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In response to Rachel Ray thread

Original thread:
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/503966

Someone commented that Rachel Ray's milquetoast L.A. restaurant picks would appeal to her core demographic, as "Mr and Mrs. Smith from Tulsa, OK might not enjoy trying to figure out which place in Koreatown is actually decent"

Someone then commented "I guess us folk from Tulsa have no taste?"

I'm personally quite exhausted by people interpreting such comments as personal attacks, because the fact is that it's true... RR genrally appeals to America At Large, and Chowhounds by definition seek out more than just America At Large wants or cares about.

This prompted me to write this novella, which I would love to hear your comments on.

Mr Taster
---------------------------------------------------------------

Regarding your "no taste" comment:

It's not a matter of having "no taste". It's a matter of the events in your life shaping the basis by which you measure new experiences.

I lived in suburban New Jersey for 18 years and central Missouri for 4.5. In both places, the most exotic food I ever ate was Taco Bell. Six months before I left Missouri for LA, the town's first Indian restaurant opened. My meal there was an absolute revelation. Parts of my mouth that I never knew existed came alive.

It was not until I moved to LA (and had been here for 5 or 6 years) that I began to open my mind past what I had gotten used to eating.

It's just a fact that people from less populated areas of the country (like the midwest) generally do not have the immigrant population density which can provide an authentic and diverse ethnic food experience.

In LA, we are lucky to have massive Korean and Chinese populations which provide us with opportunities to not just eat "Chinese" but various permutations of regional delicacies. In Koreatown, we have a restaurant that prepares imperial cuisine. Although I'm sure Tulsa has a Korean population, my uneducated opinion is that it is likely not large enough to support a restaurant which serves a style of Korean food which is so specific.

It is in this regard that people from smaller cities simply have less opportunity (and less inclination due to peer influence, etc.) to diverge from the standard "middle class" restaurant experience-- and this is what Rachel Ray's audience expects. So when she espouses Gyu-Kaku, she is speaking to those people in Tulsa (and elsewhere) who have never eaten *GREAT* Korean BBQ (or more specifically, the blander Japanese version of KBBQ which Gyu-Kaku makes), so Gyu-Kaku becomes a wildly exotic but still very "safe" (i.e. clean and filled with middle class white people) experience.

For those of us who have been eating authentic, fantastic Korean bbq for years now (some in restaurants that are pretty grimy holes and would scare away Rachel Ray's core demographic), Gyu-Kaku provides nothing new or exotic.... I see it as half the food and half the quality at twice the price.

So, it's not that people from Tulsa have no taste. It's simply that the cities in which we live shape our life experiences. The vast majority of non-Korean and non-Japanese Americans will likely find Gyu-Kaku an exciting and exotic change of pace from the regular Red Lobster/Applebee's/Friday's/local diner rotation.

Mr Taster

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  1. Mr Taster,

    While I agree with your point on environment shaping ones taste (to a point) I do think the comment "The vast majority of non-Korean and non-Japanese Americans will likely find Gyu-Kaku an exciting and exotic change of pace from the regular Red Lobster/Applebee's/Friday's/local diner rotation." is quite off the mark, particularly the"...Red Lobster/Applebee's/Friday's/local diner rotation." portion of your comment. While those of us who are unable to live in city such as LA do not have the experience you do with Asian and other cuisines it does not make us unadventurous nor "Chain Slaves". There are actually very good to exceptional restaurants all over the country.

    I'm not from anywhere in the Midwest and feel sorry (in a nice way) that the availability of seafood is limited and/or expensive. Does that make those in the Midwest unaware of seafood? Of course not, but if one is spending quite a bit on a meal most go with what they know or have a host such as yourself to foot the bill if they do not care for the preparation.

    I think if you removed this portion of your post, "The vast majority of non-Korean and non-Japanese Americans...". It would appear less aggressive to most of us "non-Korean and non-Japanese Americans."

    Sincerely,
    hipQuest

    1 Reply
    1. re: hipquest

      But wouldn't you agree that there is a "comfort zone" that many people have with their restaurants? For middle class America, I'd say the comfort zone list is this (in order of descending importance):

      1) The decor must be appealing, or at least not outright offensive. (this draws you in from outside)
      2) the restaurants must be clean. (this keeps you from walking out)
      3) The quantity must present a good value. (this gets you to sit down)
      4) And lastly, the food must be appealing (this gets you to eat!)

      Do you think that's in the wrong order? Would you add anything to this list?

      If you were from a small town traveling in LA and saw a dingy hole of a place with foreign writing on the wall with no english, would you go in?

      I think that most people would not venture in on their own (except for those who are very adventurous or well-traveled), despite the fact that the food may be fantastic. It's WAY out of middle class America's comfort zone (i.e. Rachel Ray's audience).

      This is not a criticism of excellent restaurants that may be found elsewhere in America. I am a huge advocate of eating locally whenever I travel to a new city, and I love trying local specialties. It is more a citicsm of culinary complacency... what is the worst possible thing that could happen if you broke outta that comfort zone and walked into that dark exotic restaurant with the foreign writing on the wall?

      I guarantee you that in answering that question, whatever horrible thing pops into your head is likely to have never have happened there :)

      Mr Taster

    2. Good post. I once formulated it like this: people with limited experience of food, but strong opinons about it, are like people who have a limited vocabulary thinking themselves good candidates for teaching English or creative writing at University. It's absolutely okay if you don't speak English like Shakespeare, but there's just no sense in you teaching English to others if you don't have near-command of it. Or take someone with no college education trying to practice law; nobody would even try, but it's just weird how confident people are when it comes to having an opinion about the "soft sciences", such as food or art.

      It's something I've said many times about songwriting: there's no school for it, so any young person with a passion for music can find themselves trying to be a songwriter without really having any clue as to what it takes to do it write. ; ) Likewise, there's no accepted, semi-objective standard by which to judge the art form of cooking, unlike so many other disciplines. I mean, if your accountant does his job correctly, you sorta know it. Same for lawyers and surgeons and CEO's.

      Let's face it, much food in this country is around the level of bad TV shows, but s**t sells, don't it?

      Food is a life-long journey of discovery and exploration. The old saying comes to mind: "The more I learn, the less I know."

      18 Replies
      1. re: uptown jimmy

        The problem is that you just can't be truthful with those people who have an opinion on everything-- because they attack you for criticising their taste, and then you can come off as being an elitist.

        I live my life by how I preach. I absolutely have no problem whatsoever having people who are expert in other arenas guide and educate me. When I visited China, I had no problem putting myself in the hands of people who knew better than I did, who grew up eating that food, and I learned from them.

        Now, if I come home and share my experiences with someone who has only eaten at Panda Express their whole life, I am somehow a food snob, despite the fact that the incredibly delicious plate of dumplings I had while sqatting on a tiny plastic pink chair in a dirty hutong restaurant in Beijing cost only 50 cents. Not glamorous. Not gourmet. Just real and incredibly delicious.

        Somehow I find that people consider authentic food as being "gourmet" or "fancy" because it's not the standard orange chicken or beef & broccoli fare that lies well within America-At-Large's Comfort Zone.

        One of my most proud accomplishments was that I got my mom, an open-minded but non-adventurous eater, to finally try grating some real parmesan (from a wedge) on her pasta instead of the green can powder. It was such a dramatic difference in flavor that now they will never go back. But in the back of her mind, she still thinks of it as "fancy" cheese. It's not right that somehow highly processed chemical powder is the first thing many people think about when they think of parmesan cheese.

        You are completely correct in pointing out that "the more I learn, the less I know." But you can't point that out to the wrong people either, or they're think that's elitist too!

        Mr Taster

        1. re: Mr Taster

          Exactly. Again, well-said. I absolutely love being ignorant, having no opinion, not knowing what the hell I'm doing. Because it means I'm about to learn something, I'm about to become enlightened, I'm about to experience something new.

          Humans are inherently conservative. They like to stay in their comfort zones. And they like to defend their comfort zones, which of course limits their exposure to new things, and to expanding their understanding and appreciation of the world. Our minds are inherently restrictive, not inclusive. It's neorological.

