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TRADITION! [Split from Nem Nuong]


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#1 crepeguy

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Posted 08 April 2015 - 11:14 AM

Regional cuisine brought to America can be a mirror into the past. I lived in Providence, RI for a number of years and the large Italian American population was eating hearty, southern Italian style sauces which were heavy on garlic, tomato, and so on. They never evolved with the times. So much so, that when Giuliano Hazan (son of famed cookbook author, Marcella Hazan) opened a restaurant there on their famous Federal Hill, it failed miserably. He essentially brought regional Italian cuisine as it was currently bring cooked in Italy, but the locals didn't appreciate it. All they wanted wanted was their over-cooked pasta, swimming in heavy sauces and fried calamari smothered in hot peppers, stuffed rolled manicotti, etc. I'm sure it's different today, but back in the 1980's, Providence was an anachronistic, culinary backwater.

#2 StMaximo

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Posted 08 April 2015 - 12:28 PM

Regional cuisine brought to America can be a mirror into the past. I lived in Providence, RI for a number of years and the large Italian American population was eating hearty, southern Italian style sauces which were heavy on garlic, tomato, and so on. They never evolved with the times. So much so, that when Giuliano Hazan (son of famed cookbook author, Marcella Hazan) opened a restaurant there on their famous Federal Hill, it failed miserably. He essentially brought regional Italian cuisine as it was currently bring cooked in Italy, but the locals didn't appreciate it. All they wanted wanted was their over-cooked pasta, swimming in heavy sauces and fried calamari smothered in hot peppers, stuffed rolled manicotti, etc. I'm sure it's different today, but back in the 1980's, Providence was an anachronistic, culinary backwater.

 

Guiliano Hazan was involved with an Italian Restaurant that didn't survive here in Portland as well. It was located at NW 14th & Glisan.Maybe 25 years ago?  It probably failed for the same reasons you describe.   There was much less adventurism in PDX back in the day.



#3 levbarg

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Posted 08 April 2015 - 01:43 PM

Regional cuisine brought to America can be a mirror into the past. I lived in Providence, RI for a number of years and the large Italian American population was eating hearty, southern Italian style sauces which were heavy on garlic, tomato, and so on. They never evolved with the times. So much so, that when Giuliano Hazan (son of famed cookbook author, Marcella Hazan) opened a restaurant there on their famous Federal Hill, it failed miserably. He essentially brought regional Italian cuisine as it was currently bring cooked in Italy, but the locals didn't appreciate it. All they wanted wanted was their over-cooked pasta, swimming in heavy sauces and fried calamari smothered in hot peppers, stuffed rolled manicotti, etc. I'm sure it's different today, but back in the 1980's, Providence was an anachronistic, culinary backwater.

That's very true. Look no further than the surplus of Norwegian-American lutefisk festivals for evidence of that phenomenon. Actual Norwegians are utterly confounded by the practice as they moved on from the vile stuff a long time ago.

Although I have to say, I've been to my share of Sons of Norway lutefisk festivals and find the entire phenomenon endearing. (Vile foodstuffs aside.)

Watch beloved so cal legend Huell Howser (RIP) experience lutefisk for the first time. (Simpsons fans will recognize him as Howell Huser... Matt Groening was a massive fan.)

https://youtu.be/2KX_37QLyuk

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#4 levbarg

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Posted 08 April 2015 - 08:53 PM

Well, it might have started because white people were scared of fish sauce.. but it might have been that peopled liked it with peanut sauce better.    In the end, it's what sells. 


"In the end it's what sells" is, of course, a true statement, but it doesn't really follow the argument, and effectively kind of shuts down the whole line of "but why?" questioning without really addressing it.

As you've likely figured out, I generally come from a traditionalist perspective, because I feel there is value in knowing where things came from, or at least as far back as the modern food history of the thing practically allows. Even if you can't go back all that far, I still find it interesting to go even slightly deeper than what's immediately in the plate in front of you. If you can't go back a whole chapter, just flip a few pages and see what's there.

