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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.

ed

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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.

    http://www.chowhound.com/home/faq

    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.

                  ed

                  1. re: fara

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

                  2. I think there are more Chowhounds that are a combination of 1 and 2. For example,"if you suggest just going out and grabbing some Chinese food I will say to you, "Sure, do you want Shanghai, Hunan, or Szechuan?". At home, if I can, I like to use "organic, heirloom, free range, or farmers market products" whenever available. If flush, I also enjoy cooking with specialty ingredients "like truffles, foie gras, and fresh lobster", or, just as often will be cooking up a batch of spaghetti and meatballs or chicken pot pie. In Las Vegas, you'll find me at Lotus of Siam, trying to find good Mexican food off the strip, or at Joel Rubuchon. I have no problem exploring ethnic neighborhoods, and am always trying to learn more about unfamiliar cuisines. And I'm not embarrassed to satisfy my craving for a cheeseburger and fries from MacDonald's, a double-decker taco from Taco Bell, or extra crispy and some biscuits from KFC (though it's usually a hang-over craving!). It's all about the food - I hate generalizations. Barring budgetary constraints, IMO anyone who decides to only eat at upscale restaurants, or boasts that they only eat "authentic", or refuses to eat at any place that isn't a hole-in-the wall, are not true Chowhounds (IMHO).

                    8 Replies
                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        #2: " 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."

                        I agree with all those things, if I can afford them at the time. Our last trip to Paris, we had fantastic meals at *** restaurants. OTOH, I can talk for an hour about banh mi and my favorite spots locally, and who makes my favorite steak and cheese sub. I just don't think, or agree, it has to be either/or.

                        #3 "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.

                        I definitely don't frequent chains enough that I know what the best thing to get at P.F Chang's or Cheesecake Factory is, that I cook with canned ingredients or frozen dinners, or that you'll find me at the buffets or In-n-Out when I travel to Vegas....

                        1. re: Rubee

                          I thought the point of #2 was that they'd go only to safe places.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Ah, I see! I took it as they also like fine dining, or sometimes splurging on ingredients when cooking at home. I'll have to edit my reply to you ;)

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              That's not totally what I meant. I consider all three chowhounds; I think all three care about food, perhaps even obsess about it. But temperament and economics and range of experience cause people to value and experience things differently. Personally, I think of myself as more Orthodox than Conservative or Reform. But if I married a wealthy Conservative . . .

                              ed

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I think by definition, anybody who won't eat something for any reason other than its lack of deliciousness is not a chowhound.

                                If you won't go to a dicey neighborhood to get the best pho, you're not a "conservative chowhound." You're simply not a chowhound. Or at least not much of one.

                                Same deal if you indulge in reverse snobbery and reject fois gras because it's too highflutin'.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  > I think by definition, anybody who won't eat something for any
                                  > reason other than its lack of deliciousness is not a chowhound.

                                  No, I think 'hounds are allowed to have some limits. Whether it's for their health or because it reminds them of their ex or they feel it is more ethical to abstain, the fact that they don't indulge doesn't mean they don't wish they could indulge given different circumstances.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Allow yourself too many of those limits and eating the most delicious food is no longer a high priority.

                                    When you care more about your car or wallet than your dinner ...

                            2. My categories are different.

                              I've been trying to articulate them in a thread, but have failed.

                              Here, I will try.

                              My categories divide chowhounds by the percentage of meals they eat that are chowhound quality.

                              In other words ...

                              For some people every meal or just about every meal is a chowhound experience. They try to never waste a meal.

                              At the other extreme are those who really enjoy chowish meals and love the board and learning the cool places to try, but still eat plenty of meals that are not of chowhound quality.

                              I'm closer to the latter category, which is why I sometimes question my chowhound qualifications. I love to know that there is a great Greek place in Santa Clarita -- just in case -- but I'm not going to drive there just to try it.

