Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Misinformed regional pride


Kent Wang
 Share

Recommended Posts

This is a matter that has been stewing in my mind after discussing Texas barbecue with many fellow Texans. It seems that with any food that is local to a region, such as clam chowder in New England, cheesesteak in Philadelphia, and barbecue in Texas, everyone and their dog has an opinion on which restaurant serves The Best, whether they're really informed on the subject or not.

For example, if you ask any Texan he will have an opinion on where to get The Best barbecue. In Austin, the most popular answer will be Salt Lick and Rudy's, both places that no real barbecue enthusiast would ever deign to visit. Both of these places have been around for decades and are simply riding that reputation.

Why do people give an answer if they've never really taken the time to properly evaluate The Best? If you were to ask any person who is the best impressionist artist most would simply admit that they don't know much about the subject. But when it comes to the local food specialty, everybody's got an opinion. My guess is that this phenomenon is driven by a sense of regional pride, a fear that it would be, for example, downright un-Texan to not know about barbecue.

Do you find this phenomenon of misinformed regional pride common in your part of the world?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...]Do you find this phenomenon of misinformed regional pride common in your part of the world?

Of course! Is there anyplace where that isn't a common phenomenon? If so, I'd like to know about it. Perhaps there are some places that suffer from regional self-deprecation.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

both places that no real barbecue enthusiast would ever deign to visit.

I think that's being especially harsh on Salt Lick. Micheal Rodriguez is one of the most talented pitmasters in the field today, and their items are top notch, particularly at the original Driftwood location.

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Isn't it a common New Yorker stereotype to go around declaring what is "best in the city"? There's a scene from Family Guy about that:

Priest: My cousin, Father Sapienza, is in from New York to see the leaves.

Priest: And I'd like to invite him to do the opening prayer.

Father Sapienza: Yo! God is good, eh? And he expects us to be good.

Father Sapienza: And if you're not, he's gonna come down and bust your freaking skull. Amen.

Man: Who do you think you're talking to? Your God ain't tougher than me!

Man 2: You can't talk to the Father like that, you stupid cafone!

Man 2: I oughta come there and break your freakin' arm!

Man: You wanna go, tough guy?

Man: I'll snap you in half like an almond biscotti from Valero's on 51st Street.

Man: Best in the city!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

in NYC, it's not such a problem. if any presumptive New Yorker tells you the best pastrami can be found anywhere but Katz's, you can clearly deduce that they're ignorant, or crazy, or both.

But I think that's a perfect example of Kent's point. I'm a huge Katz's fan and have been for decades. But "the best pastrami"? Even if you just mean in NYC, isn't that a stretch? And NYC is a small sample if you're talking about world domination!

It's that rhetorical drive to assert something is "the best" that's at work here. I don't quite know how it works, but why do we need to say that some kind of food or a particular dish is "the best" at all? It's unprovable, of course.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Perhaps there are some places that suffer from regional self-deprecation.

The UK?

Nova Scotia has always gone on about how good the lobster there is, but never having tried any other kind, I'm not sure if it holds up. If someone is willing to airfreight me two live lobsters, one from Maine and one from Nova Scotia, I'll be happy to do a tasting. :biggrin:

On another note, I was surprised to learn from Anthony Bourdain's show on New York that top-quality smoked salmon is called "Nova", after Nova Scotia. I think all of the wild salmon have been fished out of the rivers there. Growing up in Nova Scotia, I never noticed smoked salmon being touted as a regional specialty!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

in NYC, it's not such a problem. if any presumptive New Yorker tells you the best pastrami can be found anywhere but Katz's, you can clearly deduce that they're ignorant, or crazy, or both.

But I think that's a perfect example of Kent's point. I'm a huge Katz's fan and have been for decades. But "the best pastrami"? Even if you just mean in NYC, isn't that a stretch? And NYC is a small sample if you're talking about world domination!

It's that rhetorical drive to assert something is "the best" that's at work here. I don't quite know how it works, but why do we need to say that some kind of food or a particular dish is "the best" at all? It's unprovable, of course.

