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Sep 17, 2006 06:26 PM

The Three Types of Chowhounds

In a recent post, someone professed to be troubled by the term "chowish." The term seemed to mean different things in different contexts which was puzzling to the original poster. I think part of the problem is that not everyone is aware that there are three types of Chowhounds, all of whom enjoy this site and share certain basic values.

Some people are what I would call Orthodox Chowhounds. These people are most interested in tradition and authenticity. These are the sorts of folks that would travel across town to sample the kebabs prepared in a small family restaurant by Azerbaijani Fatimids because they've heard that the spicing differs from traditional Azerbaijani meatballs. These are the people who if you suggest just going out and grabbing some Chinese food will say to you, "Sure, do you want Shanghai, Hunan, Szechuan, Cantonese, Islamic Chinese, Hakka cuisine, . . . " At home, Orthodox Chowhounds follow strict dietary restrictions. They will only use organic, heirloom, free range, or farmers market products whenever available. In Las Vegas, orthodox hounds will be found dining at Lotus of Siam and driving down Spring Mountain Road searching for the ultimate banh mi.

Another group of Chowhounds, I would term Conservative Chowhounds. Like most conservatives, they are well aware of the value of money. They have also learned that going into a bad neighborhood to search out a bowl of some exotic Vietnamese soup can result in a bad meal, a dented BMW, or worse. On the other hand, every meal at the French Laundry is guaranteed to be outstanding. And of course, their annual trip to Paris is truly a gourmet undertaking. At home, Conservative Chowhounds love to use ingredients like truffles, foie gras, and fresh lobster. In Las Vegas, they will be found dining at Joel Rubichon's or Alex at the Wynn.

The last group should be called Reform Chowhounds. These are people who believe if it tastes good you should eat it. Truly omnivores, these folks will know what's best at every chain restaurant as well as every ethnic spot in town. They have no problem throwing together a dinner with canned pasta sauce or some frozen food, it tastes okay. In Las Vegas, they can be found at the casino buffets and driving over to the In-N-Out Burger.

Of course, this is an overgeneralization; some people may appear to be orthodox to their family and friends, but then sneak out to Popeye's Fried Chicken or grab a breakfast at McDonald's. Many Conservative hounds sometimes end up eating at the neighborhood Taqueria. And Reform Chowhounds will eat almost anywhere if it tastes good to them, even at a fine restaurant or a taco truck. Even though all hounds share some common values and traditions, it is easy to see why there is more than one kind of chowish behavior, and how otherwise reasonable people can disagree about what is truly chowish.

I should add that it is not my purpose in this post to offend anybody. This is meant to be humorous. If you feel somewhat offended, I didn't mean it.


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  1. Your third definition is a variation on Jim Leff's. The first is sort of the chowhound extremist fringe. The second are simply not chowhounds.

    What is a Chowhound?

    A Chowhound is someone who spends nearly every waking moment planning her or his next meal. Whether eating in a white-tablecloth restaurant or grabbing takeout on the way to work, Chowhounds hate to ingest anything undelicious. They won't hesitate to go far, far out of their way for even slightly better.

    1. Equally important in the definition of a chowhound:

      "Chowhounds spurn established opinion to sniff out on their own secret deliciousness."

      2 Replies
      1. re: limster

        If I find I can 'sniff out my own secret deliciousness', I head for a hot shower ASAP!

        1. re: mnosyne

          *LOL* -- I don't think that's what Jim Leff meant when he wrote the FAQ though.

      2. What I find offensive is how dismissive some posters can be and I usually see this with hounds who would probably catagorize themselves as #1 or #2. I've seen many a posting where the writer says they enjoyed a restaurant, particular meal, particular appliances, particular atmosphere, etc. just to have a poster respond that, obviously, the original writer would feel differently if he/she had eperienced "whatever" the way THEY had.

        No need to put people down. There are ways to express an opinion without putting a negative slant on someone else's experience. One would think that if you are spending time on this site then you have a great interest in food and surf the site in order to make your own food-consumption more than just a "survival" objective.

        One man's goodness is another man's...garbage?

        2 Replies
        1. re: njtransplant

          If there are #2 types on Chowhound I sure haven't seen them on the boards I frequent.

          I can be pretty dismissive of people who make ill-considered recommendations. For example, if the topic is "best burger in San Francisco," and somebody says "In 'n' Out": please. Nobody who's done their homework believes that In 'n' Out makes the best hamburger in San Francisco. It's plausible that you can't get a better burger for the price, but that's a different question.

          1. re: njtransplant

            I agree.. I was bagged out on the weekend coz I wanted to chat on here about a dish I had the other day ( that was a rip by Aussie standards).. It really upset me (the meanish comments). I would never say negative things to chows, just helpful stuff and tips etc..

          2. Your analogy is hilarious, however I don't agree with it. If I had to stereotype chowhounds, and please no one take offence, this is just IMHO, there are:

            A) The type who is just starting to become a chowhound, or who has not made very much progress so far. They can't tell the difference between jarred and homemade tomato sauce and they think mcdonald's can somehow be chowhoundish.
            B) The type who is a moderate chowhound, they seek out the best ingredients and spend more than the average American on groceries. They will go out of their way to get certain ingredients, and they drive out of town to try restaurants. They have pretty high standards, but if starving will put up with a street hot dog. They are not as obsessive as-
            C) The ultimate OC chowhound who has mastered chowhounding while still maintaining a full and satisfying social/career/financial life. They have a great food blog and make things in their home kitchen you've never even tried in a restaurant. You are envious of them, but know that you will never be at that level.

            So, yes, I think there is an ever increasing scale of chowhounding, even though I would consider myself in the middle. Extending the theological analogy, it is more important what kind of progress you make than where you actually end up.

            4 Replies
            1. re: fara

              You're right on. I don't believe that there are 3 types/stages per se - it's more of a continuum. I think that there are always people behind you and ahead of you along the path to chowhound nirvana (a state that is only attainable by the continued practice of having new food adventures and the learning, understanding and assimilating that comes with each one). The duality of the process is defined by continually learning more, while seeking the moment you can ignore all external influences and rely on your own senses to deliver the ultimate chow experience. The moment that the perfect piece of o-toro hits your tongue - that transcendent experience that we all seek - only comes as one develops the ability to appreciate it through knowledge and understanding.

              Giving good advice here, and helping others towards their better understanding of food, leads to good karma. The more good karma you acquire, the better your next food adventure!

              Egads, it's getting deep down here...

              1. re: fara

                Great response. I want to say I'm a B, yet I have a bit of a McDonalds breakfast fetish that does fill me with shame.

                1. re: fara

                  Yours is a fine trifurcation, probably more accurate than mine. I'm sure there are other ways to separate types. As another poster responded, things tend to be in a continuum rather than being true groups.


                  1. re: fara

                    That's more like it. I'm a solid B.

                  2. The original comment has been removed