          1. re: Mr Taster

            "...It's not right that somehow highly processed chemical powder is the first thing many people think about when they think of parmesan cheese...."

            Kraft Parmesan Cheese is 100% Parmesan with a little cellulose powder to prevent moisture from making it cake and potassium sorbate to help with freshness. That's it. Hardly a "highly processed chemical powder"

            1. re: Servorg

              Guess what... those ingredients that prevent the cheese from doing what it does naturally (i.e. clump and grow mold) are added chemicals that are not a part of the cheese naturally.

              By my criteria, if you don't want me to think of grated parmesan cheese as chemical powder, then actually grate some cheese and put it in a green can and let the chips (or mold) fall where they may!

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                cellulose is fiber and potassium sorbate is a salt which:

                "is used to inhibit molds, and yeasts in many foods, such as cheese, wine, yogurt, dried meats, and baked goods. It can also be found in the ingredients list of many dried fruit products. In addition, herbal dietary supplement products generally contain potassium sorbate, which acts to prevent mold and microbes and to increase shelf life, and is used in quantities at which there are no known adverse health effects."

                The addition of these two items to grated Parmesan cheese (and which, since it is already grated, one does not want lumping up again or growing mold which you can not slice off) are no more harmful chemicals than water is a harmful chemical when used properly - (and even water, when it is consumed in large amounts can kill you). Just because one labels something as a "highly processed chemical powder" does not make it so.

                1. re: Servorg

                  .1) If you buy a wedge of real parmesan cheese, that's 100% parmesan cheese. Potassium sorbate and cellulose are not naturally found in parmesan cheese, therefore it is not 100% parmesan cheese.

                  2) Parmesan cheese does not naturally fall into powder-like granules.

                  3) Even low quality whole parmesan cheese has some flavor whereas the stuff in the green can adds primarily texture (of a sandy nature) and brings virtually no flavor to the dish. How does one strip a highly flavorful Italian cheese of virtually all its appetizing flavors and qualities?

                  By highly processing, my friend!

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Servorg

                    Regardless of whether cellulose & potassium sorbate are chemicals or natural additives, green can "parmesan" is crap!

                    1. re: rfneid

                      Lord, that's the troof. That stuff just stinks like rancid garbage.

                      1. re: uptown jimmy

                        Not according to Mr. T who complains it has no discernable odor or taste in comparison to a hunk of the hard stuff.

                        1. re: Servorg

                          I never talked about the odor... I talked about the flavor. It's been a long time since I've eaten the stuff out of the green can, but the memory burned into my mind from that moment when I made the switch is the profound burst of flavor one gets from eating real parmesan when compared to eating a lifetime of the highly processed stuff. Really, it's was a revelation to me (and to my mom)... akin to a lifetime of only knowing saltine crackers and tasting a spicy lamb vindaloo. Mind-blowing stuff for the budding chowhound.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            When it comes to Parmesan cheese odor and flavor seem to be joined at the hip.

                            1. re: Servorg

                              If you're talking about real, 100% parmesan cheese, then yes. If you're talking about the processed green stuff in the can which is cut with cellulose and potassium sorbate, then the jury's out!

                              Mr Taster

                      2. re: rfneid

                        It may be crap, but it's not "highly processed chemical" crap.

                        1. re: Servorg

                          Okay, now that is the truth Servorg.

                2. re: Mr Taster

                  tim leary said his favorite phrase was "i don't know" because every time he said it he learned something new

                3. re: uptown jimmy

                  This analogy doesn't work with food though. People know what they like. They don't have to have a vast array of experience to say what they do like or what they feel is most enjoyable for themselves. You can't compare careers and tasks which require education to opinions and personal tastes. That's comparing apples and oranges. Many, many people do genuinely like "bad food" which is why McDonald's is famous worldwide. It's not because they lack experience or aren't adventurous, but because it's what they like having in their mouths. You can't tell them with your vaster experience what is better for them. You can only tell them what is better for you.

                  1. re: Orchid64

                    Disagree strongly. Palates are as readily developed as accounting skills. I like McDonald's, btw. I'm not saying that "bad" food can't taste good. I grew up eating fast food and will always have a (small) place for it in my life.

                    That doesn't change the fact that one's taste for food is as malleable and trainable as any other facet of one's life. It's just not an arguable point. Culture and personal experience play a huge role in determining taste. Otherwise, babies would grow up into adults who "know what they like" and prefer baby food. Children who are exposed to a wider variety of foodstuffs grow up into adults who prefer a wide variety of foodstuffs.

                  2. re: uptown jimmy

                    Can you please not mention lawyers and food together in the same paragraph.

                    Good cooking is in the mouth of the taster. I appreciate a well composed plate of Shakespeare, but give me a platter of Mark Twain any day.

                    There is nothing worse than poorly fried chicken or ill tended collards. Give me street food or give me death! To eat or not to eat... OK time to go.,

                  3. Mr. Taster, you're my hero.
                    I'm so proud to know people like you who have the adventurous spirit!
                    My TDHH (tall dark and handsome husband) grew up deprived. DEPRIVED. Of any exposure to food other than overcooked green beans and casseroles. A very special meal would be red lobster (the brown platter -- everything fried).
                    He came to California and met me. Poor soul. But now he knows what an avocado actually tastes like. He now loves Korean BBQ (the real stuff) and genuine Japanese ramen and fresh seafood and street tacos. Meanwhile, his family still lives in insistent oblivion. They are genuinely offended when we share our favourite restaurants with them when they visit. I took my husband's sister to our favourite chinese dumpling restaurant and she pitched an embarrassing fit because there was no orange chicken. We now actually make an earnest effort to find the blandest, least interesting chain restaurant possible to have a peaceful meal with them. There's this whole side of our lives we can't share with them. It's very sad that they are missing the excitement and the thrill of eating fresh delicious creative food -- it's as if they are missing an entire sense.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: khh1138

                      "We now actually make an earnest effort to find the blandest, least interesting chain restaurant possible to have a peaceful meal with them."

                      KHH, you're commitment to familial peace is admirable.

                      In solidarity, I share your sadness in not being able to share the joy of (fresh delicious creative) food with family.

                    2. "It's just a fact that people from less populated areas of the country (like the midwest) generally do not have the immigrant population density which can provide an authentic and diverse ethnic food experience."

                      Obviously, there are only a few cities in the world that can match or beat the immigrant population density of Los Angeles.

                      That said, I am not convinced that it is still a fact, if it ever was, that the Midwest does not have the immigrant population necessary to provide authentic, diverse eating experiences. My guess is that the reason people get touchy when their geographic location is used as shorthand for 'they don't have the exposure to different foods that I do" is that they know that blaming Tulsa (or Houston, where I grew up and tasted some wonderful foods that I can't find easily here in California, or wherever) for lack of exposure to tasty experiences just isn't fair to Tulsa.

                      Immigrant populations are growing in many parts of the United States, including the midwest; in some areas quite rapidly. Chicago has a large, vibrant Mexican community, just to give one example, and Mexican restaurants that could rival those in San Francisco, and even in LA.

                      Aside from changing demographics in the midwest, populations in general are much more mobile than they use to be, and people travel more, and further distances. Don't know how old you are Mr. Taster, but I can say that (as an example) that I didn't get on an airplane for the first time until I was about 14. When I was a child, our once a year big trip was from Texas to California to visit relatives: by car or train. My daughter, OTOH, flew for the first time at about age three months, and by the time she was 14 had probably flown at least 50 times, including trips to three continents.

                      So, add increased internet use and better technology, not to mention on-line ordering and shopping of a huge array of food items, and I just don't buy that, if someone's exposure to different ethnic cuisines than their own is limited, that it is really fair to put most of the 'blame' on geography.

                      I am quite sure that there are plenty of people in Los Angeles who refuse to eat anything but meat and potatoes and would never dream of walking into a little hole in the wall, even though they might pass it every day on their way to work.

                      And a lot of them aren't from Tulsa.

