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Mount Rushmore: Food Symposium Edition

In honor of the Ordinary Times food symposium, this edition of Mount Rushmore will focus on cuisines. The boundaries of a particular cuisine are hard to define. As such, I will make up a bunch of arbitrary rules as I go to suit my needs and preferences and you can all shove it if you disagree can all do the same.

American Barbecue: No, I’m not talking about hot dogs and hamburgers… what stupid northerners often call barbecue.  That is a cookout, people!  I’m talking about meats cooked low and slow with plenty of smoke.  And because it is too hard to narrow down between the different traditions of barbecue (e.g., Carolina, Tennessee, Texas) AND I think they are similar enough in terms of approach and key components, I’m lumping them all in together, putting them on the mountain, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Italian: Yes, yes, I know… Italian food is arguably too broad a category when one thinks of the diversity contained within — both in the cuisine’s native land and the exported American derivation — but too few people know the difference between the food of Florence, Naples, and Sicily (or, for that matter, Italian food and Italian-American food) so I’m again putting it all together and ignoring all complaints.  Besides being amazingly delicious — particularly in its native land — it is also probably the most accessible non-American cuisine to Americans (even if they are technically only eating the Americanized version of it).  As such, it needs to be on the mountain.

Indian: Again, a cuisine that could arguably be broken in two what with the differences between the food eaten in the north of the country versus that in the south, but given that you can find true pan-Indian restaurants here in the states and thereby have a meal with dishes from both regions, I’m keeping them together.  Indian food is delicious.  It is just that simple.  The richness of the sauces and the complexity of the flavor profiles are both the things that dreams are made of.  If you haven’t had it yet, try the tikka masala, easily the most accessible dish.  If you are more adventurous, the menu will be your oyster.  My favorite thing to do is to go to a restaurant with some of my Indian friends and just say, “You guys order,” and attack their choices family style.  Indian food is also probably the most accessible “ethnic”* food at this point for Americans.

New Orleans:  This was the toughest spot to fill.  My traditional approach to mountain carving tends to favor ubiquitousness and/or influence over my personal preferences.  And that is somewhat reflected in my first three choices.  Were I holding dear to that, French cuisine would almost certainly have to be on the mountain.  Its influence on western cuisine is undeniable.  Unfortunately, I’m just not the biggest fan of traditional French food.  Admittedly, I haven’t eaten a ton of it, but the flavor profile just isn’t in my wheelhouse.  So, I’m going with what is probably my personal favorite “micro-cuisine” and the food of a city in which I’d weigh 300 pounds if I lived.  Jambalaya, red beans and rice, gator, gumbo, crawfish, po’boys, oysters, catfish… seemingly everything including the complimentary water having sausage in it… heat as far as the tongue can see… yes, yes, and more yes!  Of course, the influence of the traditional French approach in the cuisine of our most Frenchiest of cities is undeniable, but New Orleans’ approach to food is something all its own and something I cannot get enough on.  So on the mountain it goes.

That’s what I got.  What do you got?

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44 thoughts on “Mount Rushmore: Food Symposium Edition

  1. Food from the south of India is maybe my all-time favorite, hard-to-find non-American cuisine. Before we moved away from New York City, on my list of things to do was have one last meal at a truly south Indian restaurant. (If it doesn’t have idli and sambar on the menu, it’s not south Indian.)

    Legend has it chicken tikka masala was actually invented in Scotland. (Admittedly, by an Indian chef.)

    And you left off Chinese, you silly, silly man.

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  2. Pizza deserves a place all its own
    Mexican food
    Mediterranean/middle-eastern food- more in the pita bread falafel hummus family,
    North Indian

    I eat south Indian food every day so its not particularly special to me. That’s just the stuff that I eat at home. The existence of Panneer is sufficient to place north indian food on that list. As does the existence of feta and haloumi cheese put middle eastern food on the list. Dude, how can you not have Mexican food on the list? burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas and enchiladas are just an awesome mix of flour, cheese, beans and other stuff. And pizza is just so awesome that it belongs on the list even if I can in principle get it by the slice anytime I want. Now, if only they sold deep dish pizzas by the slice…

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  3. Let’s see… hole-in-the-wall Mexican, Chinese, and barbeque are easy. For a fourth, let’s be completely outlandish and say rural Midwestern casseroles (it’s as distinctive as “New Orleans”). A reflection of my childhood, I suppose.

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  4. Mexican – I prefer the simple, authentic stuff. Basic tacos and tortas.

    Thai – The blend of sweet and umame seem to work best for me with Thai food but as a general rule anything Asian makes me happy.

    German – My grandmother would kill me if I didn’t include this. Schnitzel and semiknoddel remind me of family.

    American Southern – This is probably a cheat because it’s so broad but as Kazzy says, the lines get blurry.

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  5. Middle Eastern food. Shish kebabs, rice pilaf, falafel, pita bread, hummus, and on and on — this is some of the best eating in the world. (And if you want to explore it, I highly recommend Claudia Rodin’s cook book, Arabesque.

    I’ll go with the Indian food; and also recommend that you incorporate Ayurveda approach to your diet; eating what makes you feel healthy. (Cinnamon and turmeric for me; also all things coconut, including using coconut oil (along with olive oil and butter) as the basis for much of my cooking.

