Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Oct 6 - When Food Becomes Cuisine
Food, sustenance, manna, nourishment, provisions, nutrition, fare, fodder, mess, rations, grub, vittles, chow, cuisine. All words that make our mouths water and our stomachs grumble. Delicious bites that pass over our lips, encounter our teeth and then glide over our tongues on their journey downward into our stomachs.
Food. We all get some daily (hopefully). But over time, my perceptions of food have changed. I remember loving Beets then hating Beets and now love Beets again. The same thing happened to Applesauce (yes, I know I'm weird).
Some foods I've never liked. Cruciferous vegetables were never my friends. Broccoli? Never. Cauliflower? What's the point. Cabbage? As cole slaw or sauerkraut only. Spinach? My Mom would try to sprinkle sugar on it (she did that to Fried Eggplant as well, and it didn't work there either). Bleccch! Peas used to be tormentors (except as Split Pea Soup). My Mom would make me swallow (like a pill) one pea for every year of my age. Asparagus? Ugh, the smell alone kills me. Mushrooms? Smell like cleanser when sautéed (those standard little button mushrooms are the worst!).
But this blog is intended to be about changing perceptions and expanding horizons. Growing up, Chinese Food was either: a) from this little restaurant on a hill over a gas station near Strawbridge & Clothiers where I only got the complimentary Fried Noodles with Duck Sauce, Wonton Soup, Eggroll, Spareribs and Sweet & Sour Chicken... along with White Rice and Chinese Tea; or b) Chun King Chow Mein at home.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Chun King Chow Mein that used be available on supermarket shelves, it came in a tall red can that included a little piece of red plastic tape securing a second can with the fried noodles on top. It only required heating in a pot. It was not very good. At all.
Then, one day (while in the Navy), I discovered Chinese Cuisine. Oh, it was still food, but oh, what food. I was wandering around Hong Kong during lunchtime and saw this little busy corner eatery (open to the streets on two sides) with a steady flow of business people. I couldn't read the menu on the wall over the woks, but this was a 'fast food' joint. My fast food lunch was a plate of braised chicken thigh/leg covered in some phenomenal sauce atop a bed of piping hot rice. It came with disposable plastic cutlery (green chopsticks) and I sat down at one of the communal tables. This was my first taste of 'real' Chinese Cuisine and it was phenomenal. I now LOVE CHINESE cuisine. Oh, and this delectable plate of fast Asian goodness cost $1.15.
Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Chinese or Italian was as Ethnic as it got (it was the 1970s). And for my money, Italian Food has not changed in decades. Nothing new. No real innovations. But some of the other Ethnic delicacies that have flourished in this country in recent years have totally blown my taste buds out of my mouth.
Simple to complex. Mild seasonings to intense flavors. The Ethnic landscape of cuisine now available simply blows my mind. Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese... all varieties I eat on a regular basis. I look forward to trying more. Korean BBQ, Dim Sum, Moroccan, dozens of African varieties await. South American - light-years away from the Mexican Food I grew up with - oh, that was Tacos on hard yellow corn shells made at home from a kit (just add your own ground beef). And Taco Bell was the only Mexican Restaurant I knew.
The day I found Sushi... my culinary landscape changed forever. Oh, the possibilities and flavors to savor that this ever-shrinking world now has to offer. And thank you Food Network. Worlds beyond the few shows I used to find on PBS (The Galloping Gourmet, Julie Child and the Frugal Gourmet). Now, Good Eats, Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, the Naked Chef, the Iron Chef and Chopped - all shows that show me that turning my pantry ingredients into something delicious can be easy.
Get me a bib, a fork... and a much (much) larger stomach.
BONUS POINTS QUESTION for my READERS: Post your favorite type of food with your recommendations of what dish I should not miss out on... and instead of the one (1) posting entry, I will give you TWO (2) Entries into my "Follow-Me Now" Giveaway.