                      60 Replies
                      1. re: susancinsf

                        with you Susan - great Vietnamese, Thai and increasingly Mexican and Salvadoreno to be found along the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys these days.

                        "the incredibly delicious plate of dumplings I had while sqatting on a tiny plastic pink chair in a dirty hutong restaurant in Beijing cost only 50 cents. Not glamorous. Not gourmet. Just real and incredibly delicious."

                        but that's what I want.

                        1. re: hill food

                          Sure, I don't doubt any of those points regarding bourgening diversity of ethnic foods in America... that's really not my point.

                          The point I'm trying to express is that you're a fully awakened chowhound and are actively seeking those dumplings, the pho, etc. because you know what you'd be missing if you didn't get them. The potential chowhounds in Rachel Ray's core audience don't necessarily know how good this food can be and are living with the status quo simply because they are unaware that that bowl of pho even exists!

                          The real issue is those sleeping Chowhounds who have not yet realized their potential, who eat the status quo stuff simply because they are not yet aware of all their options. See my reply to susancinsf below for more details.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            "The potential chowhounds in Rachel Ray's core audience don't know how good this food can be and are living with the status quo simply because they are unaware that that bowl of pho even exists!"

                            Again. A sweeping generalization. Some people -- and I presume they are core audience because of appropriate age and sex and "midwest" -- watch her because they like her talk show, or like her guests, or simply think she's cute. (or simply hate her and like to giggle at her) -- and I base that sweeping generalization upon people I know who do watch some of her shows. (BTW they also know good pho, even in the Midwest)

                            Does it mean they don't know that a bowl of pho even exists? My point, which doesn't seem to come across -- at least not to the west coast -- is that sweeping generalizations based upon uninformed stereotypes do nothing but alienate people.

                        2. re: susancinsf

                          Thank you Susan for saying it more eloquently than I could.

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            susancinsf--

                            Well that's certainly a true and valid point. I know many people who live in LA who would not venture in to the ethnic dive places that I love to visit. Certainly geographical location is not the sole factor in determining an individual's chowhound potential.

                            But to prove the flip side of this argument, I can use myself as a prime example. During my college years, I was a chowhound with stunted potential entirely because I lived in central Missouri. As I said in an earlier reply, it was only 6 months before I left that the first authentic Indian restaurant opened, and it changed my world.

                            It was not that I didn't want to try new and interesting foods... it was that my opportunity to do so was severely limited. Most of my friends at school were from white middle class families. And thinking back, there certainly were potential chowhounds in that group, but really-- we had no real outlet to exercise our curiosity. We used to talk about having cheese tasting parties, but the only cheese that was locally available (that we knew of, at least) was the Cracker Barrel type stuff at the supermarket.

                            So imagine yourself in this environment... it is not as if I were a fully formed Chowhound desperately seeking out a great bowl of pho (or any bowl, for the matter). It was more a matter of not knowing it even existed... knowing I had this curiosity to try different foods, but really not knowing how to go about doing it, and not having any friends who really knew much about the stuff either.

                            Now that I am a fully fledged chowhound living in Los Angeles, I have introduced many, many friends to the deliciousness of regional ethnic foods. These are friends who otherwise would have likely never thought to expose themselves to such diverse deliciousness-- just as I never would have known to expose myself to pho when I was a college student in central Missouri.

                            So I therefore must maintain my argument that while the geography does not explicity make a chowhand our of a non-chowhound, geography certain CAN keep a potential chowhound from reaching their full potential.

                            Mr Taster

                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              Dear Mr. Taster:

                              I think you may be trying to change or modify your logic with the use of the word 'potential'.

                              I would hope that none of us as Chowhounds as reached our full CH 'potential'. If we have, what do we need these boards for?

                              Of course it is true that there are some ingredients, foods, items, that are more available in some areas. For example, there are tequilas available in Mexico that I cannot buy in San Francisco. That does NOT mean that when I go to Mexico I am not going to check them out and am only going to drink Cuervo Gold. In that respect, if someone from Tulsa goes to Jalisco she can check out as many of those regional Tequilas as easily as I can. If she chooses not to do so, do you attribute the fact that she doesn't to the fact that she is from Tulsa? OF COURSE NOT. You conclude she is not interested in Tequilas. (perhaps because she doesn't drink, or doesn't have an adventurous personality, or isn't comfortable going into bars and prefers to drink at home, or whatever).

                              Moreover, I don't think your example holds up because of improvements in technology and increased used of internet, etc. I am quite sure that Cracker Barrell is NOT the only cheese available in Missouri. There may indeed be high school students in Missouri who have never tasted anything else, or think cracker barrell is all there is. However, there may also be high school students in West Oakland( which is located less than ten miles as the crow flies from my house) who have only tasted Cracker Barrell, because they are urban, poor, African American and it is the only brand stocked at the Mom and Pop Grocery that is the only source of groceries in their neighborhood (not a Whole Foods demographic there), and their family doesn't have a car or money to shop elsewhere. Cultural upbringing, maybe; socio-economic/class differences, probably: but geogaphy, NO.

                              welll, unless by geography you are referring to what I would call micro-geography (it must have a name,I mean the geography of neighborhoods). But if neighborhood geography is what you mean, then the use of the term "America at Large", or of an entire city of 400,000 (Tulsa metropolitan area is about 900,000, according to Wikapedia) as short hand for "Not Adventurous/Doesn't know as much as I do about foods because I live in Los Angeles/hasn't reached his or her full potential" seems extremely inaccurate, if not downright insulting, and you shouldn't be at all surprised, much less exhausted, when your shorthand is seen by someone from Tulsa as a 'personal attack'.

                              1. re: susancinsf

                                Moreover, I think that this type of shorthand and logic carried too far could even keep you (or anyone) from reaching their full 'potential' as a Chowhound. If someone from Tulsa visits LA, finds the greatest little Korean hole-in-the-wall, and mentions it in their post on CH reporting on their visit, would you pass it by because you figure someone from Tulsa must know less about Korean food than you?

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  Susan, you bring up an interesting question, At first I was going to write, 'of course not'-- whenever someone posts something on chowhound, I tend to take it within the contexts of their overall posts. This helps me to understand where they are coming from (not just Tulsa).

                                  But then another thought came to mind: I have moved from New York to a tiny village. The offerings in this tiny village are pretty sad-- there is no diversity of food to speak of. One of my colleagues, a local native, will occasionally praise a place for its food; I have since learned that her limited experience means that there are certain things she finds wonderful that I find closer to mediocre, if not downright naff. She is a wonderful woman, and she is capable of enjoying some very fine foods as well, I'm sure, but her breadth of experience limits the scale of assessment. I have ceased to take her recommendations seriously. Then again, I have colleagues from much bigger cities (Rome, London, etc) whom I equally distrust, as they don't care for food, and uphold Wagamama as acme of asian food.

                                  I will close this rambling, ambivalent post with lines from 'Sullivan's Travels:

                                  'Aw what do they know in Pittsburgh?'
                                  'They know what they like!'
                                  'If they knew what they liked, they wouldn't live in Pittsburgh.'

                                  1. re: Lizard

                                    we just have to disagree. I don't think you can fault the town where she lives for her limited (or questionable) taste.

                                    but, then, I find the lines you quote unconvincing: I've lived in San Francisco long enough that under your (and Mr Taster's) framework I should know 'what I like' well enough to know that I love the food here in my home town, but in many ways, if the choice were strictly mine to make, I'd prefer living in Pittsburgh....

                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                      Didn't know you were looking to Sullivan's Travels for an argument. Put it there for levity. I can see, however, how people fighting passionately for a cause (in this case, well, I don't know what it is...) might wish to overlook the genius that is Preston Sturges.

                                      if you read my entire post, you'll see I am ambivalent. But yes, I suppose do fault limited offerings for taste. And then, in the next breath, I point out how those with amazing offerings have also demonstrated questionable taste.

