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Anti-chowhounds -- chowcats??


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Anti-chowhounds -- chowcats??

Alan Divack | Aug 17, 2001 05:32 AM

There has been a lot of talk on these boards about chowhounds and foodies. However, there is a species with which the chowhound has a more symbiotic relationship, and which has received insufficient attention. I will call them chowcats.

Chowhounds have appetites for both quality and variety, and will search for deliciousness in any and every venue, no matter how obscure and out-of-the-way. We take particular delight in finding a kosher basement restaurant specializing in Tadjik (not Uzbek) style offal, located 100 one way streets from nowhere, where they look at you suspiciously when you walk in , but you are able to win them over (well, sort of) with your love of their food. Most of us on these boards have been there, done that in some way or other.

Chowcats would not set foot in such a place, unless they are kosher Tadjiks. Chowcats combine a certain finickiness with strong cultural loyalty and an appreciation of quality. Their main desire in a meal is for familiarity. However, their quality standards are often uncompromising. (E.g. only the freshest fish, steamed with the head will do – why would you pay good money for fish at Le Bernadin when they hide the head?)

Their search is often for foods that come closest to the unattainable standard: what their mother, aunt, or grandmother made. (Chowhounds look for what other peoples’ elderly female relatives make, while not neglecting our own.) This finickiness does not make them white bread eaters, just people whose appetites focus on familiar cuisines, with familarity being culturally relative. A Sicilian spleen eater might turn up his nose at iskender kebab, for example. I have a coworker who refuses to eat any meat whatsoever in our office cafeteria, and who is skeptical about most cuisines and restaurants, but who has a fine appreciation of the differences between rotis from Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados (which he of course will eat filled with meat and sold out of the back of a car – if it is properly prepared).

It is hard to over-generalize, but my guess is that immigrants or their children are often chowcats rather than hounds. There are many individuals who break the mold. Jim refers to a Yemeni cab driver who is a good informant on a wide range of cuisines. However, I would wonder if Melanie Wong’s Cantonese Aunties, about whom she has written so luminously, would be chowcats more than chowhounds. And more power to them. Where would we be without them??

Whereas there has been a fair amount of dissing of foodies by chowhounds on these boards, I have seen little appreciation of chowcats, on whom we depend. Although chowhounds and chowcats might both value authenticity, for chowhounds the value is almost ethnographic, while for chowcats it is the search for the best of familiar cuisines. We of course have to be careful, since familiarity may trump quality for some of the lesser examples of the species, but without chowcats, how would we know what and where to eat?

Any comments? I am by no means attached to the term chowcat – can anyone suggest anything better?

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