                              I also eat plenty of meals that I enjoy, but I know aren't really chowhound quality. I have a personal threshold I don't go below (I don't enjoy anything at McDonald's, fwiw) but I'll eat at Rubio's if I'm hungry and actually think their fish tacos are good enough.

                              I've admitted that my standards are just lower than others. It's not a value comparison between myself and more serious chowhounds. I'm more serious about the music I listen to, quicker to dismiss some popular band or artist and those who listen to that music.

                              I think the more dismissive chowhounds (those quicker to be intolerant of others) are the more serious 'hounds for whom every meal must be made the most of. Of course that's a broad generalization, but I'm guessing that there is some truth there.

                              For me, I look forward to my chowhound experiences. And compared to the world, a high percentage of my meals are at "Chowhound approved places." My mom "accuses" me of never eating in any restaurant that there are "two of" --- meaning never in a chain. And I can get snobby when my buffet-loving inlaws drag me to another all you can eat Chinese grease-and-salt fest. But I eat plenty of good enough meals and return often to the same chowhound-type places over and over as much for convenience as quality. I don't plan lunches or dinners across town, just to sample the best taquitos or Italian sub. I'm also overtly middle-class and am raising two sons, so I rarely go out for expensive dinners. Oddly enough, I don't think twice about spending 200 bucks on concert tix, but I can't justify a sublime sushi meal for the same price.

                              Anyways, those are my (in)articulate thoughts on the subject. Fire away ...

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: PaulF

                                "At the other extreme are those who really enjoy chowish meals and love the board and learning the cool places to try, but still eat plenty of meals that are not of chowhound quality."

                                One might call them chippies. Or chowppies.

                                1. re: PaulF

                                  If I had the time I'd be a true chowhound. Right now I'm another one who wishes all my meals could be houndish, but I know it's not going to happen.

                                  When my mother was a student musician, a classical conductor said to her (and the rest of the orchestra), "The true musician appreciates all kinds of music." That is, classical music has its own value and so does country. For me, the concept of chowhounding that I like is its eclecticism--appreciating lots of different kinds of food for what they offer. Knowing that an heirloom tomato is great, but also eating crappy store-bought Roma tomatoes when they're all chopped up and put into a great salsa in a taqueria. Appreciating lobster tails and lobster rolls. Hot sauces and haute sauces. And so on.

                                  That's why, to me, the "Conservative" described here is not a chowhound, but an aficionado of a particular sort of food. They are the equivalent of people who appreciate many kinds of music--like Romantic and Baroque.

                                  To me, my idea of a Chowhound and what I liked about Jim Leff's conception of it is that it represents an iPod shuffle of food--a little bit hip-hop, some old Chinese opera, some kora music, Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, AC/DC, TLC, the soundtrack to a Japanese videogame, Debussy, Beethoven and ragas--you get the idea. There's a readiness to reject the Brittany Spears of food--the completely cloying or overly manufactured thing that does not do justice to its genre. There's a readiness to reject a food for being uninspired, but not a readiness to reject food just because of what kind of food it is. Inspiration is where you find it.

                                  1. re: aquariumtown

                                    I agree, diversity is key. In fact someone that just eats, say organic vegetables cooked french style and has no willingness to experiment is not chowish in my book.

                                    Re:simple food can be chowish, too. not eating an elaborately or exotically at every meal doesn't mean you're not being chowish. I just don't eat anything that doesn't taste good.

                                    1. re: fara

                                      Oh, but you gotta eat stuff that doesn't taste good once in a while, because sometimes all of a sudden it DOES taste good, and you have a newly expanded taste range. My first hurdle was root beer (at about age nine), then cilantro and kimchi quite a bit later. Still haven't managed to jump over durian, but I might some day...

