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May 8, 2008 07:40 PM

'Foreign' food that's better in the US

I'm curious - what cuisine do you like more at home (here in the states) than in its country of origin?

I like the Indian at Bombay Grill & Taste of India more than the food I actually had in Bombay or Goa. I realize this is a matter of taste & upbringing (and probably luck while traveling), but I'm still curious. I also had a West African meal in France that I can't imagine would have been better anywhere in the world.

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  1. I've mentioned this before - I've been to Din Tai Fung (the famed Chinese dumpling house with branches now scattered all around the world) in both Los Angeles and Taipei, and I thought the L.A. branch had better execution. Incidentally, I did not have any wait time at all at the original branch in Taipei. Do the locals now know something I don't? Or was it just a case of high expectations, combined with the uncomfortable 90-plus degree weather outside?

    Still, the best dumplings I've had were in Shanghai, not the U.S. :-)

    1 Reply
    1. re: HungWeiLo

      There are no good dumplings in Shanghai; xlb, maybe. But dumplings no.

    2. My filipino friends generally agree with me that filipino food in the US can be better than in the Philippinies--less greasy and less salty, more vegetables, spicier, lighter cooking, hot dishes served hot.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Also, deep fried dishes fried at a higher temperature, and cooked longer so that they're more crisp while still being flavorful, or cooked the same time but not tired and limp.

        The variety of ingredients is simply broader in America.

        But this could be said for a lot of cuisines, not just Filipino.

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Ditto for American food here in Canada. ;)

          1. re: mrbozo

            That is possible... at least in Vancouver in noticed 2 things:

            1) The overwhelming dominance of "American" dishes in the mainstream Canadian bars & grills etc., (Has Vancouver ever invented its own dishes.... or is like Canadian actors in the Hollywood... you just wouldn't know they are really Canadian until you read the Bio).

            2) The average quality of many ingredients (Lettuces, Bread etc.,) and attention to execution of simple things like Frittes...

            I would certainly agree that Vancouver's take on American standards seems superior to say Seattle's take on American standards... you might have something.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              The Bars and Grills here are essentially copycats of American Bars and Grills. The portions are smaller...but in a good way. I'm always blown away by the HUGE portions at the American versions of these types of places. I just can't imagine actualy finishing anything...I feel guilty for leaving half my plate unfinished.

              Vancouver inventions? I don't know if there are any that have turned into a "classic" like Gumbo, Philly Cheeseteak etc. Perhaps some sushi & izakaya constructions or dim sum fare.

              Wait...there is one: Japadog. I'm pretty sure this thing is unique to this city...someone correct me if I'm wrong.

              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                Disagree completely. Canadian versions of American regional cuisine is always a pathetic failure, and Vancouver is the worst among them.

                Somebody (a Vancouverite naturally) fed me some snark about how he loves chicken fried steak but he'd "never move to Calgary just to eat it." Ha ha, Calgary cowboy rednecks in Canada's "most American" city luuuurve their chicken fried steak, ya hooo! Except he was 100% WRONG. The only place I've seen this delicacy on the menu here is at horrible chains like Montanas. We don't do "American" right in Calgary and they sure as hell don't in Vancouver.

                Sorry for the rant but unless you've LIVED in both countries you have no idea what you're talking about. I lived in the US to age 33 and have been in Canada for 11 years. Canada (its cities at least) has spectacular ethnic diversity and with an immigration proportion that is twice that of the US, we have more and more authentic ethnic options than most countries in the world. We do NOT have good "American" food. We have US chains and US-inspired chains. That's it.

                1. re: John Manzo

                  I have never had CFS in Vancouver..... but things like Grilled Salmon over Salad Greens, Sweet Potato Fries, Burgers, Sandwiches, Thin Crust Pizza etc., at random Downtown Traps were better than their equivalents in Seattle (for example at Sport or McNemnims sp? etc.,).... none of these places were Chow favorites... just average places... but its clear that Vancouver has an edge on many ingredients & execution.

                  1. re: John Manzo

                    Have to agree with you, John. Lots of great food in Canada, but no good versions of the American classics. Lots of "BBQ" spots, but nothing that touches Texas, Memphis, Carolina, etc. Lots of "Cajun" places, but nothing that touches New Orleans.

                    We used to have a great burger chain in Toronto called "Toby's" which rivaled the best burgers I'd had in the states, but alas, it's gone. And Canada has never produced a unique burger like "White Castle" or "Maid-Rite".

                    CFS? In Toronto, the closest you can get is the schnitzel at some of the old Hungarian haunts like the Blue Cellar room, but they lack the cream gravy of the original. Canada can't even produce something as prosaic as Waffle Hut. (Tim's no longer counts with its centrally produced doughnuts.)

                    Ethnic (especially Asian) foods? I'd put Toronto and Vancouver up against any city in the US for quality, execution, and flavour. We have some very good steak houses, and classic European cuisines like French, Italian, and Greek are very well represented.