With regard to your point that maybe people "liked it with peanut sauce better", that's possible. But it's also possible that people simply don't know what they're missing because they've never been offered it. Or worse yet, if they're new to VN food, they may not even know the tradition exists! That person doesn't have the opportunity to make that judgment call for themselves, because the restaurateur has already made it for them. That's why I'm a bit of a zealot on the point. I want to get the info out there so that someone reading this in future who never knew about the fish sauce tradition now knows to ask for it in future. My guess is that places like Luc Lac which cater primarily to non-VN clientele probably don't even make the choice available, but I'm happy to be proven wrong here.

Bottom line is this. If someone doesn't know the fish sauce is even an option, they'll never know to ask for it.

Mr Taster

#5 nervousxtian

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 06:44 AM

Except, lost in a lot of the talk of ethnic food to begin with is that it's all bastardized to some extent or hyper regional and probably still bastardized.  

 

It's like the ramen discussion.    You make a point of trying to say what's traditional.. but really what the fuck is traditional in ramen..  wherever you go in Japan even down the block from one to the next, you get something different to some extent.   

 

I have always kinda sort hated the "authentic" or "traditional" or whatever debates because in the end they are pretty much just elitist bullshit or your typical "white people problems" thing.    

 

I mean, why is it served with nuoc mam in Saigon instead of peanut sauce?    Did they think people wouldn't like peanut sauce, is it because it's really the best condiment for it, or just a habit, or what people asked for, does it matter?    

 

I think lost in it all is whether or not something is just good with regards to what it actually is in front of you.    I mean, it's interesting as a side bar as to show a difference, but as a topic of conversation I don't get it.      You aren't even gonna find nuong cuon the same way every where you go let alone the sauce.



#6 crepeguy

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 08:02 AM

Except, lost in a lot of the talk of ethnic food to begin with is that it's all bastardized to some extent or hyper regional and probably still bastardized.  

 

It's like the ramen discussion.    You make a point of trying to say what's traditional.. but really what the fuck is traditional in ramen..  wherever you go in Japan even down the block from one to the next, you get something different to some extent.   

 

I have always kinda sort hated the "authentic" or "traditional" or whatever debates because in the end they are pretty much just elitist bullshit or your typical "white people problems" thing.    

 

I mean, why is it served with nuoc mam in Saigon instead of peanut sauce?    Did they think people wouldn't like peanut sauce, is it because it's really the best condiment for it, or just a habit, or what people asked for, does it matter?    

 

I think lost in it all is whether or not something is just good with regards to what it actually is in front of you.    I mean, it's interesting as a side bar as to show a difference, but as a topic of conversation I don't get it.      You aren't even gonna find nuong cuon the same way every where you go let alone the sauce.

 

I do see your point and agree. But there is such a thing as "regional" tastes/preferences and, as such, I think it's an interesting topic of conversation. That one nation (as a whole) may prefer one thing over another has always fascinated me. Let's take, for example, Nutella. The Nutella made and sold in North America is more sweet/less nutty than versions sold in Europe. And even in Europe that spread has different consistency for different counties based on perceived preference. Or Guinness. Guinness made a special cold draft for American tastes. Cold Guinness tastes like shit to me, but there you have it. 



#7 levbarg

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 08:04 AM

Except, lost in a lot of the talk of ethnic food to begin with is that it's all bastardized to some extent or hyper regional and probably still bastardized.  
 
It's like the ramen discussion.    You make a point of trying to say what's traditional.. but really what the fuck is traditional in ramen..  wherever you go in Japan even down the block from one to the next, you get something different to some extent.

What you're saying is true. But what I'm saying is true too.

If you're in New York, for example, and you order a slice of pizza, and they slap down in front of you a slice of tomato, cheese and sausage casserole known as the Chicago pizza (along with the blasphemous knife and fork!), unless you're at Pizzeria Uno, what you've been served is completely wrong for the context of the situation. Sure, it may be delicious, but that's not the point. There is an expectation of what pizza in New York is, and regional variations notwithstanding, that ain't it.

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#8 nervousxtian

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 08:50 AM

Except, lost in a lot of the talk of ethnic food to begin with is that it's all bastardized to some extent or hyper regional and probably still bastardized.  
 
