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  • hardie karges 9:11 pm on November 28, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , food   

    Forget DNA and its handmaiden language, 

    rewrite history in terms of cuisine, the trails of tomatoes and the paths of potatoes. The Chinese leave gastronomical tracks wherever they go. All people do. Thais immigrate with kitchen utensils, opening restaurants like plowing fields and claiming land, blurring the edge between origin and immigration. There’s something magic about a name on a map becoming reality in the flesh, complete with tacos and tom yam, spring rolls and pizza, sex and chocolate. The moon sets over a featureless plain as trains pass through the night and border guards check my papers. Names of cities flash by on signs like flash cards to study a language that just keeps changing everywhere you go. Just when you think you’ve about got it figured out, it shifts gears by some Chomskyan rule of transformation and proceeds by another set of standards. Those are the other borders that reside within consciousness, separating not time nor space, but operating systems, thought, virtual consciousness.

     
  • hardie karges 11:04 am on November 27, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , food   

    The cultural DNA of food leaves tracks everywhere. 


    The first thing I do in any country, outside of Asia at least, is look for Chinese food. In Venezuela, there are plenty of chifas, but no chaufa, only arroz frito. But there, egg rolls are called lumpia, a prominent Philippine dish, not the rollos or chun kun of elsewhere south of the border. I’ll have to try one to see if they’re actually the same dish. In Peru, soy sauce is known as sillao, similar to the si iw of Thailand and the original shi-yau of Cantonese, from which Japanese shoyu, typical Spanish soya, soy, and all other variations ultimately derive. Venezuelan food itself is typical of the fried greasy fare that defines the Caribbean, poor cuts of meat and an infinite variety of starches cooked in hot melted lard at varying levels of temperatures. The important thing is to soak up as much of that grease as possible to get the most for your money. Women proudly let their bellies hang out in imitation of their British counterparts, no reason to be ashamed of what’s in your genes and jeans. Hell, where I came from, if you didn’t put on fat you’d die, as did all those Roman dilettantes testing their luck in the northern winters.

     
  • hardie karges 3:59 am on November 25, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , food   

    If language is the cultural DNA of high culture, 


    then food is the DNA of the illiterate masses. The fact that Thais eat hot chilies like fiends, but with very few varieties, and that they’re native to Mexico, with many varieties, would tell you something historical whether you read the book or not. Likewise with the potato, which has dozens of varieties in its native South American Andes, though more famous in Ireland, which has only one or two. There they suffered a potato blight and resulting famine so severe that they had to bring in more diverse DNA from the source with which to breed some disease resistance into the ‘Irish’ potato. One of the most typical traditional Tai dishes is kaow soi, found in Thailand, Laos, Burma, China, and sometimes Vietnam. There’s only one problem: it’s not the same dish everywhere. The dish in northern Thailand is properly kaow soi islam, a Burmese-style curry-like soup made with coconut milk and served over wheat noodles, not too surprising since northern Thailand was a Burmese colony for a couple hundred years. Real Tai kaow soi, like they still serve in Laos and Yunnan, China, is like northern Thai nam prik ong chili paste served in rice noodle soup, similar to northern Thai nam ngieow. Got that? Rice noodles themselves seem to have originated in Vietnam or southern China or both, given the two different names universally used for this product, pho and guaytieow, for which there are many variations in size, all taken quite seriously by connoisseurs. Then again, Thailand and Vietnam have different, but similar, products with the same name in nem and canh.

     
  • hardie karges 11:03 am on November 23, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , food   

    Sometimes names of dishes don’t make sense, 


    like ‘airport noodles’ in the chifas of Peru, every one of them, mind you, but that’s half the fun. The first Thai restaurant in Flagstaff named some dish after an evil jungle princess, so now they all do. One only hopes they don’t go to Thailand expecting such, or even a jungle, for that matter. Of course, sometimes the DNA of culture can suffer horrible mutations, such as the case of Alf in Peru. Remember Alf, the walking talking dog-shaped doormat that ruled the airwaves back in 1990 or so? No, I didn’t think so. Anyway, he had a few good years in the ratings, if I remember correctly, though I can hardly imagine what sort of product would invest their hard-earned advertising budget in such nonsense. This was prime time, mind you. He WAS cute, I suppose, kind of a Garfield gone dog gone puppet. Well, anyway, it was strange enough that he was hugely popular in Peru back then, but reruns still running fifteen years later? Somebody needs professional help! A MASH*, Seinfeld, Friends, or Lucy, Alf is not. Still, the other prominent American sit-com currently on the Peruvian schedule is ‘I Dream of Jeannie’, so go figure. Escapist entertainment, anyone?

     
  • hardie karges 10:40 am on November 22, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , food,   

    The Hong Kong Café in Flagstaff was my cook and kitchen 


    when I had nothing better. The customers were mostly Navajos and Hopis and a few intergalactic stragglers like myself, looking for succor in a plate of chop suey and a cup of hot tea. Those days are over now. Flagstaff has only one chop suey joint left out of the three I knew twenty years ago, and it’s looking more ‘fusion’ every day. Places like this are so ‘out’ that they might actually be back ‘in’ if they can hold on long enough and sell themselves as kitsch, without having to go the way of diners first. You don’t go to places like this for good Chinese food. You go there for atmosphere, a taste of the old days when people were fleeing the Midwest dust bowl, when people were fleeing the Caste wars, when people were fleeing their own personal demons. You go there for the blue-plate special under $5, with a piece of pie afterward for a buck and change. Little by little, Thai or more-modern Chinese eateries open their doors to the more sophisticated clientele that moves in when cowboy-and-Indian towns have been sufficiently sanitized for mass consumption. The same happens with Mexican places when the Mariachi décor gets traded for a more tropical look and hopefully the food gets a makeover also.

