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2006.06.27

Comments

Cupcake

Err ... and all Chinese look alike?

:-)
Cupcake

Phil

At least Thai/Isaan food occasionally gets some positive press amongst the "weird meat" articles. Cambodian food in the mainstream press only gets coverage when:

A) A Westerner eats spiders
B) Angelina Jolie is in Cambodia
C) Food kills or maims a large group of people (e.g. http://news.google.com/news?num=50&hl=en&scoring=d&ie=UTF-8&q=Chewing+Tobacco+in+Noodles+Sickens+30%22&btnG=Search+News")

Rather than sensationalism alone, I think that the obsession with largely unrepresentative Asian food is also tied up in the modern fetish for eating something "authentic".

As foods that were previously only available in specific parts of Thailand become available at restaurants in the West, when people travel Thailand they judge the more regular and widely available foods to be somehow inauthentic because they’ve already eaten them at home. This pushes food tourists to the periphery to find something that they deem to be more authentic simply because it is less globalised.

Robyn

Cupcake - you've got it wrong. It's all *Asians* that look alike. ;-)

Excellent point, Phil. Take pad thai: no self-respecting 'authenticity'-seeking traveller will ever admit to eating it in Thailand. Hell, most self-professed Thai food connoisseurs won't even order it in a restaurant in the West. But pad thai in Thailand, if prepared by a dedicated pad thai master, is wonderful, and nothing at all like pad thai in American Thai restaurant.
I guess my point was that there is sooo much Thai (or Cambodian, certainly Malaysian, Indonesian -- take your pick) food that is still, despite the proliferation of Thai restaurants, unknown in the West. Why the obsession with hunting down bugs, rats, etc? Why an article on insects and not on that obscure khanom jeen preparation?

I think you've got it - chalk it up to the recent obsession with 'authenticity' (oh man, this is another one of my bugaboos, for another post at another time) + sensationalism.

Cupcake

Sorry! All Asians it is! Must be our slitty eyes, no?

I think even Anthony Bourdain has reversed his eating habits. I think when he started off on "A Cook's Tour", he was probably in the throes of a midlife crisis, and was seeking adventures in food. I haven't re-read it, but I vaguely recall his wanting to "feel" again. But in "Nasty Bits", I think he laments that his hosts whereever he goes keep trying to feed him more and more exotica. It's the legacy of the cobra's heart, I suppose.

I don't mean to be disparaging, but this story certainly called to mind a comment a friend made about some US clients of his - that the sum of their experience with Asia is Chinatown. Perhaps when Americans no longer view travelling to Asia as a major adventure, they will stop focussing on rats and bugs as food.

Graham

Well said. I don't know who wrote the articles you refer to, but it's a symptom of the parachuted in journalist who prefers to revel in the 'shock' rather than the ordinary. And ordinary is *far* more interesting than the cobra heart nonsense.

But as you refer specifically to the American media I think you hit on a increasing, pervasive and irksome trend... I don't watch a lot of TV, BUT, whenever - and I really fucking mean whenever - I flick throught the 60 + channels on our box and I hit Discovery, Animal Planet, National Geographic etc. without bloody fail I am bombarded with the promise of the 'hardest, most dangerous, extreme, never before seen, unbelievable' up and coming action.

It's an immediate turn off for me. Are the producers or the consumers so thick they can only find entertainment in "shock and awe" Utter bollocks all of it. That goes for Bourdain, bugs and "wooohooo aren't the foreigners funny?"

Bit of a rant, but... urrmmmm... I agree with you.

RST

The link to the NYTimes piece is broken. And since you did not indicate the title or the suthor or the date of publication, I could not find the article at all.

Robyn

Cupcake - no, it's the black hair/brown eyes. ;-)
Then again, I've been told by more than a few taxi drivers in China - in all seriousness - that foreigners all look alike. So go figure.
No offense taken, I agree. Americans are not the most internationally savvy nationals out there, not by a long shot.
Re: yr final comment - I look at every trip I take, no matter where, as an adventure. Sumatra was an adventure, driving Malaysia's east coast was an adventure. I just don't define adventure as eating the weirdest thing I can find. I think I have a good idea of what Sumatra is ... I surely need to see more of the island, but I don't think I need to seek out dog meat to give myself a deeper understanding of the place.

Graham - actually the author, Jennifer Gampell, has lived in Thailand for many years. She obviously loves the place and has written some good stuff about it, Bangkok in particular. Didn't mean to slag on the author per se - heck, if the NYT asked me to write about penis soup in KL, I'd do it. I guess the thing that irks me is, this article will be most of what a lot of pple know about Thai food, or about Thai food beyond pad thai. As when folks learn I've lived in Vietnam - I can't tell you how many times I've been asked, right off the bat, "Did you eat dog?" Oy!
And yes yr right abt US media - it's extreme EVERYTHING these days. Pple seem to love it (I think I'm the only person I know who's actually criticized Bourdain's show on any level - seems like a nice guy, but he did bring *extreme* to food travel) so we can expect lots more in the future.

RST - sorry 'bout that. Linked directly to the author's site instead.

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