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Are you surprised?

25 Jan

flickr/erikmarcus

Fast food is under attack once again. It was not too long ago that McDonald’s fries–which were found to be incorrectly categorized as vegetarian because of its added meat flavoring–made headlines. This time it’s Taco Bell’s turn to take the spotlight because of the questionable mixture used to make their “seasoned beef” filling. Philip Caulfield over at NYDailyNews writes:

A law firm is claiming that the fast food chain is using false advertising when it says its Mexican delicacies are filled with “ground beef” or “seasoned ground beef.”

In fact, the lawsuit claims, the “taco meat filling” used by Taco Bell contains is only about 35% beef, with binders, extenders, preservatives, additives and other agents making up the other 65%.

And just so you have some reference for what is considered to be “ground beef”, he also provides the USDA definition:

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website, “ground beef” or “chopped beef” consists of chopped fresh or frozen beef with or without seasoning, should not contain more than 30% fat and should not contain water, phosphates, binders or extenders.

Is this really any surprise to anyone? I mean, look at the food they sell. It tastes damned good (especially those steak and potato burritos…mmmm) but can barely resemble what it’s supposed to be–especially the “beef” filling.

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The price we pay

8 Dec

Would you eat this?

I’ve found over the past four years that the following: blog surfing, facebooking, and game playing, increase exponentially during finals week. Counterintuitive, yes, but it’s the truth. In my defense, it prevents me from going crazy.

But sometimes my lack of focus and increased procrastination result in something useful. In this case, something for the blog!

This week California approved the use of methyl iodide as a pesticide in farming despite findings that the chemical is more toxic and harmful than its predecessor, methyl bromide, which was banned years ago:

“It is my personal opinion that this decision will result in serious harm to California citizens, and most especially to children,” wrote panel member Theodore Slotkin, a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University.

I’m not comfortable with this at all. There’s already enough carcinogenic crap (excuse my language) in our lives, why add another to the mix?

Is it time to move again? Let’s hope not.

Japan’s Itameshi & America’s Food Truck Craze: Representing our Generation through Food

7 Dec

 

flickr/boo_licious

A few months ago TheAtlantic.com featured an article by Corky White on Japan’s latest culinary obsession with all things Italian. Itameshi (“Ita” is short for “Italian” and “meshi” is the Japanese colloquial equivalent for “food”), originally referred to traditional Italian cuisine and now also refers to the practice of infusing Japanese flavors into Italian staples such as pasta and antipasti. The idea of mixing Japanese and Italian food sounds strange at first—especially if sushi and marinara sauce are the first things that come to mind—but it’s really not. For example,this recipe is basically tuna pasta with the substitution of certain ingredients: soy sauce is used in place of salt and furikake (a mixture of dried seaweed, sesame seeds) is used in place of the herbs such as basil or parsley.

What intrigued me most about the article was White’s proposed reason for Itameshi’s current popularity. For the older Japanese individuals he interviewed, Itameshi appealed to them because the rustic character of Italian cuisine reminded them of a “long-gone Japan.” As a nation that lost its cultural and national identity to the rapid modernization and Westernization of the Meiji Restoration, the nostalgic quality of Itameshi cannot be ignored.

But I am convinced that Itameshi is popular for other reasons; after all, it has only recently become very popular despite its 50 years in Japan. Itameshi first experienced moderate popularity during the post-WWII period when major cities were saturated with American troops. In the 1970s its modern incarnation welcomed a small boost in popularity when chefs began introducing more Japanese flavors and ingredients such as ponzu (citrus soy sauce) and shiitake (Japanese mushrooms). And until recently, Franco-nippon cuisine, a blend of French and Japanese flavors, has been more popular. So why is Itameshi extremely popular now after 50 years on the food circuit? Instead of looking to the older generation for answers, we should look to the younger demographic.

I would argue that Itameshi is now more popular than ever because its current Japanese-infused form represents the essence of Japan’s younger generation. According to some of my friends from Okinawa, young adults in Japan want to adopt completely foreign lifestyles such as the American lifestyle because they think the greater social and economic freedom is invigorating. But in the end many settle for a hybrid lifestyle in fear of being ostracized for deviating too far from the social norm. So for them Itameshi isn’t just a food trend—it’s a manifestation of their identity and that is why it is so popular. And more importantly: it’s affordable, unlike Franco-Nippon cuisine; and it’s easily accessible, with many local eateries, such as the popular Italian Tomato, within close proximity.