                                      1. re: Lizard

                                        didn't mean to take away the levity...just that living in the bay area was weighing on me last night and I was going through one of my 'wish I could just leave the big city' phases :-)

                                        but really, there is a lot to love about Pittsburgh, in my admittedly somewhat limited experience...

                                      2. re: susancinsf

                                        So susancinsf, you're born and raised in San Francisco? Perhaps that is why you have your perspective and I have mine.

                                        I grew up and spent a significant part of my life surrounded by a family and peer culture that did not encourage any sort of exotic eating.

                                        There's an insidious ethnic xenophobia in suburban middle America (well, at least where I grew up in central New Jersey and central Missouri) whose culture does not encourage eating outside the comfort zone of clean, sterilized, safe, standard food. I'm not making this up, Susan-- I lived it for 23 years.. not just in my family life, but in the daily grind of people you meet every day... the gas station attendant, the guy at the post office. There's just something about daily life in small town suburban America the culture that compartmentalizes and diminishes things that are different... not always explicitly, but subtlely. One time on the ride home from the airport, the cabbie and I talked about food. I asked him if he had ever had Indian food and he audibly retched. But he was happy to rave about the "meatball parm" at his favorite pizzeria. Clearly this was his comfort zone (as it is for most people in suburban central New Jersey, where red sauce Italian food is as American as hamburgers and fries)

                                        Thankfully I managed to break out of this mold (and I'm still looking for a great meatball parm in LA), but I'm *sure* there are a lot more people like me who never left the suburbs, who never traveled outside the country, who are traveling down the same well-worn path that I used to. And granted most of them likely have the same inherent xenophobia that the cabbie did. But I *know* there are those sleeping Chowhounds that would thrive and break free if only they knew how to get out.

                                        That's the hardest part. When you live in that culture, it's hard to even know where to begin, or... and this is key.... **THAT THERE EVEN IS A CHOICE TO BE MADE** (sorry about the caps... can't figure out how to italicize).

                                        Simply recognizing that one even has the choice to buy, for example, grass-fed bison and raw milk gouda, can be a revelation for a "sleeping" chowhound, who has not realized his or her potential.

                                        Mr Taster

                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                          "There's an insidious ethnic xenophobia in suburban middle America (well, at least where I grew up in central New Jersey and central Missouri) whose culture does not encourage eating outside the comfort zone of clean, sterilized, safe, standard food."

                                          Ahhh Mr. Taster, finally a post that helps me understand your point of view. Mr. Taster, I think I do not disagree with you. I think for me it is a matter of semantics.

                                          I also grew up in a small city in the "midwest" (prairies in Canadian terms), but in a kind of inverted situation. I grew up as a child of an immigrant family, so my version of "insidious ethnic xenophobia" was "how come they don't eat rice?" and "why is all the food here so bland?". Same attitude, totally different food. When the immigrant community started to branch out and eat at non-immigrant cuisine restaurants, they gravitated to the cleanest, most sanitized, most consistent and most conservative restaurants they could find. Hence the popularity of a place like McDonald's, where you knew it would be the same product every time in a comfortable non-judgemental atmosphere. As you put it, "the comfort zone".

                                          You would think that being Korean, we would have been ok with going into Chinese restaurants. My mother was an early adopter of Chinese cooking in her home. But she was just as uncomfortable going into a small grungy neighbourhood Chinese joint. You would think that a woman who cooks spleen and crab roe could handle whatever they are going to put in the dumpling, but no.

                                          I have encountered this kind of xenophobia in ethnic communities in very big cities like Toronto, Montreal, NYC, L.A. And this attitude can be even worse in the country of origin, where there is even less cultural heterogeneity.

                                          My point is that xenophobia is not related to geography, a concept already well-expressed by Susancinsf and others. Xenophobia is an unfortunate personality characteristic that can be found all over the world, in small towns, in large cities, in all communities. White people in New Jersey and Missouri do not have a monopoly on xenophobia.

                                          I still go back to my hometown, and I I enjoy seeing how the place has changed. It's never going to have the choices you have in L.A. but it is much easier to shop and eat from diverse cultures. For me, the key indicator is the availability of many "ethnic" food products in the supermarket. Suddenly, I can find lychees, persimmons, curry spices and ingredients, coconut milk in the aisles of the local Safeway. When I shop in the Asian grocery store, there are <gasp> white people... And my mother has branched out into Phillipine style noodles, fruit tarts and pierogies.

                                          I think it is possible that you left these other areas at a time when the culinary tide was just starting to change. Smaller towns have slower rates of change than a big city. As you point out, you left just after the first Indian restaurant opened up. From your description of your meal, it seems to me you would have blossomed into the great Chowhound that you are now whether you had moved to L.A. or stayed in Missouri. The change would have been slower in Missouri, but it would have happened all the same. This change was not based solely on geography, but on your innate tendencies and preferences. It was aided by geography.

                                          Times are changing. People are becoming more adventurous with their food and are coming out of their shells. It is getting easier to buy all sorts of food products all over North America, not just in LA or NYC. I think I would have agreed with your letter 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago. But today, I'd say I agree with the concept, but have to take issue with the use of a place (Tulsa, New Jersey, Missouri) to denote an unpleasant attitude (xenophobia). Condemn the attitude, not the people who happen to live in a place other than LA.

                                          1. re: moh

                                            Times are changing. People are becoming more adventurous with their food and are coming out of their shells. It is getting easier to buy all sorts of food products all over North America, not just in LA or NYC. I think I would have agreed with your letter 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago. But today, I'd say I agree with the concept, but have to take issue with the use of a place (Tulsa, New Jersey, Missouri) to denote an unpleasant attitude (xenophobia). Condemn the attitude, not the people who happen to live in a place other than LA.

                                            Well said moh. With the internet, ability to ship and order so easily, I can't agree with a condemnation based upon geographical location. Particularly not from someone who has never been there.

                                            1. re: Firegoat

                                              Hi Firegoat and moh

                                              There is a difference, really, and its still present. Now sure, I haven't lived regularly in either of those places in 11 years, but I go back to visit often and I can tell you for certain that attitudes which are that deeply ingrained in the culture don't shift in such a short period of time. We're talking generations to change that sort of xenophobia, not the availability of just a few international food websites and increasing ethnic populations, which also take generations before "white america" accepts them into the fold. Look at Jewish immigrants generations ago versus Latin Americans now. Several generations from now, when Latin American immigrants have accumulated status and wealth, attitudes about them will shift. Do some people still hate Jews and Latin Americans? Yes... but hating on Jews is no longer socially acceptable whereas hating on Latin Americans is defending our borders.

                                              I still experience those xenophobic attitudes when I go back to NJ. My father didn't attend my sister's wedding or mine because we did not marry white people. My sister and her husband (who is half black and half Korean) who live in Brooklyn get all kinds of strange, uncomfortable looks when they wander into small towns. One time while visiting Mom in Central Missouri, we walked into a convenience store that felt like it could have been from the movie Deliverance... one guy stared at my brother in law so hard that he said "I have to get out of here" and dashed out the door. This is the heartland. This is "normal" America, outside those liberal hell holes where the city folk live. Do you think these people are of the mindset to seek out raw milk cheese or grass-fed bison or a great microbrew? Or is it going to be the All-American comfort zone of McDonald's and Budweiser? And how many people in the country *would* be interested in finding chowish alternatives, but whose growth is stunted by the attitudes of those in their family and friends, and... yes, by their geography? Social influence is a powerful thing, and when you combine that with lack or difficulty in availability (versus the ease of getting a McDonald's burger in any small town in America), and that sleeping chowhound in a small town in the Midwest might never be awakened.

                                              Now sure, those small-minded attitudes absolutely exist in LA too... but can you honestly say that it's in the same bold way? That the generational proliferation of these attitudes is the same? In my experience, even when visiting small towns on the fringes of LA, or in the LA suburbs of the valleys (which are hugely culturally and ethnically diverse), there's no palpable sense of the xenophobia I described at all. Is it there? Sure. But it's minimal, relegated, not acceptable the way that it is in suburban central New Jersey or central Missouri. So yes, in my experience geography *definitely* plays a part in attitudes of chowhoundiness.

