Archive by Author

Turkey: True American Cuisine

6 Jun

Ah, the quintessential oven roasted turkey dinner that we, as Americans, call Thanksgiving dinner.  Though accompanied by seasonal vegetables and other classic American dishes like mashed potatoes, turkey plays the central role in the American celebration.  American cuisine is often times misunderstood in that the U.S.’s highly diverse population of immigrants have contributed to an endlessly diverse cuisine in the country, making the act of pinpointing truly American cuisine quite difficult.  Turkey, on the other hand, has a unique presence among American cuisine seeing as how the bird is native to the Americas and is tied to the nation’s oldest accounts of civilization.  Popularized by its presence in the notable Pilgrim feast of the early 17th century, a feast that was organized to give thanks to God for helping the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in the new land.  Despite its connections to the earliest instances of the American nation, the turkey’s role as a national food in the U.S. is also made legitimate by the fact that it is the face of a holiday created by one of the U.S.’s most important leaders, Abraham Lincoln.  Perhaps the most nationalistic feature of the turkey is the way in which it is eaten and enjoyed.  Family comes together to share, spend time with each other and give thanks to God (a more modern interpretation would be thanks to the nation) for feeding our brethren and keeping us healthy.  Family values are a staple of American popular culture, so acting as the centerpiece to one of the most family oriented times of year in the U.S. undoubtedly aids in the turkey’s role as a national food.  So while Americans eat much more beef than turkey, it’s central role in the nation’s most representative holiday and its ability to mobilize and strengthen family values in the U.S. makes it a nationally freighted food.

Photograph of President Truman receiving a Thanksgiving turkey from members of the Poultry and Egg National Board and other representatives of the turkey industry, outside the White House

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Rolling Sushi: A Peek Into The Funcitonality Of Food Trucks

29 May

Saturday had approached and I was in a situation that most other students and professionals would admire: I had no plans for obligations for the day.  With this in mind I headed down to my home town in Orange County, Huntington Beach, with a friend who had stayed over the night before.  Stomach’s grumbling and fresh sushi on our minds, I decided we go to a sushi truck that is propped up right on Pacific Coast Highway called Rolling Sushi, a truck offering sushi favorites and frozen yogurt.  The environment was ideal for my observation seeing as how the area was littered with a diverse crowd taking advantage of the mild and sunny weather along the coast.  Before approaching the food truck several anthropological prerequisites raced through my mind.  Being sure to be reflexive in my thoughts, I decided to take a more etic positionality, one that is more detached and that includes less interaction with the subjects (the other customers).  One of the first phenomena that I noticed and that was very prevalent was related to the ergonomics of dining at a food truck.  With bags, frisbees, towels and the like, beach-goers had trouble juggling (no pun intended) their items while handling their orders.  This issue didn’t end at the food truck, though.  The next task was to find a place to consume their cold rolls, with most leaving my field of vision to find a place.  Some propped themselves up on various statues and staircases, as I did while I ate my spicy cucumber roll which was tasty and perfectly filling.  When reflecting on this seemingly detrimental problem of ergonomics, I found that it really is a classic pro/con situation.  Food trucks have the highly valuable asset of being quick, convenient and approachable.  There is no one waiting on you and you can literally depart to your next destination seconds after receiving your food and even eat it on the way, something I also observed; several patrons returned to the beach after receiving their sushi and yogurt treats.  On the other hand, when you already have items in your possession (ie a briefcase, bag, package, etc.), in this case beach materials, it is quite a hassle to deal with your items as you squint at the menu and find a free hand to handle your sushi…and miso soup if your confident as a balancing act.  All in all, it seems as if the pros outweigh the cons among hungry passers-by.  A better conclusion could be made, though, if I also observed the restaurant experience as well.

-Evan Weiner

Macaroni & Cheese: A Tanzanian Delicacy?

