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General Discussion

"Punched-Up" Food and Wine

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General Discussion 13

"Punched-Up" Food and Wine

Tom Armitage | Jun 14, 2010 11:55 AM

Last night, my wife and I ordered some Shoyu Ramen at a Japanese noodle restaurant in Port Townsend, Washington. My wife complained about the “blandness” of the dish, and immediately began “doctoring” her portion with various condiments. This brought to mind a thread about the Shio and Shoyu Ramen at Yakyudori Ramen in San Diego, started by Chowhound-extraordinaire “cgfan.” http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6844.... One of the subsequent posters in this thread complained that the Shio Ramen was bland. Cgfan responded, “You really want to avoid overseasoning a Shio broth, as it is particularly easy to upset its carefully crafted balance.” Cgfan subsequently commented that Shio and Shoyu broths “are all about lightness and clarity.”

This got me thinking about the current trend favoring “punched-up” flavors in food and wine. In the “New World” vs. “Old World” dichotomy between styles of wine, current favor seems tilted toward the more extracted, fruit-forward New World style, though Old World advocates, like me, are still around. The same seems true for current trends in food, with big assertive flavors winning out over more restrained and subtle flavors. Even the best prepared Cantonese food is often dismissed as “bland,” with Szechuan food winning the general popularity contest. Other examples abound. When did this trend start? Has is always been there, or is it ascending? If it exists, what is causing the cultural shift to preferring bigger, bolder flavors? Is it related to the general decline in attention span and appreciation of detail that is reflected in superficial sound bites vs. detailed news reports, the ubiquity of communicating in short bursts of words through text messaging and tweets vs. longer, more detailed forms of communication, and the emphasis on extravagant production values in musical entertainment where the music is often overwhelmed by light effects, dancers, etc.?

For the record, in my own kitchen, I used to prepare much more complex dishes than I do at present. I have left behind what I refer to as the “show-off” period of my cooking in favor of spending more time finding the very best ingredients and trying to highlight them in relative simple preparations that “don’t screw them up” or overshadow them. For example, I would never consider drowning my beloved Pacific Northwest oysters on the half shall in lemon juice, mignonette sauce, or Tabasco. I eat mine entirely unadorned to fully appreciate the subtle differences in flavors between oysters from different areas, different water conditions, and different seasons. The natural liquor of a fresh oyster is all the embellishment I need. In short, for me, less is usually more. But it seems to me that I’m in the minority, and that the majority of people prefer “punched-up” rather than “punched-down” flavors. Am I wrong?

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