do you have a strategy for--
...not getting the 'dumbed down for american taste' dishes at ethnic restaurants?
some personal examples as to why i pose such a question:
(1) It was a revelation for me to try authentic (real!)chinese cuisine --only when-- i was treated to perhaps the one of the most fantastic meals of my life... a birthday dinner from a woman friend of mine from shanghai.
(2) After eating thai food at a songkran festival, i avoid thai restaurants like the plague...only because i know i will be inevitably underwhelmed.
Good question. One method is to ask friends who are natives of particular countries. Second, read reviews (like on Chowhound) to find restaurants that actually serve traditional (i.e. non-Americanized) dishes, and see what foods people are talking about. Finally, ask the waiter for recommendations.
Sometimes doing a bit of research and asking about dishes that are typical of the cuisine helps.
Does anyone know if the Chow Passport still exists? I tried links but they don't work. It was a card that begged your server in a variety of languages to serve the authentic stuff....
No, I don't. I wish I had. In some restaurants you'll see a lot of natives which is usually a good sign. If there are lots of Chinese-speaking eaters in a Chinese restaurant, I think your chances of getting authentic food is higher. I'm embarrassed by the truly awful glop that passes for Chinese food in many restaurants, I can't imagine any Chinese family eating it at home.
But after eating at a Malaysian restaurant and being asked if I was Malaysian, I asked the waiter why the food was so mildly spiced. He said they couldn't sell it if it was as spicy as Malaysians like it. And certain dishes just wouldn't be acceptable. BTW he warned us repeatedly that the assam laksa we ordered would have "strong taste" and checked a couple of times to make sure we actually were eating it - that's why he thought I might be Malaysian. Seems non-natives find it unpalatable. I think this is true of many ethnic restaurants in the US.
when I order Thai or Indian, I tell the person I'm ordering from that I want it really hot, not "white boy" hot. They usually get a chuckle out of that and then proceed to give me 3rd degree burns of deliciousness