It's like the ramen discussion.    You make a point of trying to say what's traditional.. but really what the fuck is traditional in ramen..  wherever you go in Japan even down the block from one to the next, you get something different to some extent.

What you're saying is true. But what I'm saying is true too.

If you're in New York, for example, and you order a slice of pizza, and they slap down in front of you a slice of tomato, cheese and sausage casserole known as the Chicago pizza (along with the blasphemous knife and fork!), unless you're at Pizzeria Uno, what you've been served is completely wrong for the context of the situation. Sure, it may be delicious, but that's not the point. There is an expectation of what pizza in New York is, and regional variations notwithstanding, that ain't it.

Mr Taster

 

 

No there isn't..  and your comparison is pretty bad.   If you think NY pizza is all super flat greasy fold it like a taco slice joint pizza you'd be pretty wrong.     If you tossed down a slice of deep dish Chicago-style anywhere in the US, including Chicago at most pizza places people wouldn't think it's normal.    Even in Chicago that style isn't the common pizza.    It's only Chicago-style because that style started in Chicago, not because it's ubiquitous in Chicago itself.    It's not the only pizza, or even the preferred pizza of everyone from Chicago.  

 

Same with the flat style taco folding thing is called NY pizza, it's still not the preferred choice of all New Yorkers.. besides.. for the most part in this country what people consider pizza is the shit from Dominos or Pizza hut or the like.. medium crust, robust sauce and loaded with toppings and not overly done crust.    

 

Here's a recent article of the 25 best pizzas in NY.     Is there a really common theme between all of them?    I'd say less than a quarter of these fit the description of "NY Style" at all.     

 

http://www.timeout.c...-new-york-pizza

 

I think it's problematic when we try to pigeonhole any place to a cuisine.    I see it happen all the time.  

 

I think when a restaurant is at it's best it's when it's making tasty food with what they have available to them.    It's one thing the best Portland places do right, it's not about screwing conventions, it's about making good food with what we have ingredient wise available to us.    



#9 levbarg

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 09:14 AM

nervousxtian, you want to do a NY style pizza throwdown?  OK, let's play.

 

I grew up in New Jersey- spent 2 decades of my life there, and have family and friends all throughout the tri-state area.  I've had pizza at countless anonymous mom-n-pop pizzerias throughout New York, New Jersey and Philly.  There absolutely *is* a standard way to do things, and yes folding the slice is one of them.  (Besides, folding the slice makes a perfect drainage channel to pour the grease off the slice and on to your paper plate.)

 

There is a standard pizzeria paradigm in that region.  You either get a regular slice (the foldable triange) or the square/Sicilian slice, which you don't fold.  Add toppings as you like.  There are regional variations which have history, like the Trenton area "tomato pie", but that's not the standard style slice you can get at any pizzeria all throughout the tri-state area.  And since I left, nowadays there are a lot more of the wood fired, fancy type pies but nobody who grew up there mistakes fancy pies for the standard pizzeria slice shop-type pie, much the same way growing up we'd never mistake Pizza Hut for pizza.  i.e. when I was a kid, "Let's get pizza for dinner" always meant Red Moon Pizzeria or Atillios or some local mom & pop pizzeria, which conformed to the standard style of large slices, thin crust, crispy on the bottom but soft on the top, eaten folded over.  Dad added oregano and hot peppers, and mom added granulated garlic.  "Let's get pizza for dinner" *never, ever* meant Pizza Hut.  Ever.  To our minds, it was a different foodstuff altogether.  And this is not a judgment at all on the quality of Pizza Hut-- it's just not part of the tradition of eating pizza in the tri-state area.  Pizza Hut was a latecomer to the game, and my parents were unfamiliar with it, so they didn't take us there.  Plus, in the 80s there really was no food-centric movement-- my parents, who were born and raised in NJ, continued to eat at the places their parents took them-- the mom & pop pizzerias that I'm describing, because their parents (who were from New Jersey and New York) had been eating it for most of their lives, too.  I had a friend, though, whose family loved to go to Pizza Hut, and they'd often ask me to go along. Again, it was always "we're going to Pizza Hut!", not "pizza", because we identified Pizza Hut as something altogether different.  This is what happens when you come from a place that has very strong food traditions-- I went to school in Missouri, and I found that they have a much looser interpretation of what pizza is.  They do have St. Louis pizza (vile stuff- ketchup sweet sauce with a kind of local smoked "Italianized" Velveeta processed cheese food called "provel", served on an unleavened saltine-like cracker crust), but they had no problem with that style coexisting with Chicago style, or whatever cheese-on-dough slapdash homemade style anyone decided to throw together.  As long as there was cheese-on-bread, they didn't care about where it came from.  There was no story to tell.  Central Missouri doesn't have a strong pizzamaking tradition, and as a result their pizza identity was a lot wobblier than mine.

