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Cuisines You Just Don't Get


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I have had the opportunity to travel and live around much of the world, to eat and cook many different cuisines, to stage in restaurants that made dishes I was interested in learning.

I cook and love Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian, French, Italian, and other cuisines. Even old British staples like pease pudding.

I have the opportunity to learn a great deal about these and much more on eGullet.

I get natto. I get steak and kidney pie. I get tongue and heart and shanks and bits.

And yet I don't get much of American cuisine, especially Southern American.

A few things make sense. I get barbecue because it's basically just slow cooking meats. I get fried chicken. It's chicken and it's fried. Pretty obvious. I get gumbo (though I don't much like it). I get grits; it's polenta.

Every now and then someone will talk about "sammiches" and I can translate that into "sarnies" and know what they mean. So terminology isn't the issue.

I don't get that jello is a salad. In fact, I don't get jello. I don't get miracle whip or peach cobbler or "white gravies" as in chicken-fried steak or cooking ham with soda pop or...

And so I wind up asking silly questions, receiving kind (but amused) answers. But I still don't get it. It always seems bizarre and exotic. And think I never really will get it because some foods only make sense if you grow up with them.

For example, I like leberkasse, a fairly bland pork meatloaf that is served hot on a roll with mustard, because I had it many times as a child when my family was living in Germany. If that weren't the case I probably would not care for it at all.

Are there cuisines that you just don't get? Why do you think that is? Would further exposure change this? Or is it a matter of needing a lifelong exposure?

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I have to admit that I don't get Japanese cuisine. Over the years, I have tried very hard to understand it. I have tried very hard to eat it. I think part of the problem is that I am not really all that fond of seafood in general. There are some things that I really like... fresh caught mahi-mahi (any mild fish), shrimp, crab, lobster is ok. That is just about it. I don't think it has anything to do with what I grew up with. We always had a place on the coast and caught abundant fish, shrimp, crabs, whatever. Strong fish flavors make me gag. I don't like caviar. Maybe I have an odd taster that magnifies any fishy flavor. Fish that dining companions find wonderful, I may barely be able to swallow. Any raw seafood is out of the question. I am not into delicate flavors. (I do love wasabi peas.) I just don't get it. The presentations are lovely, though.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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fifi, while seafood is of course prominent in Japanse cuisine on the whole "strong fish flavours"are not popular in it. But then you say you don't care for delicate flavours.

Have you tried tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet with a tamarind/tomato sauce)? Do you like tempura? Miso soup? Noodles like soba (buckwheat noodles) or somen (wheat) in soups or with a shoyu sauce?

Do you like shoyu (soy sauce)?

Or, to get really Japanese, corn on pizza? :laugh::laugh: Even I don't get that.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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There's no accounting for taste. Natto's a bit weird and I suppose there are other things that are as much an acquired taste as olives are in western cuisines, but Japanese food seemed pretty reasonable to me, except when it imitated western food. Of course tempura and tonkatsu were were imported hardly more than a few hundred years ago. The real problem with foreign food (or should I say with indigenous food) when one travels, is with breakfast for most people. No matter how well they adapt to lunch and dinner, most crave a breakfast that's familiar. All the stranger that in Japan I was always disappointed when I didn't get a traditional breakfast of hot rice, raw egg and seaweed with some bit of preserved fish and green tea. I just don't get it that people don't like Japanese food at first contact. Normally I crave coffee and the Japanese make good coffee.

don't get that jello is a salad. In fact, I don't get jello. I don't get miracle whip or peach cobbler or "white gravies" as in chicken-fried steak or cooking ham with soda pop or..

Jello is not a salad and miracle whip is not food, but a peach cobbler is fine, unless of course, you don't get dessert.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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0r udon, especially nabiyakiudon, broth, vegetables with wheat noodles and an egg and a couple of tempura'd shrimp.  Its hard not to like.

Easy not to like for me.

