Thursday, March 23, 2017

You're Doing it Wrong II - You're Ruining it for the Rest of Us

This past Sunday I had the pleasure to stop into Taqueria GDL in Glens Falls. I’ve already blogged about their excellent tacos. GDL is special, and they’re doing good stuff. I love the place. But they’re not perfect, and that point was driven home to me Sunday when I placed my order. The gentleman that waited on me, who I’m pretty sure is the owner, asked me if I wanted cilantro on my tacos.

Wait! What?

Why would a transplanted Mexican making authentic Mexican food ask if I want cilantro on my tacos? Cilantro is de rigueur on tacos. It’s equivalent to asking if I want salt on my fries. That is unless you’ve eaten at too many Tex-Mex, or what are really Ameri-Mex, pseudo-Mexican restaurants. It’s likely too many customers complained after being served tacos adorned with the yummy green herb, and he’s acquiescing to their misguided request.

Shame on you cilantro haters. You’re ruining it for the rest of us.

I get that there’s not a small minority who do not like cilantro. If you’re in that minority, you have my condolences. But if you don’t like cilantro, don’t go to an authentic Mexican restaurant. Go to Taco Bell and eat their Americanized cilantro-free ‘tacos.' Or go to one of the many Ameri-Mex joints that are happy to cater to those who don’t care about authenticity. I don’t go to a vegan restaurant and demand to be served a burger. So please, don’t go to a Mexican restaurant and insist on having a cilantro-free taco.

This is also a problem with Italian-American restaurants. I cringe every time someone claims their sauce and cheese drowned chicken parm or overcooked ‘Italian gravy’ is authentic Italian.

Those Italian-American restaurants that litter the landscape in the Albany area are as authentic Italian as Taco Bell is authentic Mexican. The food there may be tasty, and you may have grown up eating it, and you may be of Italian descent, but it’s not authentic Italian.

If you take a look at a map of Italy what do you see? You see a country that's surrounded by water. Italy on average is only 100 miles wide, which means the vast majority of the population is no more than a one hour drive away from one of the large seas that border it. And what do cultures that live near large bodies of water all have in common? They eat a lot of seafood! Seafood is a big part of their culinary heritage. Why should Italy be any different? And shouldn’t an authentic Italian restaurant have a vast and varied selection of seafood dishes? Italy is rightfully known for its pasta, and though I’ve never visited, I’m convinced it should also be known for its seafood.

Peruse any Italian-American restaurant’s menu and you’ll find precious little seafood other than clams, mussels, calamari, and shrimp (and more shrimp). Linguini with clams, fried calamari, and shrimp scampi or some variant of those dishes are for the most part are the extent of their seafood offerings (shrimp scampi is not an Italian dish by the way). Just try to find cephalopods (other than squid) on the menu or one of the countless varieties of fish or other edible sea creatures found in the Mediterranean or Adriatic Seas. They’re MIA.

D’Raymonds is a local favorite and is considered authentic. If you search the menu for shrimp, there are no less than NINETEEN dishes that contain shrimp. Do you really think a restaurant in Italy that sits on the Mediterranean coast will have a shrimp dominated menu? Of course, shrimp are eaten in Italy, but shrimp is a favorite of Americans. And a menu whose seafood offerings are dominated with shrimp dishes is an American menu.

I’m ok with you enjoying your favorite Italian-American joint. But please, don’t embarrass yourself by telling us it’s authentic Italian, it’s not, and by claiming so, you’re ruining Italian for the rest of us.

Lastly, I want to touch on Chinese food.

I don’t think there’s any other ethnic food in the United States that’s been more bastardized than Chinese. For most Americans, Chinese food conjures up a gooey, sweet, salty, dish.

I last ate Chinese take-out about six months ago at a Chinese take-out joint in East Greenbush. I ordered what I speculated would be a popular dish there, and one they would do well — chicken and broccoli. I asked it to be made with garlic sauce in place of brown sauce (which I do not care for). I was shocked at how sweet it was. It was basically chicken and broccoli covered in a sugary/salty glaze. Does the average Chinese take-out fan think the Chinese eat cornstarch and sugar laden dishes? China is such a large country, and there are so many regional cuisines, there’s not really one “Chinese” food, but why should that matter to the average American? They’re happy to eat their veggie and meat candy, and if that’s not what’s on offer, they don’t consider it authentic, much less good.

Ala Shanghai is an excellent example.

Ala Shanghai is arguably the most authentic Chinese restaurant in the Albany area and also one of its best, and while they do have Americanized Chinese take-out dishes on the menu, they don’t prepare them like the take-out joints do - with lots of sugar and cornstarch. This results in consternation and disappointment to those who dine there expecting to be served gooey, sugary dishes.

Take a gander at some of the Yelp reviews written by those who ostensibly like Chinese food, but wouldn’t know good Chinese if they tripped over it. These are the minority, but they’re still worth noting, and they’re ruining it for the rest of us.

Yuck!!! What is wrong with people raving about a place... with NO FLAVOR!!!... Got 2 things… absolutely no flavor! Never EVER AGAIN! There are lots of great and MUCH BETTER places.
 
The most bland Chinese food I've ever had. The chicken and broccoli had no flavor... Haven't been this disappointed in a long time. The high ratings must be fake.
 
Don't believe the stellar reviews. It has to be friends and family. The food is absolutely horrible. ...flavorless.
 
...First, the flavors were bland. Nothing tasted bad but nothing stood out as tasty. The sauces and spices lacked flavor.
 
Spicy shredded beef - we have had the right version of this dish... The flavor was a bit bland… In general, the food here is not authentic...
 
I've been more inspired at Mcdonalds. The general tso chicken was awful… My husbands beef fried rice was completely bland.
 
Absolutely non authentic Chinese food.very disappointed. Don't understand why so many people recommend.
 
I've been there about four times and generally find the food to be bland and nothing special.

3 comments:

  1. I'm with you on the bozos who get what they deserve at Ala Shanghai (which will happily make you a few Americanized takeout dishes if you ask, by the way). I'm on the fence about the Italian red sauce place criticism: I think most people don't think D'Raymonds is authentic European-Italian; they think it's authentic Red Sauce-Italian and they're right.

    But about the cilantro. There is a certain unfortunate cohort of the population to which cilantro tastes like soap. It's not a matter of subjective taste. So it's quite reasonable and even considerate for the guy at GDL Taqueria to ask.

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  2. They say those who dislike cilantro are biologically predisposed to hate it. They all say it tastes like soap.

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  3. We live about a 45 minute drive from Mexico - no one asks if you want cilantro. You pick it off if you don't want it. Same with Indian food.

    And you do know that the word "scamp is Italian for "shrimp" right? So ordering "Shrimp Scampi" is actually ordering "Shrimp Shrimp"

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