                                2. If you jump over durian, you don't have to eat it!

                                  1. what am I? I have more than 50 flavors of ice cream (and have a spoon of each every day) and probably around 60 different cheeses right now. I eat at least 6 different kinds of fruits a day, some days probably 20. I used to have at least 10 different sweets after dinner. Last week I had 1 Thai, 1 Chinese, 1 BBQ, 1 Indian, 1 Italian, 1 Japanese, and 1 mexican dinner. I have a huge collection of chocolates. For example, today I had curry and pasta for breakfast, chinese for lunch and pizza for post lunch, smoked salmon and smoked saber and cheeses for snack and finally bbq beef ribs for dinner. For dessert I had a fruit salad (kiwi, orange, pear, watermelon, shalyn melon, black, green and red grapes, blueberry, raspberry and a plum), a slice of champaign grape bread/pizza, a cheese platter, 50 different ice creams and 6 small pieces of chocolate, all different ones of course. and now I am thinking about getting some tacos tomorrow after work......... I guess I could be a chowhound.

                                    1. I'm a 2 and 3 then! But I'll venture into a scary neighborhood for some good pho . . . why not?

                                      TT

                                      1. As a "chow" I aspire to acquire both the knowledge and the wisdom to be able to eat and drink well under a broad variety of unfortunate circumstances including:
                                        1) in the coach section on a airplane.
                                        2) having to purchase quality wine, beer or spirits on a tight budget.
                                        3) at any major chain restaurant.
                                        4) attempting to prepare a meal at home after not having shopped for three weeks.
                                        5) having to buy cheese at the supermarket because your favorite cheese shop is closed.
                                        6) having to buy a baguette at the supermarket because your favorite bread shop is closed.
                                        7) craving a good pizza in the American South.
                                        8) craving a good beer in France, Italy, Spain or Ontario, Canada.
                                        9) with a crowd who insist on dining in Midtown Manhattan because its closer to the theater.
                                        10) having guests for dinner who cannot eat: red meat, pork, lamb, game or anything out of the ocean (and you refuse to prepare them chicken).

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                          Hey, hey, hey, don't knock midtown. But you can kick the people at number 10 out!

                                          TT

                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                            yeah there are plenty of good chowish, if not hip, places in midtown: wu liang ye, utsav's, pam real thai, Esca, uncle vanya's if you're in the mood for russian in manhattan..where is your area of choice, and don't tell me you prefer the meat packing district :)

                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                              "8) craving a good beer in France, Italy, Spain or *Ontario, Canada*"

                                              You're kidding!?

                                              1. re: NovoCuisine

                                                No! First off the saddest thing about the Ontario beer scene is that nobody (and I mean nobody) has heard of Unibroue (the Quebec based brewers of La Fin du Monde, Maudite, Eau Benite, etc). While in Ontario I spoke to a bartender who had worked in Toronto for 10 years and he had never heard of any of Unibroue's beers. Furthermore, no bar that I visited while in Ontario featured a Unibroue beer (What's up with that? These are some of the most remarkable beers in North America). Secondly, Molson, Labbat, etc, are admittedly better (and stronger) than any American adjunct lagers but (in my opinion) they are really nothing to write home about.
                                                As for micros the most prominent ones that I encountered while in Ontario included:
                                                1) Creemore Springs - Weak (tasted like Sam Adams Light)
                                                2) Alexander Keith's - Really weak (their IPA was like a lager. Very disappointing)
                                                3) Sleeman - Semi weak (almost tasted like real beer)
                                                4) Brick - Not really worth mentioning
                                                5) Huether Hotel (Barley Works) - Pseudo real beer. Nice try?
                                                To me it was like these brewers were afraid of full flavor and hops. The one exception was Wellington which brews a wonderful Arkell Best Bitter which I had.
                                                So as a beer lover I was very disappointed in Ontario (not that there were no good beers it was just difficult to find them). Quebec on the other hand besides Unibroue has Le Cheval Blanc which also brews some remarkable beers.
                                                Lastly, I'm assuming that we agree that the Mediterranean has no decent beer. I hear that they have outstanding wine though?