I don't think there's much I don't get (in my limited knowledge). There's tons of stuff I don't like/won't eat, but I can nearly see why other people would eat it.

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peach cobbler is fine, unless of course, you don't get dessert.

Yeah, Jin, what's wrong with peach cobbler?

I don't like cooked fruit (except rhubarb, and then only to slightly softened)! Give me raw fruit, and cooked cobbler topping, and I'm just fine. The only fruit pies I make are raw fruit sort of adhered together with thickened fruit juice -- no baking, other than the unfilled shell.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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I don't get Greek food. I've had mediocre Greek food, but I've also had Greek food that everyone else seemed to be quite enjoying, and I'm thinking, great, feta cheese and overcooked meat. Fried squid is fine, but I find it to be one of those foods where even when it's really good, it's still just fried squid.

I like Vietnamese food, but most of it seems like they tried to invent Thai food but failed. People who prefer Vietnamese food to Thai boggle me, but if they're from Vietnam, I can make an exception.

But like Jinmyo, middle American food is the one I really don't get, especially the weird salads.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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fifi, while seafood is of course prominent in Japanse cuisine on the whole "strong fish flavours"are not popular in it. But then you say you don't care for delicate flavours.

Have you tried tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet with a tamarind/tomato sauce)? Do you like tempura? Miso soup? Noodles like soba (buckwheat noodles) or somen (wheat) in soups or with a shoyu sauce?

Do you like shoyu (soy sauce)?

Or, to get really Japanese, corn on pizza? :laugh:  :laugh: Even I don't get that.

There are some things in Japanese cuisine that I do like. A few years ago, I perfected tempura and that was a favorite thing to do with friends as guests. I would do the tempura and they would eat. I do like tokatsu and soba. When I say that I don't get the cuisine, I mean in its totality. There are dishes that I genuinely enjoy. I know that strong fishy flavors are not favored in the cuisine but for some reason, those dishes that my companions find sublime, I find reminiscent of a bad fish market. Maybe I am just sensitive to that taste profile.

Yeah... I sure don't get the corn on pizza. :laugh:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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0r udon, especially nabiyakiudon, broth, vegetables with wheat noodles and an egg and a couple of tempura'd shrimp.  Its hard not to like.

Easy not to like for me.

I am with elyse on this one. I have eaten these things but I always come away with "What's the big deal?" or "I wish I had eaten something else."

(Somehow, I knew when I typed that post that there would be a bunch of defenders of Japanese cuisine. :laugh: )

BTW... I don't get jello "salads" either. But white sausage gravy over a biscuit is a poem in pork. :biggrin:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I get Japanese food quite well! :biggrin:

What I can not for the life of me understand, and it is far from particular to one culture, they are everywhere, and just have the hardest time with them.....

SAUSAGES

There I said it, I DO NOT LIKE SAUSAGES! in any way shape or form, who first thought let's squeeze these leftover aninmal bits that no one wants in a part of the animal that no one eats and then serve it to people? :blink:

Oh and lets make sure they are least 95% fat and while were are screwing around with them anyway let's toss some blood in and really gross out people, and we have to make sure each link has at least one hard piece of something unchewable that will keep the people wondering what the hell is this made of. I don't like hot dogs, kielbasa, brautwurst, any of the Asian sausages, even salami.

Apparently there is something about them because every country seems to have them in some form, but I just don't get them................ :blink:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I get the idea that if you're going to kill an animal and eat it, it makes sense that you should then eat as much of it as is readily edible. Why waste valuable nutrients?

Consequently, I don't get the idea of wasting lesser parts in favor of the 'good' bits.

But, largely due to my upbringing, I cannot (for the most part) eat guts, blood, brains, etc. There's a reason that 'offal' sounds like 'awful.' I'm a hypocrite, I admit it.

But then there's always another creature (hyena, vulture, Bourdain :smile:, whatever) that'll eat the parts that I won't, so I guess it's almost okay...