                                              Mr Taster

                                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                                Oh Mr. Taster... You may not palpably sense the xenophobia, but I assure you, it is there. It may not come your way as a stare or a rude remark, but it is there. I'd almost rather it be out in the open, because then I can acknowledge it and address it.

                                                I have to assume you are Caucasian from your posts, so please excuse me if I'm wrong. But I think as a Caucasian in North America, you are somewhat shielded from subtle signs of xenophobia. I am Asian, but born in North America. I am as North American as anyone. But because I am not "white" I occasionally get a whiff of xenophobia, and it can be very subtle, but it is there and it is not limited by geography. And I have it pretty good, because I can "fit in with the crowd" very well.

                                                The times I have been confronted with outright rudeness in small towns, I have immediately been surrounded by people who are quick to denounce this behavior, or have seen embarrassed looks on the faces on those around me, who then continue to interact with me in a hyper-polite manner as if to try to make up for the awkward racist moment. In big cities, the racism comes off as disinterest. It is clear I am not "part of the crowd", but it is so subtle, it is hard to do anything about it, or to comment without people thinking you are making a fuss about nothing. So I smile, do the Asian demure thing, and fume inside.

                                                So yeah, small-minded attitudes exist in LA and in any big city. Just because they aren't pointing at you and laughing doesn't mean it's better.

                                                Please feel free to condemn the small-minded people in the world everywhere. But please stop labeling people based on where they grew up. There are Chowhounds everywhere, and a Chowhound can arise from anywhere if they have the right attitude. Labeling someone based on where they live isn't much different than labeling them based on skin colour, gender, the type of car they drive, the job they do. Mr. and Mrs. Smith from Tulsa might just surprise you if you forget where they are from and give them a chance.

                                                1. re: moh

                                                  Hi moh... I think what we're getting at is that the individual can go either left or right, be xenophobic or not.... but the group trends in one direction or another. Picture a flock of migrating birds. Each bird takes its own individual route, but seen as a group they trend in a specific direction.

                                                  My point is that as a group, the people in suburban, small town central Missouri or central New Jersey trend more xenophobic than the people of LA.

                                                  OF COURSE there are xenophobic people everywhere-- I would never argue otherwise. But it's a matter of degree, and viewed by geography, it's way more of a problem there than here.

                                                  For what it's worth, I am caucasian but my wife is Taiwanese. And I can tell you from personal experience, when my sister and I visit central Missouri, it's much harder for her (with her black/Korean husband) than me. However in our daily lives in LA and NY, neither my sis nor I have experienced anything even remotely like what we did central Missouri.

                                                  Mr Taster

                                                  1. re: moh

                                                    one additional point, moh... I would always give Mr and Mrs Smith from Tulsa a chance.

                                                    The individual *always* deserves a chance, and it is only fair to make judgments about someone based on their actions.

                                                    When you're talking about group trends, it's a totally different thing. Trends can be objectively observed, ugly (or beautiful) as they may be... but my point is that there is an objective reality with groups that is not present with individuals, who make independent choices.

                                                    I am not condemning the unnamed individuals of central Missouri and New Jersey that I have never met and do not know personally... I am making observations on the overall trend of the group, based on my experiences living (and visiting) there during my 33 years.

                                                    Mr Taster

                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                      Mr. Taster, I'm glad to hear you'd give Mr. and Mrs. Smith from Tulsa a chance. :)

                                                      As I initially mentioned, I don't disagree with your point of view. In fact, I know where it is coming from, as I think I've probably had a similar if slightly altered experience. The concept I can deal with.

                                                      I think all I am asking you to do is to consider a more diplomatic way to express the concept. Because the Smiths do take these kind of comments as personal attacks about the place they live. Why antagonize people with inopportune words and generalizations? Why not talk about group trends from the start?

                                                      (Whoops! Falling into the Tulsa thing again - sorry.)

                                                      1. re: moh

                                                        That's always been an issue with me... I'm not shockingly blunt or anything in person, but I do express my thoughts and ideas in a way that a certain kind of people find engaging and another sort of person takes offense at.

                                                        It may not be terribly diplomatic, but that doesn't mean these observations I make aren't true, and it is frustrating to me when that second group of people take offense at something when really I'm just trying to have a conversation.

                                                        The upshot of all this is that the people who operate in the same way as I do tend to be deeply sympatico, and I've got several dear lifelong friends who know they can be fully honest with me as I am with them.

                                                        So if my conversational manner helps to weed out people from my life that I'd need to walk on eggshells around, then I don't see any need to change my ways :)

                                                        Mr Taster

                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                          Mr. Taster, I'm sure we are more similar than we know! I have often been told that I have no line (ie. I cross the line and live on the other side...).

                                                          And I hope you understand that I am indeed trying to have a conversation, and that I am not taking offense.

                                                          "It may not be terribly diplomatic, but that doesn't mean these observations I have aren't true"

                                                          "True" is a difficult word. "True" implies that the other observations are "false". People may take offense at being told they are wrong. It is much easier to have a conversation if you don't feel like you are being attacked. So perhaps something like "That doesn't mean these observations have some element of truth, and warrant vigorous discussion. Let us discuss over a good meal and some yummy red wine..."

                                                          1. re: moh

                                                            The eggshells are deafening!

                                                            Mr Taster

                                                          2. re: Mr Taster

                                                            Mr Taster, I'm sorry you're frustrated with us. But I have failed to see where your observations were true on this topic. You've basically made an opinion on a Tulsa you've never been to, and based it on stereotypes of I guess a childhood some 10 years ago. Nothing I say about thanks to the internet and the availability of great food in the midwest is going to change your mind, however.
                                                            I do hope your dear friends do get fully honest with you someday about making stereotypical generalizations.

                                                            1. re: Firegoat

                                                              But stereotypes are such a time saver!

                                                              1. re: Firegoat

                                                                I'm not looking to make enemies of anyone but I feel Tulsa can be representative of what a larger midwest city can be like. Tulsa does have some sophisticated residents but all around it are Oakies with marginalized tastebuds and little experience eating "outside the box". I was once married to one and have worked with many.
                                                                I asked my sister how many good restaurants there are in Tulsa and she said "five". This jives fairly well with research I did on CH about Tulsa restaurants. Tulsa has 382,000 residents.
                                                                In contrast New Haven has 120,000 people and three times the density of Tulsa. There are some significant connected cities which, combined, might bump up the "New Haven area" to 200,000. Yet, New Haven itself has far more good restaurants. Yale is a magnet for people from all over the world (who are very often fairly sophisticated already) so there is a diverse selection of ethnic restaurants in the area, as well.
                                                                Again, I back Mr Tasters premise, generalizations and all.

                                                                1. re: Scargod

                                                                  You make an extremely good point re: density of quality restaurants vs. population. This is at the heart of what I was trying to communicate.

                                                                  When you live in a city where there's more opportunity to eat good food, by simple probability and availability(!) more people (not all, but more) will get used to eating good things.

                                                                  To illustrate, Imagine that 1,000 people (from LA, MO, NJ or anywhere) drive down two different stretches of road, each with 50 restaurants.

                                                                  Now imagine one strech of road has 45 McDonald's/fast food and 5 quality restaurants.

                                                                  The other stretch of road has 45 quality restaurants and 5 McDonald's.

                                                                  In the first scenario, I would hypothesize that a larger percentrage of those 1,000 people would stop at one of the 45 McDonald's, rather than at one of the 5 "unknowns".

                                                                  In the second, is it not fair to estimate that a somewhat smaller percentage of those McDonald's customers would have choosen to eat somewhere else?

                                                                  I maintain that sheer density of bad food guides people's decisions... **as a group trend**. However the individual always has a personal choice in the matter.

                                                                  Mr Taster

                                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                    But if you are going to make generalizations... you will have to back them up with numbers... but also look into the qualitive aspects of true culinary sophistication. As Veggo pointed out there is some very good eating, cooking & food sophistication wrapped up in rural humility & ignorance in the country... a type of sophistication that only people who are actually connected to the land (no going to the Ferry Building Farmers Market in San Francisco and smelling the soil & the elephant urine used to grow those heirloom tomatoes picked 24 hours ago doesn't count).

