Thursday, August 16, 2012

Americanized, F-ck Yeah!

I was at a lunch with some former co-workers the other day.  One of them, a Vietnamese guy I worked with a couple of years ago, wanted to go to a new Vietnamese restaurant.  I normally don’t have a problem experimenting with various cuisines, and I know from experience that virtually every item on a Vietnamese menu, when pronounced correctly, sounds like an English word or phrase for a dirty sex act.  So even when the food is nasty, it’s entertaining.  For example, every decent sized town in North America seems to have at least one restaurant names Pho Quyen.  Guess what that sounds like?

The food at this restaurant was decent, but not so great that I’ll hurry back.  But my little Vietnamese buddy couldn’t help but snark about how “Americanized” it was.  Of course it was Americanized.  My dad was drafted during the Vietnam war, and he’s told me about how authentic Vietnamese tastes and, more importantly, smells.  Nobody would buy that here.  Sorry.

It’s not just the Vietnamese guy.  A Mexican friend of mine once complained that Taco Bell wasn’t truly Mexican.  Damn right.  It’s Texican, pendejo.  He also rolled his eyes when I once pushed the lime down into a bottle of Corona.  He then treated me to a lengthy lecture about how Mexicans put limes in the top of their beers to keep flies away.  Apparently, we’re not supposed to put the lime in the beer.  I told him that I was just doing it American style.  Strangely, I haven’t heard from him recently.  I wonder why that is?

“Americanized” is commonly used as code for “cheapened”.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  This is one of my many pet peeves.  People from all over the world come here and bring their cuisine with them.  It’s only a matter of time until American foodies (like me) try their food and tell our friends.  Then Americans with a little cooking skill (not like me) combine it with other things.  You see these restaurants all over; they’re called “fusion” restaurants.  I generally avoid these, though.  These are usually overpriced yuppie hangouts where you pay twice the price for half the normal portion.  But if the price is so damned high, I’m not sure how “Americanization” can be likened to “cheapening”.

There are many non-overpriced examples of this.  My high school French teacher used to make snide remarks about “Croissandwiches.”  She wasn’t French, but she managed to affect that stereotypical snootiness that the French are renowned for.  She would haughtily say that the French would never do this; this was strictly an American (Read: cheap, redneck, or low-brow) way of doing things.  Hell yes, it’s an American way of doing things.

Here’s how it works.  One day, some French person makes a croissant for an American.  The American thinks “Isn’t this just adorable!  But it needs protein.  I’ll slap an egg and some cheese and bacon or sausage on this sucker.”  Suddenly, it’s a French breakfast pastry with a full English breakfast crammed inside that you can eat while keeping one hand on the wheel!  A monument to the melting pot; fine foreign cuisine meets American ingenuity.  How can this be cheap?  If it was cheap, hipster café type places (Panera Bread, Atlanta Bread Company, etc.) wouldn’t have adapted it from Burger King.  They may give it stuffier names (like “breakfast soufflé”), but it’s the same thing.  And yet, this is still considered an American bastardization of European cuisine, and is therefore inferior.  Sigh. 

Fine.  Here’s the ultimate example of American fusion: Southern food.  I’m more than happy to experiment with various types of food, but I still like to indulge in the cuisine I grew up with.  Like fried things and dead pigs.  But it’s not limited to that.  Southern food includes things like grits and cornbread and barbecue (originally Native American), chitlins (originally English), tripe (French and Italian), fried chicken (Scottish), and okra and black-eyed peas (brought from Africa).  This is just a sampling; I could go on all day.  This most noteworthy and uniquely American form of cuisine is the combination of dozens (if not hundreds) of ingredients and cooking styles from dozens (if not hundreds) of cultures.

Only in America is this possible.  I see tourists from all over marvel at this thing we’ve created.  It’s one of the things that makes the South special.  Admittedly, it’s also the reason the South is the fattest part of the country, which is why I’ll occasionally eat stuff like Vietnamese food.  But let’s stop pretending Americanized food is cheap.  We haven’t taken away value; we’ve added value.  So f-ck yeah, it’s Americanized.  Eat it, b-tches.

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