We, like sheep, have been whipped into a" Best ...Mine's bigger, better than yours", kind of Kulture. It's everywhere. That said, I would tell you Katz's is the best pastrami in the city... and I haven't eaten it in several years. It all boils down to the self centered notion of what "I" like best, informed or uninformed. It's just, personal opinion, which, many of us seem driven to share.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's that rhetorical drive to assert something is "the best" that's at work here. I don't quite know how it works, but why do we need to say that some kind of food or a particular dish is "the best" at all? It's unprovable, of course.

I've thought that for years, especially with something as subjective as food where everyone has their own personal standard

Iris

GROWWWWWLLLLL!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that's being especially harsh on Salt Lick. Micheal Rodriguez is one of the most talented pitmasters in the field today, and their items are top notch, particularly at the original Driftwood location.

just goes to show you, different tastes ... i ate there last year (irresistible name dropping: with my old friends joe ely and jimmie dale gilmore) and i was REALLY disappointed. meat was pretty good, but the sauce had pineapple or something pureed into it. interesting, because afterward both joe and jimmie said that it wasn't their favorite place, but they thought i'd like it because it was "something a little different."

of course, i grew up on texas bbq at the original stubbs bbq in Lubbock, and EVERYONE knows that was really the best place that ever was or ever will be.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

in NYC, it's not such a problem. if any presumptive New Yorker tells you the best pastrami can be found anywhere but Katz's, you can clearly deduce that they're ignorant, or crazy, or both.

Yeah but in this case, its the truth.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, the whole "best of" schtick is out of control. I was up to my elbows in kneading the other day when a 'best of' or top 5 or whatever show came on Food TV so I didn't bother changing channels. It was the rather absurd premise of the top 5 theme parties, where the theme is a decade. They had somehow concluded that (big build-up here) a 50s diner party at Ed Debevic's was the #1. Naturally I had been talking-back to the TV throughout the half-hour (that, coupled with kneading, can be quite therapeutic :biggrin:) as they mistakenly attributed various trends and fads to the wrong era (their 70s/disco decade being the worst case of anachronistic jumble - the others may have been equally bad but they pre-date me so I wouldn't know any better).

OK, rambling aside (sorry), my point is how do they decide what is the best of? And when it's presented so authoritatively, where it's clearly purporting to be more than just one person's opinion, how can it be defended? Let the viewer beware, but I can see lots of people flocking to a mediocre place ("hey, Ethel, we've got to go to The Greasy Spoon when we're in Anytown - Food TV says it's THE BEST") because it was on TV so it *must* be true.

There is a new periodical starting here in KC and the publisher went out of his way to state, in the first few lines of an interview I read, that they will NOT have a 'best of' because it serves only the interest of the publication (in ad revenues) and not that of the readers. Good for him.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just to be clear what a massive hypocrite I am on this subject, here I am weighing in on hot dogs:

Friends, I want to tell you that the best franks are neither NY systems or Pink's chili dogs. They are Sonoran bacon-wrapped hot dogs.

It's an irresistable urge, I tell you!

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a matter that has been stewing in my mind after discussing Texas barbecue with many fellow Texans. It seems that with any food that is local to a region, such as clam chowder in New England, cheesesteak in Philadelphia, and barbecue in Texas, everyone and their dog has an opinion on which restaurant serves The Best, whether they're really informed on the subject or not.

For example, if you ask any Texan he will have an opinion on where to get The Best barbecue. In Austin, the most popular answer will be Salt Lick and Rudy's, both places that no real barbecue enthusiast would ever deign to visit. Both of these places have been around for decades and are simply riding that reputation.

Why do people give an answer if they've never really taken the time to properly evaluate The Best? If you were to ask any person who is the best impressionist artist most would simply admit that they don't know much about the subject. But when it comes to the local food specialty, everybody's got an opinion. My guess is that this phenomenon is driven by a sense of regional pride, a fear that it would be, for example, downright un-Texan to not know about barbecue.

Do you find this phenomenon of misinformed regional pride common in your part of the world?

