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Unfamiliar Cuisines

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#1 Jinmyo

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Posted 27 May 2003 - 09:17 AM

Hello Tom and thank you for participating in this Q&A.

What do you do if called upon to review a restaurant with a cuisine you know nothing of? Let's say Jovian. Do you read up on it (books or web)? Call on a board of "experts"? Wave hands?
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#2 Tom Sietsema

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Posted 29 May 2003 - 06:35 AM

I’m fortunate. Living in a world capital gives me easy access to people from every corner of the globe, and I occasionally tap that mine when I have a question about some aspect of a far-flung cuisine. (Most recently, before a dining tour of Amsterdam, I took the cultural attaché from the Dutch embassy out for lunch to get details on the restaurant scene there.)

More often, though, I pore over cookbooks or visit ethnic markets ahead of any visit to a restaurant whose food I might not be acquainted with. And DC is full of people who have traveled all over and make great guides to said restaurants.

#3 Fat Guy

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Posted 29 May 2003 - 06:43 AM

Tom, two related questions:

1) When you do "ethnic" reviews, do you care much about authenticity or do you only care what tastes good to you?

2) Are there any ethnic, regional, or specialty cuisines you just don't like? Or, to a lesser extent, are there any cuisines that you feel are nice enough but so inherently limited that you can't find much good to say about them? (Feel free to name names!) And if so, how do you work around that when you're stuck reviewing restaurants that serve them?

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#4 Tom Sietsema

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Posted 31 May 2003 - 06:26 AM

1) I pay attention to both, but I keep in mind that I'm writing for an American audience and have to put it in that context. In Rome last week, I went to a restaurant near the old Roman slaughter house that specializes in offal. Not just brains and tripe, but the intestines of baby calves with curdled ewe's milk in them, and lungs and other innards that a lot of Americans aren't known to lust after. Were they authentic? Yes. Did they taste good? I liked them, but also realize that I'm probably in the minority over here.

2) I'm pretty open-minded. There are some African dishes I'm not particulary fond of (the food from Burkina Faso tends to be heavy and dull, for instance) and I find some Filipino cooking too greasy for my taste, but my job is all about transcending personal taste. I evaluate things all the time that I might not choose to eat on my own dime. Several years ago, for example, licorice was all the rage in desserts. I hate licorice. But I tried to be fair about writing about the flavor.

#5 Pan

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Posted 01 June 2003 - 12:40 AM

How can one be fair when writing about a flavor one hates? I frankly wouldn't know how to do that. Then again, that's one reason why I'm not a professional critic.

By the way, since I don't live in the DC area, I haven't been familiar with your work, but I've been impressed with the answers you've given in this forum.

#6 Tom Sietsema

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Posted 01 June 2003 - 03:55 AM

"Hate" might be too strong a word; I should have said I am not a big fan of licorice.

Most critics have to have an open palate to do what they do. I couldn't be a vegetarian and do this job, for example, nor could I be a picky eater (that's different from being discerning).

I am not an advocate of big portions, but I still write about them. I don't care much for chocolate, though I always order the chocolate dessert on the menu of a given restaurant because I know I'm in the minority when it comes to that flavor.

As I stated earlier, restaurant reviewing requires the writer to transend personal preferences. It's not always easy, but try I do.