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Sep 5, 2007 10:26 PM

Is there such a thing as good "Americanized" ethnic food?

Be it Americanized Chinese, or Americanized Italian or Americanized Mexican or whatever Americanized, can it ever be considered good?

Whenever the phrase Americanized [insert ethnic cuisine of choice] it's almost always used in a very pejorative sense.

Such as, "I never go to PF Chang's because it's only Americanized Chinese ..."

Or, "I can't stand Olive Garden because they serve Americanized Italian ..."

Whether such statements are true or not is beside the point except to illustrate, I suppose, a common feeling that Americanized ethnic cuisine is somehow subpar, or dumbed-down or something fitting only for the most gullible of the hoi pollloi.

But is there such a thing as good Americanized ethnic cuisine? Can there be such a thing?

Will we ever say, "I am going to Per Se because the kitchen is now serving Americanized Italian!"

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  1. Depends on what "good" means in this context. If it means "delicious" and "doesn't make you sick", then obviously yes! If it means "just like people in their native countries eat it", probably not. There's a sub-assumption to the latter attitude, which occasionally assumes that the people eating in the native countries, are eating well. Which, often, they're not.

    1. Fantastic question!

      My feeling is "Of couse!" there's excellent "Americanized" Ethnic cuisine. In my city, I can think of two outstanding Americanized Chinese and Indian restaurants, where the food is light, flavorful, carefully crafted, and beautiful to behold. By no means does "Americanized" equal bad, and authentic equal good... I've had some pretty terrible "authentic" meals...

      Unfortunately, though, Americanized often *does* mean subpar, dumbed-down, or something fitting only for the most gullible, as you put it. Kind of "lowest common denominator," using the cheapest ingredients, quickest prep, and shortest of short-cuts (load up with salt, fat, and oils).

      But you ask, "Will we ever say, "I am going to Per Se because the kitchen is now serving Americanized Italian!"...

      Well, I think that's already happening, but if often comes under the guise of "fusion" or "New American." Some of the best restaurants I've ever been to have new Asian-fusions, and there's one Indian-fusion in my metro that's amazing, so, yes, it's definitely possible!

      - Garris
      Providence, RI

      1. I will probably get crucified for this one, but anyway, I think some "Americanized sushi" (generally rolled sushi with untraditional toppings/fillings) is totally inventive and delicious. Living in Tokyo I have access to wonderful traditional preparations of sushi, but sometimes I really want a spicy, crispy tuna roll wrapped in unagi and covered with garlic chips, sriracha and soft-shell fried crab (not really, but you get the idea). There is one place here in Tokyo that specializes in "American styleā€¯ maki and I have to go every now and then to get my fix. Among my Japanese friends this place is considered to be a bit exclusive, trendy, and tasty and the fact that it's American is the reason! Maybe this is an anomaly.

        2 Replies
        1. re: taryn

          I think the flexibility of sushi is one of the best things about it. I once had a sushi roll filled with cooked catfish and Flaming Hot Cheetos. Completely inauthentic and completely delicious.

          1. re: mordacity

            Brings an image to mind: you on a huge horse, amored and battle ax in hand, at the gates of Edo ready to burn, sack, plunder, loot, and ravage.

            Actually, I'm sure that the catfish & cheetos sushi was delicious. I would guess that people are least able to adapt to changes in the traditional foods they grew up with. On the thread about European cabbage rolls, people have identified their national origin and are putting up with no changes from what their great grand mothers made. No guacamole, frito, lobster, and quinoa cabbage rolls to be seen.

        2. Of course. Foods change as they cross continents. Here we'd be speaking "Canadianised", and I've also had, say, Vietnamese or Chinese food in France and in Italy, that is really influenced by the country where it is served. Never sweet, for one thing.

          Olive Garden is crap not because it is Americanised but because it is industrial swill. Some "red sauce" Italians that serve homemade spaghetti and meatballs - which are not served together in Italy - can be fine places to eat. Italian food in Argentina is also very different from what is served in the old country...

          And Tex-Mex and southwestern US cuisines with Mexican influences certainly exist in their own right.

          1. I agree, it can be very good. Even drawing on local ingredients in the U.S. would probably make a better meal than trying to use an imported perishable.
            I think "americanized" gets it's bad name from the corporate restaurants. They can fool people with lower quality, simplistic (overly sweet, spicy, etc) food when their clientele is not familiar with "authentic" versions. It is easier to pull that off with tastes unfamiliar to most Americans than with a steak and potato (though people seem to fall for that too...:)
            In Vogue this month, Gary Shteyngart quotes a Chinese chef cooking "nuovo" Chinese in NYC. He complained that people can't tell the difference between his dumplings and the much cheaper ones in Chinatown. Which is more americanized I can't say, but it illustrates the point that people are not as perceptive to differences in quality and taste when they are not very familiar with the cuisine. We all know how we want our soup dumplings to taste, but I'm limited to what I know- Idon't know how the ones I like are defective compared to better ones.