I think you are over thinking this.. I believe that most people dont really care about food too much.. So when you are speaking with your average non-food enthusiast, the "best" to them is not a scientific collection of every BBQ place in Texas rated by an exact system.. It might be there favorite out of the three places they have tried.. Or it might be the "best" because its the closest, cheapest, and least of a hassle.. Or it might be the "best" because thats what they grew up on and thats there perception of good BBQ.. No one likes to think they are eating bad food, even if they dont care.. So yes, it is regional pride in that respect..

I think if you really asked your average person to really sit down and consider the subtle details of what makes this BBQ place a little better then the BBQ place down the road, they will think you are crazy... Hence, egullet..

Edited by Daniel (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

in NYC, it's not such a problem. if any presumptive New Yorker tells you the best pastrami can be found anywhere but Katz's, you can clearly deduce that they're ignorant, or crazy, or both.

But I think that's a perfect example of Kent's point. I'm a huge Katz's fan and have been for decades. But "the best pastrami"? Even if you just mean in NYC, isn't that a stretch?

I have yet to try the pastrami places in the Outer Boroughs that I've seen recommended on Chowhound (posted -- where else? -- in a thread called best pastrami), but it seems to me that someone who calls Katz's the best pastrami in New York is not sticking their neck out. What's your candidate for a place in New York with better pastrami than Katz's?

And NYC is a small sample if you're talking about world domination!

I haven't had a chance to try smoked meat in Montreal, so I can't say that Katz's is better than that.

It's that rhetorical drive to assert something is "the best" that's at work here. I don't quite know how it works, but why do we need to say that some kind of food or a particular dish is "the best" at all? It's unprovable, of course.

Unprovable, and therefore a good discussion topic. And yes, characteristic of New Yorkers (among others), such as in the following examples:

eGullet topics on "THE BEST" in New York

Chowhound "The Best" board for New York

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I think pride somehow plays a part in what some people consider to be the best. For example, Texas is obviously huge and so people may say a local place has the best bbq. If you were to disagree, they may see it as an insult to their town. Another example is how I love Faygo pop so much. But I think some of my love for it can be explained by the fact that it is a Detroit staple. To someone from outside the region, it may just taste like ordinary soda pop and probably not as good as Coke or Pepsi.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that's being especially harsh on Salt Lick. Micheal Rodriguez is one of the most talented pitmasters in the field today, and their items are top notch, particularly at the original Driftwood location.

just goes to show you, different tastes ... i ate there last year (irresistible name dropping: with my old friends joe ely and jimmie dale gilmore) and i was REALLY disappointed. meat was pretty good, but the sauce had pineapple or something pureed into it. interesting, because afterward both joe and jimmie said that it wasn't their favorite place, but they thought i'd like it because it was "something a little different."

of course, i grew up on texas bbq at the original stubbs bbq in Lubbock, and EVERYONE knows that was really the best place that ever was or ever will be.

And I used to live about fifteen minutes from the Salt Lick and I agree with Kent and Russ that the Salt Lick is definitely second rate now, if that. It is simply riding its reputation.

When we moved there, the old man that started the place was still alive. The 'cue was MUCH better than it is now.

Yes, the Salt Lick still has a great ambience, and it's a fun place to go with a crowd, or to take out-of-towners. And the sides haven't changed. But the meat is not as good as it once was. The son is running the place now, and I don't care whether or not he is "one of the most talented pitmasters in the field today," it appears that he's spending more of his time bringing in busloads of tourists, catering weddings and bar mitzvahs and selling coozies and hats and tee-shirts than he is worrying about the declining quality of his barbeque: Get yer "smell our pits" shorts r'chere.

When it comes to barbecue, I never say this place or that is the "best." To me, it's more like a tier thing. Top tier, second tier, etc. I think it's impossible to determine "the best" when it comes to a product as variable (not to mention subject to individual preference of the taster) as barbecue.

This reminds me that a while back, somebody on eGullet (who was visiting from elsewhere in the country and said up front that she knew nothing about barbecue), went on the typical 'Central Texas Barbecue Expedition.' After giving us a brief sketch of everywhere she went, she said that she wasn't going to "tell" which one was "best" because that would "spoil it for anyone else" that wanted to conduct their own search.

I'm still laughing. Like after one trip, she's gonna settle something Texans have been arguing about since the first piece of goat fell into the fire.