But does this only apply to Japan? After reading this article on fusion cuisine I began to think about culinary trends here in America. Fusion cuisine, organic food, and food trucks are all greatly popular, yet very different. Do we become schizophrenic when we think about food? Or is there a single driving force powering the co-existence of these various crazes? Having schizophrenic tendencies while thinking about food sounds like a blast, but I can make a stronger argument for the latter. Like Itameshi in Japan, food trends in America have come to represent our generation. Fusion cuisine reflects how we are intermixing what was once partitioned ethnic communities; organic food reflects our commitment to living green in light of environmental and health concerns; and food trucks reflect the impact of media on our perception of how food should be eaten.

Of all three, I would consider the food truck trend to be the most interesting representation of our generation—especially for those living in Los Angeles.

The popularity of shows such as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives have glorified the itinerant eating lifestyle and made us infatuated with the idea that we can experience the world through food. Realistically, we can’t all travel the world like bad-ass Anthony Bourdain or tour the country driving a red Chevrolet Camaro convertible like spunky Guy Fieri, but we can recreate that experience by patronizing the various food trucks L.A. has to offer.

These mobile kitchens serve food that is—and don’t hate me for saying it—the same fare we could get at a restaurant. You could easily walk into the neighborhood pizza parlor for a slice of pepperoni pizza comparable to that of the very popular Slice Truck. But the overall experience, starting with finding a truck serving what you’re craving at the moment, to finding a nearby spot to eat before heading home, provides more than a means to satisfy our appetite; it provides us with the opportunity to explore and discover tastes like the food celebrities on television.

Let’s say for example, that you’re craving a banh mi sandwich. You could either be like Anthony Bourdain and book a flight to Hanoi or you could just check the Nom Nom Truck’s twitter to see where they’ll be serving their famous banh mi. If you convince a friend who’s good with a camera to tag along with you, you could probably make your search for the perfect banh mi sandwich look and feel like what you would see on No Reservations. With both scenarios, you’d finish the night with a belly full of barbeque pork, picked carrots and radish, and cilantro, but you’d be a couple thousand dollars richer if you skipped the plane ride all together.

Everyone thinks that they’re singlehandedly bringing something innovative and exciting to the world of food, but in the end we’re all just using manipulating food to define how our children and grandchildren will remember our generation. And to add insult to our already injured egos, this is something we’ve seen repeated through history.

Think about it. Trends from the eras when our parents and grandparents grew up were also fundamental in defining their generations. During the 1920s and 30s, flappers adopted fashions popularized in France by Coco Chanel to signal the advent of the modern woman who saw no need to answer to a man. In the 1960s, men and women of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds used music to express to express their feelings on war, race, and civil rights. Using food to define our generation is just the modern version of what fashion and music accomplished in the past.

What will be next? Fashion, music, and food were around long before they began to reflect the character of their respective generations. I’d say anything is fair game.

So ladies and gentlemen, place your bets and cross your fingers. I think we’re all in for quite a treat.

Discussions on Southern Food Reveals Unexpected Parallelisms

7 Dec

Nago City's version of Okinawan Soba--July 2006

On November 10th Eatocracy hosted its inaugural Secret Supper, an initiative aimed towards creating dialogue between food writers, experts, and aficionados. Hosted at Chef Linton Hopkin’s Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, this Secret Supper “centered around the topic of how chef’s increasingly close collaboration with farmers figures into the preservation and evolution of Southern cooking.”

More specifically, they wanted to emphasize how Southern cuisine isn’t just about biscuits, gravy, and fried chicken; but about how ingredients travel from farm to table. In an interview, Chef Hopkins expressed how careful preparation focused on preserving the raw tastes of fresh local produce can evoke memories of the plantation community and old traditions of the South.

As someone unfamiliar with Southern food, having never visited the South or tasted its food (this is the one thing that can’t be found in the mixed plate culinary culture of Hawaii), I was taken aback. This is not how you portrayed Southern food, Paula Deen! Intrigued by this new perspective on Southern food I read Reclaiming the soul of Southern food, a sister article that delves deeper into what Southern food was meant to be. Things started to make sense, but in the back of my all I could think about was how eerily similar Southern food was to the food of my ancestors.

