surprising japanese/brazilian restaurant i ate at in chicago).  time will tell if these trends will penetrate smaller markets and become as american as apple pie.

1 comment:

  1. Far be it from me to say yea or nay in the middle of the discussion with your wife . . . !

    When I read "American palate" I thought you were referring to pansy palate, which would be mine. That means lots of potatoes, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, peas, beans . . . things you can grow in a garden yourself, but not lots of spice. When I think German, I think cabbage and when I think American I think potatoes, potatoes, potatoes.