                                                                    On paper, I am certainly more "sophisticated" than many of my relatives in rural Mexico... but my god am I humbled by some of their palettes, perceptiveness & cooking ability. I still remember my first lessons about terroir... a true understanding of terroir, not some urbanite like me trying to sound smart.... when they were explaining to me why Abuelitas cheeses had the best flavor, or Grand Uncle Chava had the best tasting well water, why people went of their way for the Amezquita dulces de leche... or having them descern the exact combination of chiles in a regional famed Mole paste.

                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                      I was thinking of all the good home-cooked meals I have had at homes of country folk. That is the stock I came from. Truly they can make some very fine food. I still fix and eat some of that on occasion. I pick and choose and perhaps craft it more carefully and healthfully.
                                                                      My (more) negative memories are of chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried chicken, fried okra and mashed potatoes with gravy. Mushy while bread and greasy, overcooked food. You'd finish a meal and feel totally bloated and lethargic. The most quality, skill and inspiration I saw seemed to be saved for desserts, like cakes and pies.

                                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                        Hi Eat Nopal--

                                                                        I think its certainly interesting and highly relevant to the topic at hand to talk about how the group behaves and eats versus the individual.

                                                                        It's the nature of our world that no rules are absolute. For every small towner that eats excellent, high quality, and/or interesting food there's a big city person chowing down on a big mac. But group trends are not as subjective, and as such we can discuss them with objectivity.

                                                                        Again, consider the flock of migrating birds.... the individual bird may be flying west, but the overall trend of the group is that they are flying north. There is an objective reality to the group of birds that does not necessarily apply to the individual, and that is what I feel is relevant to the discussion at hand.

                                                                        Mr Taster

                                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                          The problem is you keep bringing up Tulsa without ever having visited or even gathering statistics on what they have & don't have.

                                                                          Also... consider the number of Big City people that "eat well" just by mindlessly following other people's opinions & doing what they think makes the cool or a legitemate foodie... without really having their own ideas or palette? Also what is it to "eat well"... do people in NY eat well? Why do they put up with so much bad produce... does the majority of people in NYC actually know what a tomato should taste like? And have analyzed & thought about all the Francophile "foodie" snobs that would pass up that Korean restaurant just like your example of the uncultured Midwesterner?

                                                                          Being an Angeleno and having lived in West L.A... I can tell you there isn't a great unassailable culinary culture there. For god's sake we have people on Chowhound raving about C&O Trattoria!

                                                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                            Sure sure sure, all true. Tulsa retracted, Central MO and NJ inserted.

                                                                            Again, these are my observations on the group trends of people in suburbs.

                                                                            Can't I make an observation that the birds are flying north without providing empirical proof of such?

                                                                            "No, no, THAT bird is flying WEST! Ha ha!"
                                                                            "But, as a group, they are flying north," says Mr Taster.
                                                                            "BUT THAT BIRD is flying DOWN! Ha!"
                                                                            "But, as a group, they are still flying north," says Mr Taster.
                                                                            "Show me the proof in numbers that those birds are flying north."
                                                                            "It's just my observation," says Mr Taster.
                                                                            "You have to back it up with facts."
                                                                            "I'm just trying to have an interesting conversation," says Mr Taster.

                                                                            *sigh*!
                                                                            Mr Taster

                                                                            1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                              Mr. Taster, why the sigh? You are having an interesting conversation.

                                                                  2. re: Firegoat

                                                                    It's not about the individual pockets of chowhoundliness.

                                                                    It's all about the Birds, Birds, Birds... (see elsewhere in this thread)

                                                                    Mr Taster

                                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                      Look... I know what you are referring to... I remember a co-worker from St. Paul... whose favorite condiment was Ketchup... it had to go on everything... nothing wrong with that... but she just thought the rest of the California Fruits & Nuts in the office were absolutely crazy for eating Sushi & exotic foods... and omg the faces she would make when she saw my food. Finally the last few weeks before she moved back to the Midwest she finally loosened up and went to Tacomiendo (a little Oaxacan taqueria)... and the Chile Relleno in Tomato-Epazote caldillo absolutely blew her away... and she evidently regretted all the years that she would never have considered walking into a place like that.

                                                                      What I haven't experience in my life... are the generalizations that you have pointed. Like her... were 90% of the Beverly Hills, Brentwood & Malibu upper middle class, highly educated Jewish "foodies" and a similar percentage of the Orange County Anglos who were well traveled & suppossed sophisticated that I have met. At the same time... I have personally met many people from Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska... and other flyover places that the Bi-Coastals wouldn't know where to locate on a map... that are truly there to Chowdown with the best.

                                                                      Without conducting a census... I find that in general... most places in the U.S. do yield about the same percentage of Wackos way off on the end of the normal curve that join me, you & other Wackos here on Chowhound and at your local, friendly, neighborhood hole in the wall.

                                                                      I know you just want to make a general observation of the flock... but I have to tell you... if we are going to do that based on our limited life experiences... then I will tell you that L.A. generally cares more about convenience & appearance / popularity than good food... and makes the consumption decisions that reflect that.... further proof just stand in line at Pink's or Tito's Tacos to realize what a bunch of clueless sheep, we Angelenos are!

                                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                        Hey, Tito's is justifiably awful, but I've yet to find another dog in LA with the same tight pop and snap as Pink's ;)

                                                                        (Having said that, I'll only get a Pink's dog when the line is short!)

                                                                        Mr Taster

                                                              2. re: Mr Taster

                                                                Mr. Taster - I too am glad that you would give Mr. and Mrs Smith from Tulsa a chance. While I am not from Tulsa, I am from just down the road - Oklahoma City, which probably has an even greater reputation as being a "backwater". However, to put one point in perspective, it is not necessarily true that cities in the Midwest do not have large ethnic groups in their midst. Oklahoma City is a good example of this. During the Vietnam War, Oklahoma City was a refugee destination for displaced Vietnamese, so for the last 30-odd years, the Vietnamese community has been a great influence in the city. There are many excellent Pho Houses and French/Vietnamese restaurants here, as well as several asian markets - oneof these has some of the freshest seafood in the region - they have it transported in each day. We also have a large Hispanic group as well, including immigrants not just from the various regions of Mexico, but also from Central and South America. I feel I am very blessed to have been raised in an adventurous, open-minded Midwestern family which encouraged trying new foods and experiences. I am also blessed to have had the opportunity to travel extensively, so I am able to try foods that may not be available in my home city. I am an avid fan of Japanese Ramen, especially Tonkatsu Ramen, and have been eagerly waiting for a Japanese Noodle House to open in this area - sadly none have done so as yet, so I am forced to make biweekly trips to one of the Asian markets for supplies to cook my own - not nearly as good as what I have had, but passible nonetheless. My point is this - while the diversity of ethnic groups may not be as diverse in the Midwest as larger cities or those on the coasts, there is good ethnic food to be had across the country - at least that has been my experience. You just have to be willing to get off the beaten track and search it out - and you are correct in saying that the best food can usually be found in the small hole-in-the-wall establishments. Some of the best ethnic dishes I have eaten have been from food carts and small restaurants where I have been the only one to speak English.

                                                                1. re: OKFood

                                                                  Welcome to Chowhound, OKFood. OKC has a lot going for it. Witness not just the vibrancy of Little Saigon, but also the growing network of local suppliers growing for the farmer's markets, and the growing number of upscale restaurants.

                                                        2. re: moh

                                                          Your comment about what you see in the grocery store rings very true. I was recently in a very small town in Utah, near the Nevada border, and had reason to go grocery shopping...anyway, the store had as good a selection of Mexican foods (i.e. fresh nopales; tomatillos, more) as the Safeway near my home in the Mission district of SF.

                                                        3. re: Mr Taster

                                                          actually, I spent most of my childhood in Houston Texas...though yes, I was born in the bay area, and kept coming back....