Edit: (as always) typo.

Edited by Human Bean (log)
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But then there's always another creature (hyena, vulture, Bourdain :smile:, whatever) that'll eat the parts that I won't, so I guess it's almost okay...

Now THAT is funny! :laugh:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I like Vietnamese food, but most of it seems like they tried to invent Thai food but failed. People who prefer Vietnamese food to Thai boggle me, but if they're from Vietnam, I can make an exception.

But like Jinmyo, middle American food is the one I really don't get, especially the weird salads.

name a few of those weird salads. i'm sure i've seen them, just don't remember them.

haven't had any really good thai food, so i'll say i prefer vietnamese food. but then, vietnamese food is closer to cantonese food, which is what i am most comfortable with.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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Mamster,

I think you have stated the problem why you don't get Greek food. The places you go are mediocre. My recomendation is get yourself to "Montreal" now. I miss the accesibility to good Greek food that you can find there. Since I moved away I have had to develop my skills at cooking key greek dishes. Get to Milos for great fish, Arahova's for souvlaki on pitas, aphroditie's bakery for baked goods. When you try this stuff you will get it. There are many many others but you have to start somewhere.

ie. Souvlaki is made with charcoal grilled skewers of meat with the perfect balance of lean, fat, and grissle. The meat is marinated in a well seasond mixture. On the souvlaki the generous thick garlicy tziziki blends with the raw sliced onions and tomatos. As you eat it a small stream of juice/tziziki rolls down your arm mmmm.

The fish at Milos is very fresh, simply grilled to moist perfection and simply seasoned. Great Octopus.

The baking oHHHH!

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I feel like Jerry Seinfeld. "I just don't understand..."

Really, in truth, I think I understand most cusines, at least in the sense that I "get" why they make a lot of the choices that they do. The furtherest I get from "understanding" is with some of the British or Scotish stuff. The worst of it I mean--the boiled stuff, or the stuff that's over-sweet or over-bland or soggy or whatever.

And even then I suppose a lot of it falls under the explanation that their cuisines developed around their local produce, livestock and lifestyles, and it makes SOME kind of sense.

Nobody gets Corn on Pizza. Even the Japanese and/or Koreans don't understand why they eat it I think. Then again, collectively those two cultures have some of the oddest eating habits.

Back to the Japanese in particular, forget about strange ingredients like Natto. Just think of how bizarre the COMPLEXITY of some of the preparations are. Sure French food can be just as or more complex. But the cultural baggage there is different and it makes more sense. With the Japanese sometimes it seems like the ritual is the point and not the food. And as much as I frequently appreciate the results, the mind-set contines to mystify me.

I actually kind of "get" the mid-west American crap. Not why people continue to eat it, but at least why it happened in the first place. Flavored Jello was a commercial spinoff from the more traditional uses of Gelatin. The company who made the most successful brand, like any enterprising company, wanted to expand its business. And it's campaign fell smack-dab in the middle of a period of American history where Radio and/or TV could convince anyone of anything. Also, there were aspects of a lot of foods at that time that if they felt "futuristic" somehow, they were somehow necessary. America was a culture at that time which needed to define itself as progressive, and it would invent ways if they didn't already exist.

Miracle Whip is a tough one. I think somehow the explanation must be somewhere near that of Jello. Somewhere in the culture someone exploited a weakness that Americans could be sold anything.

Chicken-fried steak can actually be kind of cool, although I admit it can be a bit weird. But I don't think its part of that same 20th century advert-driven fallout. I think its an honest evolution from something else. The white gravy, at least if properly done, DOES have a distinct taste, and I've seen it used to good effect with biscuits as well as chicken-fried steak. Peach cobbler? I'm not sure I see how its any more bizarre than any other dessert, but that's just my opinion. As for cooking stuff with soda pop? I suppose I understand it in the sense that its just another form of using something sweet as a sauce/marinade. Something that some object to on principle, but if the stated goal is to make something sweet it makes no more or less sense than any other sweetener.