     
  • hardie karges 8:58 am on November 20, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , food   

    The chop suey kitchens of the American west are slowly disappearing, 

    replaced by more modern-styled eateries, whether fast food or more up-scale Chinese. They date to the days of the Old West, when foreign labor was needed, and so were cooks to feed them. One thing Chinese can do is cook, and do it fast. The menus are not only a relic of the past, but are almost identical in every place, from Northwest to Southwest. Most of the remaining original locations are in small towns, particularly those served by railroad. They are even quite numerous in Latin America, with some linguistic crossover. Fried rice in Spanish America is frequently arroz chaufa rather than arroz frito, chaufa itself being a corruption of the Chinese term for ‘fried rice’, so slightly redundant but quaint. In South America, Chinese restaurants are universally known as chifas, a corruption of the Chinese term for ‘eat rice’. Indonesia even gets in on the act. Some well-known ‘Indonesian’ dishes are cap cay (pronounced ‘chop chai’) and fu yung hai, essentially Asian versions of chop suey and egg fu yung, using a sweet and sour sauce instead of the more American-style brown gravy. In all of these places, Chinese people themselves remain essentially unmixed with the original inhabitants. In Thailand, where they are mixed, these phenomena are unknown, as they are in China itself. In Thailand an omelet is called kai jieow, simply a fritata, like a Spanish tortilla, not to be confused with a Mexican tortilla. Got it? Archaeological evidence has led some theorists to conclude that food was first cooked some ten thousand years ago in what is now Southern China. Could be. Those people were likely the progenitors of both modern Tai and Cantonese.

     
  • hardie karges 12:56 am on February 7, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: food,   

    Mexican Food 

    Of course Mexican food in US restaurants differs from Mexican restaurants ‘in country’ also.  There, it gets even more bizarre.  On the bright side, there’s mole, red or black or shades of brown intermediate, blood and chocolate made to order.  On the down side, there’s menudo, like the Puerto Rican pop group, literally bits and pieces of this and that, mostly tripe.  Remember Ricky Martin?  It’s an acquired taste I guess.  Once, in Mexico, I helped kill chickens for a party.  Actually I just watched, not horrified, because I’ve seen it before, but not inspired, either.  I think there were twenty to thirty of the little squawkers, throats carefully slit and blood collected in a large copper #3 washtub.  The pile of mole paste eventually covered an entire table before being put to the fire and made liquid to be ladled over boiled chicken.  Then we paraded around town with a picture of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  Chili pastes in Thailand and Mexico look very similar, actually.  The women don’t.  Both take on a fat content in Mexico that would put Thailand out of business.  That’s what happens when lard is one of your main ingredients, I guess.  That’s what makes those tortillas so creamy smooth.  North Thailand uses too much grease also, more than the central region, but what really bothers me is that the coconut milk in those curries seems to congeal at well above freezing temperature.  I don’t mean thick; I mean breakable.  Not as high as nitroglycerin freezing at 50 degrees F, but high enough that I see pictures of it in my mind blocking arteries.  Nevertheless, I still haven’t gotten used to internal body parts in my food.  If God had wanted me to see this stuff, he’d have put it out there in the open.       

     
  • hardie karges 5:03 am on February 3, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: chilies, food, Mexican food, Tailand   

    Hot and Sabai-see 

    Thai food is an experiment in danger.  My life as a whole takes place in a test tube, and my love life as a (w)hole has been declared a disaster area eligible for federal relief, but my stomach is hereby off-limits.  I’ve done my days on the business end of a molcajete to the point that it became a health problem.  Chips and salsa was my religion long before salsa began to catch up with ketchup as the best-seller in the condiment section, long after crossing over from the pickled peppers department.  That was before Thailand.  That was under the influence of Mexico, when you simply added the BTU’s you needed to one of the variations on corn, beans, beef, salad, and cheese splayed out before you.  In Thailand they like to cook it in for flavor.  As a matter of fact, they like to cook a lot of things in for flavor that aren’t supposed to be eaten, so you end up pulling weeds out of your mouth most of the day.  With peppers it’s usually too late.  To add insult to injury, you’ll get to re-live the experience when it comes out the other end.  They call it prik, yes, pronounced just like that.  I think there’s some subliminal onomatopoeia in that word; it’ll definitely prick your consciousness, especially those little ones, likened to the rat shit pellets they resemble.  Poor country folks frequently eat nothing but sticky rice and chili paste to get them through the day, whereas city folk are more likely to eat fresh peppers in prepared dishes.  Don’t forget to wear protection.  That’s what sticky rice is for, to plug up the holes that the peppers blast in you.  Don’t handle your penis immediately after handling peppers, or you’ll be sorry.  Enough said.

     
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