                                                      2. re: Lizard

                                                        Yes, that's exactly it. We make our judgments and assessments (for food and otherwise) based not upon some objective, universal truth, but on our own subjective life experiences.

                                                        Mr Taster

                                                    2. re: susancinsf

                                                      btw, I have a good friend who was born and raised in Manhattan, and spent most of his adult life within a stone's throw of there. But just as my life took me to Las Vegas, his took him to Tulsa...when his spouse was offered her dream job there. He may or may not frequent these boards (I have told him he should), but he definitely is a chowhound. He was always the one in the group to check out new and different restaurants when we met for business in different parts of the country. He is also an accomplished cook, and would probably challenge the Yimster to a boneless chicken throwdown...even though he's a nice Jewish boy. So when he left for Tulsa his friends worried out loud to him that he would be bored by the food options (yes, even we had some of those stereotypes). He reports back often with long email blogs, and he has found no dearth of great food of all ethnic varieties. So, yes, even in Tulsa good food is to be had if you have a chowhound attitude....

                                                      1. re: janetofreno

                                                        I am entirely in agreement with you... and in fact you have helped me to prove my point. Your friend from Manhattan was exposed to a world of flavors. His inner Chowhound had awoken. When he moved to Tulsa, he continued to follow his Chowhoundly instincts (it's what I would do as well).

                                                        Although a lack of opportunity to discover new and exciting flavors does not *automatically* mean that one cannot find them, it does make this search much more difficult, and therefore much easier to procrastinate on or never pursue.

                                                        Let's face it-- most people do not pursue food with the passion that Chowhound's do. Certainly this is the case with the people in my world (aside from my wife, thankfully!!)

                                                        If you're a fully realized chowhound, you'll seek them out... no question about it.

                                                        The dilemma as I see it comes from those who have the *potential* to become adventurous Chowhounds, but live in a smaller town and:

                                                        1) Don't know where to begin, and so you procrastinate (in my Missouri college town, eating standard Punjabi Indian food classified me as an "exotic eater")
                                                        2) Don't have friends who are chowhounds (chowhounds can certainly awaken other potential chowhounds)
                                                        3) Have friends who are also "sleeping" chowhounds who also don't know where to begin
                                                        4) Don't have local alternative weekly papers like LA Weekly to point out hidden treasures
                                                        5) Don't have the money to spend lots of cash at expensive restaurants which, in smaller cities, are more likely to have a chef with creative flair **
                                                        6) Don't know about Chowhound (in my case, Chowhound didn't exist when I lived in the Midwest)

                                                        ** This is based on my experiences living in small town America.... in the absence of an abundance of cheap ethnic eateries, "normally" priced food = status quo food. In LA this is certainly not the case, where cheap, excellent, interesting, flavorful food abounds

                                                        So please know that I am not saying that Tulsa or any other smaller city does not have Chowhound potential. What I am saying is that if you're from white middle class, suburban America, diverse ethnic or excitingly different food tends to be compartmentalized into an exotic curiosity rather than being seen as a realistic everyday contender for your meal dollar.

                                                        Getting back to the original topic, RR's list would appeal to this once in a while exotically curious restaurant that middle America would feel very safe with, while exercising just a little bit of wildness.

                                                        Mr Taster

                                                        1. re: janetofreno

                                                          My son was reading this post and warning me about a possible throwdown for boneless chicken. It is only a rumor that I make this dish no one has seen me do it. Just as Susaninsf.

                                                          I would love a dream job is Vegas, remember I live outside of the Bay Area and long for the food heaven out there.

                                                        2. re: susancinsf

                                                          Hi susancinsf--

                                                          I'm attempting to clarify my intent, not modify my logic. I never meant to imply that reaching one's chowhound potential implies a gourmet's encyclopedic knowledge of every single type of food and drink.

                                                          Refer back to my complete agreement with uptown jimmy's comment... "the more i learn, the less I know." Part of reaching one's chowhound potential is becoming acutely aware of how *little* one knows... and that's the exciting part. When the chowhound sleeper awakens, one becomes aware of a whole new world, and one suddenly realizes how large one's universe has become.

                                                          But this is really aside from the main point-- which is that I am attempting to point out is that many people take it personally and become defensive when you try to describe that same concept to them.
                                                          Some people get what I'm saying, and others have a knee jerk emotional response. Perhaps the real root of the issue is simply a divergence in personality between those who have the ability to feel comfortable while being criticized and those who do not.

                                                          Of course pointing this out too is likely to offend, regardless of truth of the matter. That can be very frustrating for those of us who just want to have a dialogue and be free to criticize or discuss openly.

                                                          By the way, the town I went to school in had about 40-80,000 people at the time (depending on whether school was in or out). Once you left the city limits, it was pretty much soybean fields for 2 hours in every direction before reaching a larger town. Most of our country is filled with small towns like this-- not big metropolitan areas with sprawling suburbs like LA or SF where it's possible to find significant ethnic enclaves or a global diversity of foodstuffs that would allow the sleeping chowhound to awaken.

                                                          Bear in mind that there was some OK to decent food. It was never intent to imply that a lack of immigrant population means the food is swill. But when I was there, largely the restaurants were just not that exciting to me. Italian. Bad Mexican. Sub shops. Bad to OK pizza. Lots of chain restaurants. Americanized Chinese. I do recall that there was a wine & cheese bistro restaurant which has since gone out of business, so perhaps there could have been some potential there for chowhoundly awakening.... but that's not really the point, because my main issue is that there was just not the massive proliferation of great and interesting flavors that I had never tried before. That's why I described my first experience at that Indian restaurant as an awakening...... it really opened me up to a world of flavors that I never knew existed before! Soon after that meal, I graduated and moved to LA, an spent several years figuring out what this city had to offer. I then discovered Chowhound, and then Jonathan Gold's column in the LA weekly, and from that point on there was no turning back.

                                                          Mr Taster

                                                        3. re: Mr Taster

                                                          If you really believe that the only cheese available in central Missouri is Cracker Barrel, then you should spend more time worrying about your own ability to reach your "full potential." Maybe it was the only cheese that was offered at your local supermarket at the time. Certainly it might have been the only cheese you were aware of. But the nature of chowhounds is that they seek out good food.

                                                          It's a fair assumption that Columbia has less to offer than LA. You might have to ask more questions, drive longer distances, and put up with more disappointing meals to find great chow in the area. And let's face it: since each of us is constantly learning about how to find the good stuff (why else read this board?), your ability and desire to track down outstanding food during your college days may have been significantly less developed than they are now. Couple that with the absence of resources like this board, and you're on the express train to the land of Cracker Barrel cheese on Ritz crackers with Beringer White Zin.

                                                          But now that you're a "fully fledged" chowhound, you should know that you don't have to accept mediocre food no matter where you are. If for some reason you end up in Columbia (or Tulsa, or Los Banos, or Tuscaloosa) at dinnertime, hopefully you won't just head for the nearest Olive Garden. Instead, look for the good stuff. It's out there.

                                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                                            To all who replied regrading food procurement, I would rather be in Tulsa than in Cali, Colombia.

                                                            I take an empty suitcase when I travel all over to bring back: Japanese rice, all types of Asian noodles, nori, canned smoked eel, toasted sesame seed oil, masaharina, bulk spices, dried maize husks, cookware, fish sauce, oyster sauce, maple syrup, peanut butter, cheeses, dried meats, dried fish, and more.

                                                            In the years I've been here things have improved: we can get ginger, daikon, asparagus, napa, spring onions, artichokes--in addition to a wide range of tropical and temperate fruits and vegetables. Can now also get tofu, miso, couscous. Another plus is that the butchers in the main grocery stores do sell all cuts--all the parts.

                                                            But, overall, I'll bet that it is easier to stock a good kitchen in Tulsa than in many, many parts of the world.