Yes, surprisingly, Southern food has a striking resemblance to Okinawan food: the food eaten by many of the world’s centenarians.

As someone who believed that Okinawan food was unique to any in the world—what I now realize to be a poor misconception construed on superficial knowledge—I thought it would be interesting to explore how the key points of this article function as descriptors of Okinawan food. And that by doing so I could perhaps gain a deeper appreciation for my heritage.

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1. “Southern food hits on every level, and for us, this is about community and building trust”

I was seventeen when I traveled to Okinawa for the first time. It was my first time flying solo, first time leaving the country, and I’ll admit, I cried after saying goodbye to my Mom at the airport. Needless to say this turned me off to the idea of visiting this exciting, foreign place.

But things change quickly, especially with food on the agenda. Once I arrived in Naha, my relatives greeted me with a welcome sign (written in English and Japanese) and none other than a box containing a turkey cucumber sandwich. Although not by any means a traditional Okinawan dish, it is a very popular sandwich sold at every convenience store and regularly prepared at home. (As we will later discuss, the prevalence and popularity of such food items can be considered as a part of the regional cuisine.) The sandwich was delicious and expressed a heartfelt welcome, or mensore as we would say in the Okinawan dialect, that quickly established a sense of comfort and trust with my relatives.

During my first week in Okinawa I learned that Okinawans follow a peculiar schedule; they love sleeping in and love staying up into the wee hours of the morning. This schedule taught me two very important lessons about Okinawan food culture: that food can, and will, be consumed at all times of the day, and it is the glue that keeps everyone together. Even at 2am in the morning, visitors ranging from a distant relative to the neighborhood Battle of Okinawa veteran would visit to discuss the day and the plans for the rest of the week. Every time, my aunty would play host, offering snacks and taking requests for whatever they craved. One day an assortment of nakami (pig intestine and stomach soup), andagi (Okinawan fried donuts), and goya (bittermelon) juice covered every inch of the sitting room coffee table. I later learned that the food, which everyone swore was the best in the neighborhood, was what brought everyone together.

2. Southern food is born off of farms; it’s about cooking what’s around you

John Kessler, a food writer and dining critic who attended Eatocracy’s Secret Supper defined Southern food as “food that is very close to the agrarian tradition. It’s close to the earth.”

Okinawan food is no different.

Most Okinawans cook with homegrown vegetables and herbs and some still raise their own livestock, namely pigs. The earthy quality of the cuisine is so strongly connected to the landscape and its people that many Okinawan Americans who visit insist that they reconnected with their heritage and cultural identity through the food.

I experienced this first-hand when we went to visit my aunt and uncle’s house up in the mountains near Nago city. This house, accessible only by dirt road, and surrounded by nothing but untouched vegetation, was where they grew most of their vegetables—including the very popular goya.

 

The view from my Uncle and Aunty's mountain home -- July 2006

For our visit she prepared somen champuru (stir-fried noodles) containing herbs and vegetables picked from the garden; freshly squeezed shikwasa (hirami lemon) juice; and goya soda, made from goya zest and Sprite.

The freshness of the ingredients resulted in a unique resonation of flavors on my palate, and I immediately understood what my fellow Okinawan Americans were talking about.

3. Notion of the “global South”—contributions of labor, ingredients, and techniques from immigrant groups to the South

The “global South” emerged through the culinary influence of immigrants who relocated to the South. Okinawan food, on the other hand, has been diversified by the American military presence as well as by returning Okinawans whose families emigrated to North and South America to work on the sugar cane plantations.

The strong American influence in Okinawa has greatly altered the food scene by popularizing American favorites, such as hamburgers and fried chicken, and by introducing new creations such as taco rice. Basically rice covered in taco-seasoned ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and salsa, it is now considered to be part of the regional cuisine; despite bearing little to no resemblance to traditional Okinawan food.

At first it was hard for me to accept this as an Okinawan dish but I soon realized that I was looking at this too narrow-mindedly. Think of it this way, Americans consider hamburgers and hot dogs as All-American food–despite being foreign imports–because of their historical significance in defining American culture. The same can be said for taco rice (and that previously mentioned turkey cucumber sandwich) in Okinawa.