 

Of the timeout list, there are several outstanding representations of the standard NY style pie.  Totonno (#5), John's (#9), Patsy's (#23), DiFara (#19).  And L&B Spumoni Gardens (#13) is a pretty quintessential Sicilian pie.  But even so, I'm not sure you're making the point you're trying to make, because while I see variations in toppings, and I see some fancier wood-fired type places thrown into the mix (which are a recent-comer, not part of the long-standing NYC pizza tradition I'm describing, and even a California pizza inspired place), they all follow the paradigm of the leavened thin crust vs thicker Sicilian square that I've described above.  And still, the VAST majority of pizzerias throughout that region (not the fancy ones that get press) are making pies in the standard paradigm I've outlined.  And that's hundreds, if not thousands, of individually run pizzerias.  Why do they primarily make the same 2 standard styles of pies?  It's tradition.  That's why.

 

In case you missed it, see a fellow Jersey boy defend our beloved standard style pizza.  Yes, he's hamming it up to make it funny, but the sentiment very accurately reflects how people think about pizza there.  The mom & pop pizzerias are a significant part of the food history and culture of the region.

 

 

Mr Taster



#10 levbarg

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 09:38 AM

To add to my point, this is the township I grew up in.  For such a small place, look how many mom n' pop pizzerias there are.  Then zoom out a bit and see how many there are in the region.  It's staggering.

 

The vast majority of those mom n' pop places will be selling pizza in the style I've described above.  Guaranteed.  None of these are likely to be written up in any type of non-local media, because these aren't touristy places.  These are the types of places where locals have gathered for generations to enjoy their big, greasy, foldable slices.

 

https://www.google.c...z/data=!3m1!4b1

 

Mr Taster



#11 Jill-O

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 09:39 AM

I spent the first 20 years of my life growing up 4 blocks away from L&B (and we never called it Spumoni Gardens ;o), and have a similar pizza pedigree levbarg. I get what you are saying. I also spent 5 years in Chicago and get where nervousxtian is coming from.

 

I love Chicago deep dish but I don't really think of it as pizza. 

 

And by the way, I never though DiFara's (which is not far from my high school) was all that fabulous. And L&B wasn't the best Sicilian in the neighborhood either (that was DaVinci's on 18th Ave near 65th St., and they'd make it "upside down" (cheese below sauce to keep the crust from getting soggy) like L&B if you asked). L&B's spumoni is awesome and their Sicilian slices are great, but their Neapolitan slices are just OK.

 

And, I think that these places are largely so popular because they are the ones left doing it old school...they weren't necessarily the best, but they are still standing.

 

Totonno's, John's & Patsy's I'd say are a bit of a different animal and very much older and venerated places...with wood or coal ovens.  They too are still standing, but they are also special.

 

But all of these do inded make a similar style of pizza that everyone recognizes as NY style.


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#12 levbarg

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 09:45 AM

Jill-O, you'd know better than I would about the specifics, what with me being from the suburbs and your being a local.  My sister lives in Brooklyn and every time I visit I try to hit up a new pizzeria or two.  I've tried DiFara twice-- I learned about him right at the beginning of his rise to fame (from Chowhound).  This was back in ~2005.  At that time, you could go on a Weds at 3pm and go right in, no waiting.  Now he's closed mid-day and the lines are batshit crazy when he's open.  The slice I had there made my eyes roll into the back of my head was when he ladled a slice down with fruity olive oil with porcini mushrooms marinating in it.  It cost $5 (now the plain slices cost $5).  Jeez, it was outrageously good... I still dream about it.  What I don't dream about is waiting in that damned line.