                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              I admit, as most of you know. I was the Tulsan who complained about the slight being done to the city/state. I now further admit, that while I lived in Tulsa for some years, I now live 20 miles from it, on a farm. My closest town is some 8 miles away, and it is all of 2000 people.
                                                              Did I grow up just in Tulsa? No. I'm not a native.
                                                              Have I ever traveled to the coasts or other countries? yes.
                                                              What do I find by living how I do, beyond the wonderful lights of L.A. and their cheese that isn't in a green tube?
                                                              I invite every chowhound to come to the area, and please message me on your way in.
                                                              I can show you the organic side of lamb I can buy from the monestary and pick up at the butcher.
                                                              I can show you the organic pig that is raised to my preference.
                                                              I can show youthe grass fed beef and bison raised by my brother in law. Or the organic garden in front of my house. Is it exotic? No. Mostly heritage plants that I enjoy eating.
                                                              I can show you the dairy where I can buy raw milk for my cheesemaking as well as their own cheeses -- or we can drive to Tulsa for any sort of cheese you might like from a variety of sources, or McAlester for specific imports.
                                                              I can show you one of the most wonderful Austrian sausage makers in the U.S. (Siegei's)
                                                              And some of the best hole-in-the-wall bar-b-q to be found .... even if it isn't Korean and trendy.
                                                              And frankly, I could go on and on with cheeses, ethnic foods, wonderful restaurants and talented chefs. Feel free to click on my blog which is horribly behind, yet which has links to wonderful markets for cheese, fresh seafood and such.... YES ! in Tulsa!
                                                              Am I culinary stunted by -- and here I use Mr. Taster's words -- It is in this regard that people from smaller cities simply have less opportunity (and less inclination due to peer influence, etc.) -- my peers? --- I don't think so.
                                                              My peers encourage trying new restaurants, new recipes, new ideas... why would you think that peer influence in Tulsa would be different from other cities?
                                                              If you want to generalize about the Tulsa food scene, please feel free to visit me on your way in. Because if you haven't tried it -- and believe me.... its not perfect, its not going to be imperial Korean -- but don't write it off without trying it.

                                                              1. re: Firegoat

                                                                A fellow Okie tips his hat for your nicely summarizing the fact that one's food life can be good even outside the islands of urban elitism.

                                                                Each of us has the right to define, for ourselves, what constitutes the parameters of our full Chowhound potential. For some of us, it comes not in a stream of restaurant experiences, but from a well prepared home cooked meal, well considered, well researched, provisioned from a network of local producers wherever possible.

                                                                Some of us prefer to live a bit lower in the economic strata, growing a garden and sharing and bartering it's bounty and increasing our relationships with like minded foodies. There is great beauty to be found in growing your own basil, mastering the chiffonade, testing the herb's tolerance to heat and timing of addition to the dish, and also storing your own pesto in the freezer for use in the colder months.

                                                                I've lived in The Big City and commuted on both crowded subways and stalled highways, and eaten in the big time restaurants. I am now where I am, by choice, raisin' ruckus in the kitchen and enjoying my role in a community developing some really neat food niches where people can feel fulfilled. There are very few dishes that cannot be provisioned and cooked in my city.

                                                                1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                  FoodFuser.... I agree completely. Everything you've said here is compatible with the points I've been trying to make.

                                                                  Mr Taster

                                                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                    mr. taster, so fuser is the exception to your observations? because i'm presuming fuser (from his regular, great posts) to be a hound with diverse food interests. and....i'll bet he's not "bitter" ;-)

                                                                    i grew up in southwest florida, with good home cooking. but even in high school i was interested in international foods -- and cooked them, too. i know not everyone has similar interests -- or opportunities to explore. but i am weary of people in small towns or suburbia being slandered -- as you do in sneering at "small town suburban middle class white America" (your words).

                                                                    yeah, i guess stereotypes are such a timesaver! (thank you, lizard).

                                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                                      How then would you then suggest that I refer to the small town suburban middle class white America of my youth, without calling it small town suburban middle class white America?

                                                                      Mr Taster

                                                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                        Well I think a starting point would be acknowledging that it is something of your youth. Things change.
                                                                        10 years ago I wasn't corresponding with a Belgian and Swedish cook online regularly. I wasn't ordering cheese online. I wasn't reading a variety of food blogs from wonderful chefs. The world has gotten smaller, even if I'm still white and middle class and small town.

                                                                        1. re: Firegoat

                                                                          Actually, I'd point out that the world has become smaller to you precisely because you are white and middle class and living in the global north. The world is still not open to everyone.

                                                                          1. re: Lizard

                                                                            Of the 160+ countries in the world, There are probably 30 that I don't feel I could comfortably or safely visit; specifically because I am white and middle class and living in the global north.

                                                                            1. re: Veggo

                                                                              I don't know what kind of rejoinder that is. But the idea that you feel that save for health and safety issues you COULD visit many nations, I'd say you'd be demonstrating my point about the unequal access that exists, even in this era of globalisation. But do eat up where you visit, and be sure to tell us all about it.

                                                                2. re: Firegoat

                                                                  I, a Texan, with 50 years of Dallas under my belt, traveled, camped and stayed all over OK over a period of 35 years. My tastes for food evolved significantly over the last 20 years.
                                                                  Most of OK is a wasteland for good food. Yes, there is Tulsa and other good-sized cities and towns that have some decent restaurants.
                                                                  Mr. Taster, I believe, is right on the mark. The "average" Oakie would need their hand held in LA or NYC. I don't mean to single out Oakies, either.
                                                                  My sister lives in Tulsa and used to live in Sand Springs (kinda like a suburb of Tulsa). Sand Springs had virtually no good places to eat.
                                                                  I will ask her what her take on this is since she will be arriving here today. We are going to do the culinary delights of New Haven to wow her and her husband. This is a sort of tongue-in-cheek statement since she grew up in Dallas and spent most of her life there. She is no stranger to good food. Perhaps a stranger to good Italian...
                                                                  One other point: I know many people who will not venture into a place if it does not look fancy, doesn't have credit card stickers plastered all over the window or doesn't serve wine. They miss out on a lot.

                                                                3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                  Hey, Sam--

                                                                  Funny, it never occurred to me that the Columbia I was talking about (the college town in central Missouri) shares a name with your current country of residence. Sorry for any confusion.

                                                                  But your post kind of proves the point that chowhounds can bloom anywhere they're planted. You find the best chow you can in Cali and import the ingredients you can't find locally. And if you ended up in Tulsa, it's a fair bet that you would not dine on a rotation of Red Lobster, Applebee's, and TGI Friday's.

                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                    ab, too funny. I didn't confuse Columbia and Colombia. That was coincidental. I just picked a place to jump in the conversaation regarding the availability of foodstuffs. Yes, my point was that it is probably easier to get needed stuff anywhere in the US--be it Columbia, Tulsa, or Paris, Texas--than many to most places outside of the US.

                                                                4. re: alanbarnes

                                                                  I agree entirely with everything you've said.

                                                                  Mr Taster

                                                            2. Is it all about the "comfort zone"? Maybe. But, I have seen a lot of stories on the TeeVee about some really fabulous looking "divey" locations to eat. I'm dying to try some of them, someday. But you know what? I can point to several locations here in my med-size central Missouri town that are all "mom and pop" ... but they SUCK! You can't judge all those books by their covers, to use a poor metaphor. Sometimes, it's about "I want something GOOD to eat, and today, I don't want to gamble - not on the ethnic hole-in-wall, not on the glitzy place-du-jour." So you have to go with what you know, or the next best thing - a recommendation from someone you trust and share taste with.

                                                              And sometimes, just sometimes, that means that family (regrettably) will end up at Applebees.

                                                              That's why I so enjoy CH. Every time I've traveled, I've come here to figure out where those "other" places are. And it's worked every time.

                                                              You know, I recall my dear assistant from a few years back was just thrilled as she planned their family trip to the Gulf and discovered there was a whole strip filled with Applebees, Red Lobster, chain steakhouses, etc., where they could eat down there. I shook my head, but I knew I wasn't going to be talking her into finding nonchain places with just-caught shrimp. I did get her to try my homemade shiu mai once.......... Maybe that's cuz she trusted me......