    Mexican. I’m not talking the taco bell american Mexican, not even texmex; but authentic foods, a combination of Spanish (influenced by the Moors) technique and ingredients combined with native-American ingredients; I’m particularly fond of the cuisine from the Yucatan peninsula.

    Italian. Like this is a food philosophy more than anything; taking what’s at hand and making the best out of it.

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  6. I feel like French has to be in there somewhere. So many others (like your New Orleans) are ultimately just offshoots of French.

    I might also include Mexican, with the stipulation that the category includes actual traditional Mexican food and not what you get in American Mexican restaurants — though easily I could be talked into substituting Indian or Peruvian for Mexican.

    BBQ is a definite.

    Past that, I don’t know how you get away without including any of the East Asian cuisines — Thai, Chinese, or Indonesian. That just seems wrong.

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  7. 1. New American/Californian: I suppose this is hard to categorize but I largely mean the kind of farm to table seasonable cuisine that is popular right now in places like San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, and Brooklyn.

    2. Chinese. Greasy-spoon Chinese is one of my favorite comfort foods whether Americanized or authentic.

    3. Italian.

    4. Japanese.

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  8. 1. Italian, I consider Italian cuisine to be the pinnacle of good eating. The Tuscan variant of Italian cuisine is especially noteworthy. My favorite meal I ever had in Italy was probably a pasta dish with a wild boar ragout.

    2. American Chinese-Its very difficult to go wrong this when you want a nice, cheap comforting meal.

    3. American BBQ/American Southern-The essential American food tradition.

    4. German food-Underrated but nice and simple peasant cooking.

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  9. I consider Middle Eastern to broad a grouping.

    My love affair for New Orleans food unfortunately left off some amazing Asian options (including Korean, which no one has mentioned).

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  10. The cuisines I will eat anytime I can find and afford them:

    1. Southern/Soul

    2. New Orleans

    3. Ethiopian (especially with coffee at the end)

    4. Tai

    When we first moved to Austin, my son’s mom worked at an upscale creole restaurant, and I got free creole dinners a few nights a week. Man was that awesome.

    Now there’s an Ethiopian place less than a quarter of a mile from R.’s place. Like they knew we were there, waiting for them.

    BBQ would be my runner up, especially Central Texas meats with Carolina suace.

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  11. A different take on this week’s question might be what four cuisines should you learn to master, assuming you know nothing about cooking at all right now?

    I’d argue that if you could master these:

    French

    Chinese

    Mexican

    Indian

    You would then be perfectly suited to learn any other great cuisine with minimal effort. Learn French and you have a good grasp of the techniques used throughout Europe; Chinese gives you all of the simple high-heat and steam skills; Mexican gives you the mastery of using low heat over long periods of time that will make the transition to BBQ a snap; and Indian provides the amazing and exotic uses of multiple strong spices, pastes and curries that are too often eschewed by traditional Western cuisines.

    So if we’re talking cooking and not eating, I have to go with those four.

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    • I’d swap in Italian for Chinese, assuming you can immerse yourself in the former. French is a very technical form. Italian is emotional. It’s relational. As says, it teaches you to interact with your ingredients and work with flavors. It is an art where French is a science. You need both.

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      • This is so wrong, if for no other reason than the very practical that excelling at French cooking covers a ton of similar foods and concepts to Italian while Chinese introduces so many flavors, textures and ingredients that don’t occur at all in any of the others Tod listed.
        For cooking, you want to have a complete game.

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  12. One of the things I most enjoy about being single now is the different ethnic types of women I’ve dated. Indian and Persian come to mind. They know good food. I will say that I asked the Indian woman what she thought of American Indian food and how it compared. She chuckled and basically said that it wasn’t anything like what she had growing up. Now the Persian hooked me up with some real sumac spice. OMG that’s great on kebabs, and I spend almost the entire summers grilling kebabs and veggies.

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  13. 1. Donburi – my favorite traditional Japanese food. Someday I want to open an avant garde donburi restaurant called don doko don. There will be traditional standards like oyakodon (chicken and eggs, literally translated as “parent and child bowl”) and gyuudon (cow’s tongue), unidon (sea urchin), etc., but also steak and cheese don, breakfast burrito don, buffalo chicken don, etc.

    2. Expensive, tiny portion size, traditional, seven-plus-course French food, especially if onion soup and/or chocolate almond croissants are involved.

    3. Northern Italian style cuisine, particularly its wines, cheeses, and emphasis on seafood.

    4. New Orleans – I’ve been living here for almost four months now, and I have yet to have a bad meal. Contrary to popular belief, people from the parish tend to be very mindful of what they eat, and so lifestyle diseases are not so prevalent in New Orleans proper. Today actually was Po-boy festival, but unfortunately I had to miss it.

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  14. I’m surprised at the absence of Greek food on this thread. No disrespect to India – wait, I take that back, a little disrespect to India, because they’ve got “buzz” these days – but nobody understands lamb better than Greece. If I had to guess, I’d say that Greek food has slipped in reputation because everything these days has olives or olive oil in it, making one of Greek food’s strongest selling points more common.

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  15. Not a word for deli? A fresh-toasted onion bagel with a knife-ful of cream cheese and a slice of lox, or a heap of thin-sliced pastrami on rye, or that best of all sandwiches the Reuben, accompanied by a firm scoop of potato salad. A bit of heaven on earth.

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