And Russ... The guy that started the Salt Lick on his family's ranch had married an Asian woman -- either Japanese or Hawaiian, I forget which. And she put an "Asian twist" in the sauce. That's the fruit that you taste.

And frankly, back when the meat was worth eating, the sauce was kinda good with it. But now that the meat is second-rate, the sauce just bothers.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...]Do you find this phenomenon of misinformed regional pride common in your part of the world?

Of course! Is there anyplace where that isn't a common phenomenon? If so, I'd like to know about it. Perhaps there are some places that suffer from regional self-deprecation.

Here in Minnesota, thanks to the Scandinavian influence publicized by NPR's Prairie Home Companion we modestly proclaim everything to be "above average". :wink:

Foodwise, I guess this translates as "Hot Dishes" made with "Cream of Lutheran" soup? :wacko:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another example is how I love Faygo pop so much.  To someone from outside the region, it may just taste like ordinary soda pop and probably not as good as Coke or Pepsi.

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!! An almost-frozen FROSH, right out of the back corner of the fridge, whissssssspped open and upturned for the throatburn of that first long swallow!!! Count me in, though I've been to Detroit only twice. I just like Faygo.

And we just encountered a new breakfast food: Goetta. (Pronounced GED-a---we asked, and then when we saw it on another menu the next morning, the waiter said it exactly the same). The first time was on the placemat menu of a little diner we encountered on a highway exit (their blackberry cobbler praised ad nauseam in the "Cake or Pie?" thread).

We were ordering dinner, but Chris sometimes likes breakfast at that time, so we asked about the new word. "Steel cut oats" were the first words out of the proprietress' mouth. And "ground-up sausage and bacon and ham---you know--whatever is left over in bits and pieces." It seems to be an acknowledged, well-known staple in those parts, and all over Indiana and Ohio, for all I know.

I asked if it resembled scrapple (still untasted by me, but I know about it) and she said "kinda, but from here." So we passed on the goetta and eggs and had burgers.

Then next morning in Cincinnati, it appeared on the menu of our favorite breakfast place: The Red Squirrel. So he DID try it this time. It came as a little square patty, thin as party rye, fried on both sides on the griddle with those heavenly potatoes. (I digress here to mention the potatoes. They are pre-baked, peeled, cut into chunks and sizzled on all sides on a griddle the size of a countertop. With the browning chunks are equal chunks of onion getting caramelly and golden, adding their own aromas and tastes to the dish. A steady hand with the salt, a patience to see the sides crusty brown before turning with the big old flipper, and a quick dash to the table while you can still hear the SIZZZZ from the plate. Never have there been such potatoes in all the history of the spud. They are what potatoes aspire to be, what they long for in all their long burial in the warm earth to resurrection into daylight and transport to market. GOOOD Potatoes). The Goetta, presumably cooked on that same Magical Grilltop, was another matter entirely. It was a nice brown, but that's where the compliments end.

I took one tiny fraction of a corner, rubbing it ruminatively between tongue and mouthroof. It was porky, in a subtle way, but mostly that oatmeally slick on the tongue was off-putting. No seasonings discernible, just a thin-fried rendition of Indiana Haggis. I just Didn't. Get. It.

Decker melons and Silverqueen corn. Now those are local products worth bragging on.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why do people give an answer if they've never really taken the time to properly evaluate The Best? If you were to ask any person who is the best impressionist artist most would simply admit that they don't know much about the subject. But when it comes to the local food specialty, everybody's got an opinion. My guess is that this phenomenon is driven by a sense of regional pride, a fear that it would be, for example, downright un-Texan to not know about barbecue.

I can't help but wonder "why does this matter?" If you were to ask someone who the best impressionist painter was, and they had seen impressionist paintings before, I'm sure they would have an opinion. Whether you agree with it or not is an entirely different topic.

What constitutes a "proper evaluation" to you? Maybe a proxy for how you would evaluate? Can you ever really rely on that with a subject as broad, diverse and complex as food preference? Everyone's proper evaluation will vary anyway-

I used to live in Boise, Idaho - a place where locals would swear the best seafood could be had at Red Lobster and the best Italian was at the Olive Garden. So I've seen this issue up-front (painfully). In those cases, I just chuckled to myself and reminded myself never to ask a local for a restaurant recommendation unless I had "pre-qualified" their opinion, meaning they were more aware of the world of cuisine - at least as aware as I believe I am.

