I was trying to amuse myself this morning by compiling a list of places whose food you can't get in New York. Iceland, Paraguay, Oaxaca, Uganda, Bahrain, the list is far longer than I'd like to admit. And then I got to thinking, there must be kinds of foods and cuisines that are hard to find anywhere. Why?
So what styles of cuisine are underrepresented just about everywhere? In a word, REGIONAL. You can get great Pueblan food in NYC, and you lucky people on the West Coast can get great Oaxacan too. But Mexico has about fifty regions, and many of them have great recipes you just can't find here. . You can find lots of Moghul northern Indian food cooked by people from Bangladesh... but what about Hyderabad biryanis? Or the fabled coconut-laden food of the Jewish community of Kerala? China has far better regional representation than most, but there's a lot missing. Zhejiang, south of Shanghai, has FOUR great cuisines. Try to find even one. (One restaurant in Flushing, NY has Wenzhou dishes, but for Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing, fuggedaboudit.) Even regional American food is hard to come by outside of its own region, and often eve there. Take a look at some of the regional food faves listed on various posts on the General Topics Board -- goodies like chicken fried steak and various Cajun foods -- and see how many you can find where you live?
Why this lack? I think the main reason is, restaurant owners don't want to go bankrupt. If there are a lot of immigrants from north Ruritania, then there will be a restaurant serving north Ruritanian food. If there isn't this ready-made demand, then restaurants stick with the tried and true, crowdpleasers that are sure to succeed. Vaguely Tuscan favorites, in the case of Italian, with a few ragus thrown in. That's why Frank Bruni wrote that there must be an instruction manual for desiging upscale Italian restaurants, with strict instructions that require such dishes as branzino fileted tableside, and chicken cooked under s brick.
There must be other reasons too. Many cultures prefer home cooking. (I usually think, rightly or wrongly, of Indian and Mexican.) And a lot of regional cuisine is slowly (or not so slowly) dying. Why spend days making a peach pie from scratch when the kids prefer apple fritters from McDonald's? And, for similar reasons, what restaurants feature obscure cuisines often close. The NY Times reported the imminent closing of the only store in NY to sell homemade leaf-wrapped Chinese goodies. Why? Well, the owners work 15 hours a day and they are now old and tired. Their kids are doctors and lawyers and aren't going to give that up to step into the kitchen. Things change, tastes change, and old recipes die out.
Can you think of any other kinds of cuisine that are underrepresented in restaurants and why?