25 May

It was back in 2000, just before the 2001 New Year, that I traveled to Tanzania with my family.  While local delicacies were not very prevalent in our diet during the trip, a culinary experience that I had as an 11-year old is lasting with me even today.  It was at one of the higher-end hotels we stayed at, arranged by our upscale travel planner, Abercrombie & Kent, that I experienced one of my best encounters with the famed indulgence that is macaroni and cheese.  Before I continue, it is beneficial to briefly outline my idea of authentic cuisine.  As Tanizaki notes in “The Gourmet Club,” authenticity can be rooted in the ambiance in which a dish is prepared.  Even if exact ingredients and proportions from a centuries old recipe are used, it is the setting in which a dish is prepared, and more importantly consumed, that makes it authentic; I essentially agree with this notion.  In “The Gourmet Club,” Count G describes how the fact that traditional Chinese instruments were played during the consumption of the Chinese feast makes the delicacies that much more authentic.  With that in mind, my experience with eating macaroni and cheese in Africa becomes quite inauthentic.  An authentic Tanzanian meal, according to the moneyed and often naïve tourists around me, would likely include some sort of barbaric preparation of meats or heaven forbid, bugs.  I may not be giving my fellow tourists’ palates enough credit, but enough about them.  During a late lunch at the hotel in a large dining room in which we were waited on, one of the courses that we received was macaroni and cheese.  The dish itself was delicious; something my whole family was a bit taken aback on.  Shouldn’t macaroni and cheese be most delicious and authentic in a European country such as France, England or Italy?  Or heck, don’t we have the best mac and cheese right here in the States?  This dish puts those notions firmly to rest.  It was creamy with perfectly al dente traditional elbow macaroni noodles.  There were a variety of cheeses it seemed, with a sharper of the selection standing out but still keeping a mild presence in the flavor.  Topping it off were bread crumbs that relied solely on the quality of the bread and not any garrish overseasoning.  All in all, it was a perfectly delicious example of what many would consider an authentic, modern macaroni and cheese casserole.  So while I would confidently compare my future experiences with mac and cheese with this one, and thus deem it authentic, the setting in which I consumed the dish was by all means inauthentic.  In the end, I find that there is a tension between taste and ingredients and ambiance and preparation in deeming a dish authentic.  And the question becomes, even if the dining setting is anything but true to the history of a dish, should taste and flavor fall victim to the bad connotations of the term “inauthentic?”

Authentic Mac & Cheese: Elbow macaroni pasta baked with creams and cheeses and a bread crumb topping

Rolling Sushi

25 May

Saturday had approached and I was in a situation that most other students and professionals would admire: I had no plans for obligations for the day.  With this in mind I headed down to my home town in Orange County, Huntington Beach, with a friend who had stayed over the night before.  Stomach’s grumbling and fresh sushi on our minds, I decided we go to a sushi truck that is propped up right on Pacific Coast Highway called Rolling Sushi, a truck offering sushi favorites and frozen yogurt.  The environment was ideal for my observation seeing as how the area was littered with a diverse crowd taking advantage of the mild and sunny weather along the coast.  Before approaching the food truck several anthropological prerequisites raced through my mind.  Being sure to be reflexive in my thoughts, I decided to take a more etic positionality, one that is more detached and that includes less interaction with the subjects (the other customers).  One of the first phenomena that I noticed and that was very prevalent was related to the ergonomics of dining at a food truck.  With bags, frisbees, towels and the like, beach-goers had trouble juggling (no pun intended) their items while handling their orders.  This issue didn’t end at the food truck, though.  The next task was to find a place to consume their cold rolls, with most leaving my field of vision to find a place.  Some propped themselves up on various statues and staircases, as I did while I ate my spicy cucumber roll which was tasty and perfectly filling.  When reflecting on this seemingly detrimental problem of ergonomics, I found that it really is a classic pro/con situation.  Food trucks have the highly valuable asset of being quick, convenient and approachable.  There is no one waiting on you and you can literally depart to your next destination seconds after receiving your food and even eat it on the way, something I also observed; several patrons returned to the beach after receiving their sushi and yogurt treats.  On the other hand, when you already have items in your possession (ie a briefcase, bag, package, etc.), in this case beach materials, it is quite a hassle to deal with your items as you squint at the menu and find a free hand to handle your sushi…and miso soup if your confident as a balancing act.  All in all, it seems as if the pros outweigh the cons among hungry passers-by.  A better conclusion could be made, though, if I also observed the restaurant experience as well.