Fifi: I actually don't get Wasabi Peas. What people refer to as wasabi peas to me is just low quality dried peas instead of fresh with horseradish instead of real wasabi. I don't mind horseradish... much... but I just don't get eating it on dried peas.

As for mamster's Greek food comments... I'm thinking that the best of it may not be overcooked. Maybe we never get to SEE the best of it. Or maybe the overcooking makes some culture sense based on some reaction at some point to try and overcome food spoilage. And the cuisine got in a rut ever after.

Torakris: Large parts of German food are mysterious to me. Like with the Brits... I come very close to not getting it. But sausages in general? As a whole thing, yeah... I see the utility. Originally a lot of it was done for convenience I think. Convenience in storage, transport, portioning... you name it. Later I think some of the other forms of sausages/salumi became an art.

Okay, quick. Someone explain Taco Bell. Please. :laugh:

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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I like Vietnamese food, but most of it seems like they tried to invent Thai food but failed. People who prefer Vietnamese food to Thai boggle me, but if they're from Vietnam, I can make an exception.

Wow mamster, thats a first for you in the clueless department :laugh:

Aside from many shared ingredients I think its really unfair to compare thai food to vietnamese. Thai its all about the chiles and the very strong flavors, vietnamese its all about the subtlety of flavors and freshness of the ingredients. They are yin and yang, matter and antimatter Southeast Asian food wise. Romulans and Vulcans. Parallel universes if you will. You can -almost- get by with sub-par ingredients with thai food by having enough spices and good technique, but you cant make good vietnamese food without pristine ingredients and good produce. And thais may have perfected hot and sour, and they kick ass with curries, and they do cool stuff with roasted chicken and pork, but the vietnamese blow them away on noodle soups, broth and most appetizers. Plus you got the whole French influence thing you have to factor in which makes it unique.

And while thai iced coffee and iced tea is good, Vietnamese iced coffee is better.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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On the original premise what don't you get, I will commit blatant heresy and say I just don't get Chinese food, be it Cantonese or other variation. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed the occasional dish but never as much as my Sinophile friends. All that effort, all that presentation and in the end it's wasted on me my usual attitude is why did they bother. Now Japanese cuisine is different, I "get" Japanese cuisine, just don't like it much. My worst nightmare was a working trip to Tokyo a couple of years ago, presented with all this exquisite food that made me want to barf (even some of the bits of cow in the Kobe beef bar). The greatest relief on the last night was escaping our minders and hitting the European restaurant in the hotel!

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Oh my, Kristin.

Luvly luvly sausages.

Still, with your fondness for yuke (Korean raw beef) it does make a kind of sense they would not appeal to you.

Re peach cobbler.

No, I don't get desserts at all. But I mentioned peach cobbler because, well, it just sounds weird to me.

"Cobbler."

What is that? I don't get it.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Can't think of an entire cuisine that I abhor, but the popularity of some dishes, at least in their North American iteration, does puzzle me. There must be thousands of restaurants within a 100-mile radius of where I live that offer what they call a "Greek salad" even if the rest of the menu isn't Greek.

What you get is invariably an unappetizing (often nauseating) assortment of underripe tomatoes, wedges of iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, feta cheese that is either sour or tasteless, onion (usually the only edible ingredient) all doused with dubious olive oil and far too much vinegar, with a few doubtful black olives as a garnish. But made with the best and freshest ingredients, Greek salad is a revelation.

I suspect that if my only encounter with "southern" or "Mexican" food was KFC or Taco Bell, I wouldn't "get" these cuisines, either.

And while I'm at it, the commodification of dim sum into greasy, gristly bits isn't doing much for the reputation of Chinese cuisine. Most sushi, especially inland, is downright scary.

Arthur Johnson, aka "fresco"
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