 

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#13 nervousxtian

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 03:06 PM

I never said there wasn't a traditional style prevalent.. you compared Chicago deep dish to make your point.   That is a disingenuous comparison.      I'm not going to discount prevalent styles of food, but even among the mom-and-pop pizza joints there's variation of the style.     

 

We've had similar discussions in the past on subjects like this.     



#14 levbarg

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Posted 09 April 2015 - 03:14 PM

I never said there wasn't a traditional style prevalent.. you compared Chicago deep dish to make your point.   That is a disingenuous comparison.      I'm not going to discount prevalent styles of food, but even among the mom-and-pop pizza joints there's variation of the style.     

 

We've had similar discussions in the past on subjects like this.     

 

I composed a pretty extensive, detailed, logically constructed breakdown of my position.  Unfortunately, your response is so brief and broadly worded that it is unclear what specific points your reply is meant to rebut or address.

 

Mr Taster



#15 nervousxtian

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 05:47 AM

I never said there wasn't a traditional style prevalent.. you compared Chicago deep dish to make your point.   That is a disingenuous comparison.      I'm not going to discount prevalent styles of food, but even among the mom-and-pop pizza joints there's variation of the style.     

 

We've had similar discussions in the past on subjects like this.     

 

I composed a pretty extensive, detailed, logically constructed breakdown of my position.  Unfortunately, your response is so brief and broadly worded that it is unclear what specific points your reply is meant to rebut or address.

 

Mr Taster

 

Yes, I read it.. still doesn't make your point stand about expectation of pizza in New York.    The expectation is going to be toward the establishment you are in, not some overall tradition.    There's a lot of different pizza styles within the style of NY pizza, not to mention there's a lot of new stuff out there now as well.



#16 nate

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 09:25 AM

Not to mention that according to Taster's definition of "traditional" used here and in countless other threads, the only "traditional" pizza is that which perfectly replicates the style which has been prevalent in Napoli for the last couple hundred years. Anything else is just some crappy New York/Chicago/LA/Portland bastardization. Which of course is totally ridiculous. Which is why my eyes have been rolling so much for the past month. All that really matters is his personal tradition, the rest of the world is just along for the ride.



#17 levbarg

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 09:32 AM

Not to mention that according to Taster's definition of "traditional" used here and in countless other threads, the only "traditional" pizza is that which perfectly replicates the style which has been prevalent in Napoli for the last couple hundred years. Anything else is just some crappy New York/Chicago/LA/Portland bastardization. Which of course is totally ridiculous. Which is why my eyes have been rolling so much for the past month. All that really matters is his personal tradition, the rest of the world is just along for the ride.

 

Now you're touching on nervousxtian's philosophy that when the lines get blurry, it's not worth talking about at all.  I disagree.

 

New York City has a distinct pizzamaking tradition that goes back multiple generations.  In my book, if your parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents could have eaten the same style of food at the same restaurant over a course of multiple decades, that's good enough for me to qualify their style of cooking as "traditional".  Even the history of traditional crap food like chop suey is fascinating to me and, I suspect, to others on the boards.  But how far back do you want to go?  Great great grandparent?  Great great great great great grandparent?  Well, I suppose it's up to you to decide that for yourself.

 

In any case, it's a interesting conversation well worth having, even if it goes back just one or two generations. 

 

Mr Taster



#18 StMaximo

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 10:55 AM

There's not many places in this town that have been around for multiple generations to have dined at, let alone many families that have multiple generations in the area.

 

The only multi generational restaurant that I can accurately say my family has dined at would be the Pine Tavern in Bend. I can count five generations of my family that has dined there, but it certainly isn't noted for any food tradition.

 

In Portland there are maybe three restaurants that have been around long enough to be multi-generational. Huber's, Dan and Louis Oyster Bar and Besaws. 

 

Huber's is noted for turkey and Spanish Coffee, I don't know that Dan and Louis has a signature dish, and Besaw's was a working man's dive that bear's little resemblance to the current iteration. None of those really reach legendary status.

