Foodie Travel

Found this ad from the Taiwan Tourism Bureau while thumbing through an old-ish “food” issue of the New Yorker.  The Bureau assumes that foodies (especially well-off, culturally literate foodies) travel in hopes of  finding the next “authentic culinary voyage.” They’re probably right.

It’s also a good example of the simple exoticism and apolitical stance we read about in Foodies. The ad doesn’t bother to complicate the notion of an “authentic” Taiwanese cuisine–in fact, the ad ignores the whole issue of the island’s mainland Chinese ancestry and recent political strife. Of course, its very placement and orientation is implicitly anti-democratic: not everyone has the cultural capital to enjoy the New Yorker, much less the capital capital to jet over the Pacific for a cup of tea.

Here’s the full text of the copy at the bottom. (Do you think they intended that instructions-on-the-back-of-Chinese-chopsticks malapropism and iffy syntax?):

“Built around a tradition of preparing and serving the freshest food, and with a reputation exceeding the best alternatives in Asia, Taiwan charts an authentic culinary voyage. Be astonished, challenged and charmed, but everywhere well-fed–with old favorites and new interpretations of the classics. And when it comes to tea, it’s no small testament to centuries of diligent cultivation that we’re renowned for producing some of the world’s finest leases. From planting to plate, the heart of Taiwan is celebrated in sharing with you our unique cuisine.”

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Sunday barbacoa: Ethnic eating in the cosmopolitan metropolis

Outside Acapulco restaurant on 9th Street, below Washington Ave.

It’s Sunday morning. You’re a bit hungover: bleary, maybe, but above all, hungry. You pull on your jacket, then scrounge for your wallet and sunglasses before taking those first tentative steps down 9th Street.

Walking south–just before you get a whiff of the storefronts where Vietnamese customers buy live chickens and doves (but well south of the throngs of yuppies waiting for a gratuitously overpriced frittata at Sabrina’s on Christian Street)–you’ll hear the thud of ranchera music blasting out of street-facing speakers. Even hungrier now, the earthy fragrance of fresh masa and blackened guajillo peppers beckons you southward…

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(Thanks for letting me indulge in some second-person novelistic pretension.)

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But seriously, take a walk through the putative “Italian Market,” south of Washington Ave, until you hit the section now dominated by Mexican restaurants, tiendas, distance-calling/internet shops and paleterias.

If you can, go on a Sunday, when the tacquerias run by immigrants from Puebla (in south-central Mexico) are selling barbacoa–slow-braised goat that’s been seasoned with cumin, garlic and ground chiles. Eat it with a stack of warm tortillas, dipping little bundles into a soup made rich from the goat’s juices. Garnish with roasted poblanos (rajas) and some lime or just with a bit of onion, cilantro and salsa verde. Repeat.

While you’re eating, think deeply about why, exactly, you’re there. It may have started with an off-hand tip from Drew Lazor  (the City Paper food writer), but consider why you thought a curious lack of Yelp reviews might bode well. Could this be the new spot, one step ahead of the more adventurous South Philly foodies?

Horchata.

But that question begs still more: What kind of authenticity-seeking are you up to–and what are the costs? What type of erasures–of the chef’s ethnic and regional origins, of her own experience of modernity, of the complicated history behind supposed “original” and “pure” food–are you endorsing?

Above all, which privileges (class, education, cosmopolitanism) are you re-affirming by looking for the next-most-authentic-place?

Is the ability to taste, enjoy (and talk about) such a range of cuisines–from this barbacoa feast to the fishy stank of Cambodian porridge–just the post-modern equivalent of Victorian bourgeois self-superiority? Are you no better than the English couple from the illustration in Diner’s book, mocking an Irish woman for serving “undressed tomatoes”? Or are you something different altogether?

Taking another sip of horchata only muddles the issue.

Baja Fresh or the Missionary

 

Check out Dana Goodyear’s essay in the latest issue of the New Yorker.  She calls it, “The Missionary” and it explores one chef’s attempt to create a culinary tradition in Tijuana.

Here’s the key line, at least for us.  Goodyear writes, “Unlike other Mexican states, whose food traditions go back hundreds of years and are rigidly codified — to change a mole recipe in Puebla would cause a culinary and academic scandal — Baja has no established regional cuisine.  [Javier] Plascenia’s mission is define one and, in the process, turn Tijuana into a site of gourmet pilgrimage.  “I’m trying to make Baja and Tijuana a food destination, like San Francisco,” he says.  “I want to make an example, like.  We can really do this.”