100 years ago many Okinawans immigrated to North and South America to work on sugar cane plantations. Now, with the Okinawan government sponsoring exchange programs with these countries as well as their Worldwide Uchinanchu (Okinawan) festival held every five years, many overseas Okinawans are returning to Okinawa.

This unique pattern of immigration has greatly influenced Okinawan cuisine, introducing new dishes as well as innovative interpretations of traditional dishes. On Okinawa Hai!, a blog where most of the contributors are military personnel currently residing in Okinawa, the extent of this can be seen in their restaurant guide section. Restaurants serving Peruvian, Hawaiian, Brazilian-Okinawan fusion cuisine, and more, are plentiful and representative of the diverse experiences of Okinawans worldwide.

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Virginia Willis, and attendee of the Secret Supper said that food “will allow us to connect what we’re putting in our mouth with what is happening around the world.” She’s right. The discussion started at the Secret Supper inspired established voices in the food industry to discuss Southern food and it inspired this food blogger to take a closer look at a regional cuisine close to her heart. The process has yielded revelations but also mysteries that require further exploration. That was the point, right?

But what happens next? The next Secret Supper is probably in the works already but I’m not going to wait for its unveiling to continue this conversation. What about you?

So I failed again…

2 Dec

I know, I know. I said I’d have pictures posted from my Vegas trip two days ago. I failed again, sorry guys. But! They’re FINALLY here! I’ve included a few here (along with descriptions of the restaurants) but for all of the pictures visit the nomshots page!

1. Hash House A Go Go

Andy's Sage Fried Chicken & Bacon Waffle Tower--Hash House A Go Go, Las Vegas, NV

If you’re looking for big portions (and I mean BIG) look no further than Hash House! People rave about their breakfast (one order of pancakes can feed 3-4 people, easily) but their dinner choices are also pretty good. I would recommend staying away from their Pork Tenderloin though unless you like really sweet sauces on your chops.

The fried chicken (pictured to the left) is supposedly a New York Times favorite. Did I mention that the waffles also contain bacon? Mmmm!

And their steak is also pretty decent for the price. Ours was a little overcooked (medium-well done instead of medium) but still pretty tender and juicy.

Final verdict? Go if you’re hungry.

 

2. Mirage Buffet

Cravings Buffet--Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas, NV

Day 2 in Vegas started off with a buffet, and it was pretty affordable at only $20/person–a steal considering most will set you back about $50.

I’m not that big on buffets–I tend to nibble on small portions of food throughout the day–but I had to try one since I was in Vegas. The food was pretty standard. As you can see, they had a pretty wide assortment of Asian food (including some dim sum items I didn’t pick up) as well as South American, American, and Italian cuisine.

Stay away from the sushi though–that stuff was pretty nasty. On the plus side, the Chinese food was pretty good.

The stuff to get at this buffet: the dessert. Everything from the dessert section was delicious–especially the raspberry bar. And if you’re a fan of unbaked cheesecake, check their mocha cheesecake out; it’s super rich and creamy with a punch of coffee right at the end.

3. Otto Enoteca Pizzeria

Rigatoni--Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Las Vegas, NV

I’ve always been a huge fan of Mario Batali, especially after eating at Pizzeria Mozza, his restaurant in Beverly Hills. So when I heard that he had a restaurant at the Venetian, it sounded like the perfect place to grab a bite to eat after watching The Phantom of the Opera.

We started the night off with prosciutto di parma and butternut squash frittes. The prosciutto was delicious but the butternut squash frittes was pretty mediocre. It lacked a bit in the seasoning and I was disappointed by the lack of crispiness. Had we gotten an antipasti with stronger flavors (like the Salumi) it might have worked better.

I got the Rigatoni prepared with swiss chard, pork belly, and cacio (pictured above) while my boyfriend ordered the sausage and pepper pizza. Both we delicious. Anything with sausage at a Mario Batali restaurant is sure to be good since his father is a sausage maker, and a damned good one at that.

4. Mon Ami Gabi

Beef Bourguignon--Mon Ami Gabi Restaurant, Las Vegas, NV

The best restaurants always seem to be the ones you randomly come across. Mon Ami Gabi is no exception. We had passed the restaurant earlier that day thinking that the food was probably mediocre, but after seeing its 4 star rating on yelp.com, we took a gamble and made a reservation.