 

In my opinion Portland's current food scene started developing in the mid to late seventies. The Willamette Valley wine scene was starting to emerge and there were some progressive for the time restaurants making waves. Horst Mager opened L'Omelette', Genoa came along and there were a few others. In the early 80's more places opened. There were a couple of continental dining choices that made a splash. Cafe des Amis, L'Auberge and A Thyme Garden, Arguably what we think of as the current food scene emerged in the late 80's early 90's with folks like Greg Higgins at B. Moloch's & the Heathman and then opening his own place in 94 at about the same time Corey Scheiber opened Wildwood. Zefiro opened about the same time and you can see the family tree of all of those places throughout current Portland restaurant kitchens. Courvon is somewhere here in the mix and the owners of it came back a few years ago for another go with Noisette.

 

Zefiro was the first time that Bruce Carey (Blue Hour, Clarklewis & others) , Chris Israel (Gruner) and Monique Siu (Castagna) hit the scene. One of the cooks there started Provvista in his off time. 

 

Higgin's has more folks out there than I can remember. Many former sous chef's have opened or headed local restaurants. Brad Root (Root's Vancouver) was at Higgin's when they opened. He later worked at Wildwood. Rich, the chef at Trifecta was a long time Higgin's sous chef, Ciao Vito is another one, There were several other as well, but I can't remember which person was associated with which place. Francis Lim, the food writer also did a stint in Higgins kitchen.

 

The carts are a fairly recent phenomena and just the latest trendy PDX food thing. If you're a newcomer to Portland I can see how you might think everything has sprung from that. Perhaps the proliferation of woodfired restaurants including pizza is another current trend.

 

Here are some links from the New York Times that perhaps will shed some light on the progression of dining in PDX.

 

PDX Provincialism - 2010

 

Portland NYT 1979

 

Portland NYT 1982

 

Portland NYT 1986

 

Portland NYT 1995

 

Portland NYT 1998

 

Portland NYT 2005 - Oldest reference to "Portlandia" that I've seen.

 

Portland NYT 2007

 

Portland NYT 2009



#19 Jill-O

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 11:19 AM

Nice St. Max!

 

Yeah, Portland is a very young food city in many ways.

 

I get where Mr. Taster is coming from (and maybe that's because I am from the same place originally? ;o).

 

There are distinctive traditions for most dishes, and we do come to expect that the food we order meets with that tradition we are familiar with…and if we had traveled extensively in the region that was known for this food originally, in addition to places elsewhere where the food was popular, and found things to be similar, I would think one would think they had enough info to know what is traditional for that dish.

 

And when the dish doesn't meet those expectations, we say, hmmm…this is not what I am used to, I thought that what I was used to was the norm. And if that happened in a new city more than once, I would start to ask, hey, is that an X City thing because I have eaten this dish where it came from and in other places and I have never seen it made/served that way before?

 

And lo and behold, a person learns a new variation exists in that dish where they live now…and maybe even learns why. But ya know, they probably are never going to stop searching for their gold standard of that dish, even if it doesn’t exist in that state in their new city…because food and memory are a powerful force together.

 

So guys, this is kind of what I see happening here. Some folks are really interested in the history and cultural significance or variations on what is considered traditional…and some folks just don’t give a hoot about any of it. They just know it tastes good or it doesn’t and that’s the only important thing to them. Nothing wrong with it, either way.

 

The world is big enough for all of us, I think.

 

And seriously, points for everyone for arguing the concepts and not devolving into name-calling and other douche-baggery.  Good on ya.


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#20 nate

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Posted 10 April 2015 - 01:06 PM

I'm always interested in the history of food and the traditions behind it. However, many foods such as pizza, ramen, and many others, have traditions that go back centuries and have split countless times into regional and cultural variations. What I find painfully annoying is when someone claims that the one version they like is the only "traditional" one and all the rest are crap. Actually, no, what's even more annoying is when that person is exploring cuisines that are prepared in some way they aren't familiar with and say condescendingly that it's nice that there's this OTHER way food can be prepared, but what they really like is THE ONE AND ONLY "TRADITIONAL" way, which is inevitably the way they are most familiar with.