General Discussion

Ethnic Dining


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General Discussion 47

Ethnic Dining

Jim Leff | Oct 8, 2000 07:10 PM

In a message titled "Multilingual" on the Manhattan message board, Melanie Wong was pondering the fallacy of the term "ethnic dining", at least as it pertains to the ethnic mishmash of Northern California



Is fried chicken and apple pie "ethnic"? Or does it depend on the color of the chef?

How about a highly-stylized French bistro that deeply evokes a foreign country, where people talk in a foreign accent and play Edith Piaf recordings ethnic? Surely THAT is ethnic...?

Is feijoada more ethnic than cassoulet? Is rodizio more ethnic than a steakhouse? Is General Tso's chicken (cooked ONLY in America, as far as I know) ethnic? Is an egg cream ethnic?

It's ridiculous! EVERYTHING is ethnic. Or nothing. The term is pretty much meaningless at this point, but is still used, out of habit, as euphemism for a restaurant that's inexpensive and somehow "foreign" to the sensibilities of certain sheltered souls (who until recently were the 'tastemakers'). Of course, the tallies of what falls inside/outside the circle for these egocentric people have changed a lot over the past half century (they eat raw fish now, can yuh BELIEVE it?), yet the fallacious exclusionary term has resisted purging from their vocabulary (See my editorial on the subject at the link below).

This is one of the changes in food perception/enjoyment/culture many of us chowhounds work to achieve. When I started writing about food in 1988, there were people in positions of editorial authority who were utterly contemptuous of the thought that a Columbian woman grilling transportive corncakes on a street cart could be worthy of the same sort of non-condescending respect as a 4 star chef. That attitude is much less prevalent now, thank goodness.

Well, all but the condescension part...that's still far from dead. Watch how the NY Times plays Grimes versus Asimov for an idea. Why is this the case? The 5-star restaurants (along with their symbionts in publishing and merchandising) have all the advertising and press agent dough and use that to act as journalistic lobbyists to perpetuate the idea that their mileau is where you get the REAL food. A lot of money rides on this. does not take this money, and we hounds like to eat, think, and judge for ourselves.

I urge everyone to consider the above the next time you find yourself using the term "ethnic restaurant". And to eat skeptically and unhypnotized by artificially-induced conventional opinion.


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