Speaking for myself, the atmosphere for a restaurant is a major component of how I assess the food. Once you step into Mon Ami Gabi, you feel like you’re off in Paris–or some fantastic place far-removed from Las Vegas. The dim lighting, dark varnished wood, and the white tablecloths all added to what was to become an amazing experience.

If you ever make your way there, try the filet mignon–our server highly recommended it and everyone raves about it. When I go next time, I’ll set aside some extra cash for that dish (it’s still reasonably priced at $30). The Beef Bourguignon is amazing as are all the steak dishes they offer.

This is definitely on my list of favorite restaurants.

5. Bouchon

Bouchon--The Venetian, Las Vegas, NV

Sadly, I didn’t eat here. But for everyone who has $50-$60 to spare and are in either Yountville, Las Vegas, or Beverly Hills, you should definitely dine here. It’s my dream to eat at French Laundry, the only 3-star Michelin rated restaurant here in the states, and this place is the stepping stone to that dream. Thomas Keller is a culinary genius!

 

 

 

 

 

Day of nomtastic turkey is TOMORROW!

25 Nov

 

flickr/WishUponACupcake

That’s right folks, Thanksgiving is TOMORROW!

While most food blogs devote time to answering time-old questions–such as: What’s the best way to cook a turkey? What are the best sides to serve? What makes for the flakiest crust?—I’m not. (Don’t worry. I’ll include some links to posts that answer these questions and more.) Instead, I thought it would be nice to return the focus to WHY we do this every year.

So why do it every year? Thanksgiving dinner (or lunch for you early birds) is quite a daunting task to take on. For me, the reason is quite simple: it’s worth it because with the Thanksgiving feast come great company—whether it is friends, acquaintances, or family—and that’s what makes everything worth it in the end.

Now, although the reason is simple, it probably isn’t the first that pops to mind. (Don’t worry. It took me four years of celebrating Thanksgiving away from home to realize it.) For most of us the main draw is the food, and only the food. The turkey; the sweet and savory side dishes; the endless assortment of desserts; and of course, the leftovers are probably are the only things on our mind on Thanksgiving. But you have to remember that what make the food spectacular are the people who join you for the feast.

Growing up, we always made it a point to have the full Thanksgiving spread: turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and dare I mention it, my Grandma’s AMAZING turkey soup. But after attending other Thanksgiving dinners, I realized that the food wasn’t as great as I thought it was. Comparatively, my Grandma’s turkey was a bit on the dry side; the gravy was, for lack of better words, different; and even our mashed potatoes (which I thought were THE BESTEST MASHED POTATOES EVER) definitely fell short. But despite all this, I still, without fail, sit at my desk in Los Angeles wishing that I was back at home in Hawaii eating the feast my Grandma had fastidiously prepared.

Why?

It’s because Thanksgiving dinner represents a special time for our family. Typical family dinners always have their hiccups that leave a sour note to perpetuate through the evening, but Thanksgiving is the one day when we’re immune from this. It’s also one of the few times when I can spend quality time with my Grandma in the kitchen—a rare, but greatly satisfying treat.

I’m not sure how it is for other people, but I can only imagine that upon further thought, everyone reaches a similar conclusion. Because regardless of what festivities you partake in, you will always remember the day for the memories you made with those that are special to you.

But for those of you who are still holding your breath in fear of how tomorrow will unfold, here are some links to helpful tips to make your Thanksgiving feast. Just remember to keep in mind the other, more important reason, for celebrating Thanksgiving—it’ll do more to calm your nerves than that carefully picked glass of wine.

For all the basics

Just in case you didn’t like the first link…

In case you lost that stuffing recipe…

For those who still need that glass of wine

A read to torment your stomach

17 Nov

Photograph: Harper Collins

Ran across this review for a new book (pictured above) on the history and evolution of In-n-Out: the burger chain loved by Californians and desired by every other American–at least in my opinion.

The review itself is mediocre–you could probably find 95% of that information on Wikipedia and the other 5% that actually focuses on the book itself is cookie-cutter and not very interesting.

But one thing’s certain: no one, myself included, should read this book on an empty stomach.