People know what they like, and they'll reflect that back if asked - and maybe even if they're not asked. That's just the way we humans tend to be -

________________

Stu Fisher - Owner

Tastee Cheese

www.tasteecheese.com

stu@tasteecheese.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it's a natural human impulse to say that we know where "the best" can be found and that we've been there. It makes us feel that we haven't missed out on something special in this life, that we've experienced something of profound quality and it doesn't matter how well heeled or well travelled we are, we still managed to get that bit right.

Personally, being smarter than your average bear :laugh:, and knowing full well that there may be something better around the next bend, I'm try always to qualify my pronouncements with "the best so far."

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

Link to comment
Share on other sites

OK, rambling aside (sorry), my point is how do they decide what is the best of?  And when it's presented so authoritatively, where it's clearly purporting to be more than just one person's opinion, how can it be defended?  Let the viewer beware, but I can see lots of people flocking to a mediocre place ("hey, Ethel, we've got to go to The Greasy Spoon when we're in Anytown - Food TV says it's THE BEST") because it was on TV so it must be true.

There is a new periodical starting here in KC and the publisher went out of his way to state, in the first few lines of an interview I read, that they will NOT have a 'best of' because it serves only the interest of the publication (in ad revenues) and not that of the readers.  Good for him.

Certainly the annual "Best of Philly" issue is a huge moneymaker for Philadelphia magazine, but it also can be a nice revenue booster for the places so honored.

I had a nice chat with the owner of NYPD Pizza (Best Pizza, Philadelphia City, 2005; one award was given for each of the five Pennsylvania counties [Philadelphia city=Philadelphia County] and South Jersey as a whole that year) about this phenomenon while waiting for my pie one evening.

He told me that the way he found out he had won was from customers, who kept telling him "Hey, congratulations, you got the best pizza in Philly!" when they came in to order. He thought they were giving their personal opinion until he got the official letter from the magazine's editors about a week later.

The thing was, there were more customers coming in to tell him that after the news of the honor broke. He told me that business went up about 20 percent in the wake of the award. For a small pizzeria, that ain't beanbag.

BTW, a few of us intrepid eaters are engaged in our own "Best of..." odyssey in this year's Pizza Club on the Pennsylvania board. Wanna read about our exploits so far?

I think it's a natural human impulse to say that we know where "the best" can be found and that we've been there.  It makes us feel that we haven't missed out on something special in this life, that we've experienced something of profound  quality and it doesn't matter how well heeled or well travelled we are, we still managed  to get that bit right.

Personally, being smarter than your average bear  :laugh:, and knowing full well that there may be something better around the next bend, I'm try always to qualify my pronouncements with "the best so far."

I have a barbecue recipe and guidebook in my possession in which the authors state up front that they don't want to assign any of the 100-odd 'cue joints they rated a ranking of 'the best' because "as far as we know, as we write this, someone, somehwere is building a pit in a shack somewhere, hanging out a beat-up sign reading 'BBQ' and serving the best barbecue ever." So their top rating was "As good as we've ever had."

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It seems that in the state of Delaware, they have really taken "The Best of" to an extreme...

http://bestofde.com/AllWinners.htm

I suspect we can count the number of businesses in Delaware that didn't get a "Best of..." from Delaware Today or its readers on the fingers of one hand and maybe even have four left over.

I mean, they had to go into neighboring states for some of the winners? (In the case of TV, they really had no choice. WBOC in Dover is the state's only commercial TV station. Viewers in Wilmington get their TV from Philadelphia, although two Philly TV stations, including WHYY, the region's PBS station--which is licensed to Wilmington--have Delaware studios.) That is really stretching it.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A lot of places have "Best of..." things. Several local newspapers here run polls every year for the best restaurant, bar, pub, etc. Some look for the best 3, some look for the best in a certain county. In a way, it can't be bad if it maybe helps promote local businesses.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...