                    But overall, I agree; classic American cuisine is not done very well in Canada.

            2. Not exactly on topic but I think a lot of dishes and recipes that Americans associate with a particular country's cuisine are actually American versions of them or completely made up dishes that immigrants made up once they got here and aren't even available back in their home countries. I'm thinking corn beef and cabbage. It doesn't exist in Ireland. It was "invented" by immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan who were living alongside Jews eating brisket. There are lots of beloved Italian-American dishes that are unreconizable to most Italians. I bet any large ethnic wave experienced the same phenomenon. They came here. They either couldn't find or couldn't afford the ingredients to make their traditional dishes like they did at home. So they found simiar things and adapted. These adaptations were introduced to the mainstream. A generation later, an American travels to that country and asks for X, gets Y or Z.

              25 Replies
              1. re: southernitalian

                I have had the best indian food of my life in Nairobi, and best Piri Piri in London.

                1. re: southernitalian

                  You are on spot. This is particularly true with mexican food. Tex-Mex is nothing like Mexican food in Mexico. I think Tex-Mex is a joke! Of course, every state in Mexico has their own unique dishes that most of us here in the states would not even recognize. I live in the southwest so we do cook a lot of Mexican dishes from Sonora, some of which are better than what you would get in Mexico but which is totally unlike the food in other parts of Mexico. I love Mexican food and have learned a lot of recipes, but I still have to laugh at "Tex-Mex". I digress! Sorry.

                  1. re: francelle

                    Why is Tex-Mex a joke? It's not Mexican, that is clear, but it is distinct. What makes it inferior to authentic Mexican? Just curious -- I have to ask when someone disses an entire category of cuisine like that. You seem to be implying that the region (Texas/Border Mexican) has no right to have developed a cuisine of their own -- or at least that is what your post reads like.

                    1. re: RGC1982

                      hi rgc, if i may butt in, i personally do not think tex mex is a joke--i know it has its passionate adherents--but it annoys me to no end when a tex mex place advertises itself as being "mexican". a lot of tex mex places around where i am still do that, though generally, the city has gotten better. if i've borne any grudges against tex mex, it would be for that reason.

                      1. re: cimui

                        Fair comment, but your grudge really needs to be directed toward the chain restaurants who push their product in the same way that Disney promotes the France pavillion at Epcot Center as a similar experience to visiting Paris. It's all marketing, and like it or not, most of the people in this country buy into it. I guess we Chowhounders like to think we know better. It's no different than Bennigan's trying to pretend to be the Irish pub on the corner.

                        I reacted to the joke comment because this kind of thing offends people. Most of us wouldn't dare insult Indian or Chinese or Middle Eastern cuisine with a similar broad statement. (Can you imagine saying "I think Chinese food is a joke" and that it makes you want to laugh at it? How many people would hear that without a challenge?) I really don't understand why the assault on this type of food. I don't have a vested interest in this -- I just want to know why someone can feel that an entire regional cuisine is something to be mocked.

                        1. re: RGC1982

                          >>Disney promotes the France pavillion at Epcot Center as a similar experience to visiting Paris.

                          oh c'mon, it's totally like paris, swamped with american tourists and all! :)

                          not sure saying "tex mex is a joke" is quite comparable to saying "chinese food is a joke." tex mex is about as well developed as hong kong chinese as a separate cuisine, i think. and some folks do denigrate HK chinese as just an awful bastardization of european food and chinese food, both. i happen to disagree. but to each her own!

                          fair point about the need to direct grudge towards chain restaurants (or better yet, get rid of it entirely), though. i fully realize it's irrational to hold an entire cuisine accountable for the sins of a few crap restaurants.

                          what are the really distinctive dishes in tex mex, would you say? the only one i can think of is queso fundido.

                          1. re: cimui

                            Comparing Tex Mex to Real Mexican IS a joke! Of the regional variations of Mexican cuisines its certainly the poor cousin... or as we Mexicans like to say its the lone ugly girl at the party who needs a dance partner!

                            Let the flaming... or as we say... the Queso Flameado begin!

                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                              You know, food is always always an emotional issue and has no tie to "reality." Doesn't matter whether it's TexMex, CalMex, FronteraMex, YucatanMex, BajaMex, or SexySinaloaMex, if you have a strong emotional bond with any of these (or another), especially if it goes back to childhood, THAT will be the best and most wonderful. And it won't matter at all how many black eyes you give or get, nothing will change your mind.

                              But of course, everyone knows that CalMex, and chiles relleno made with Anaheim peppers are the unequivocal best in the world. That's a given. '-)

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                You know... Cal Mex is responsible for the El Torito & Taco Bell chains... two major culprits for the crap that gets passed around as Mexican... the majority of the dishes that get assaulted as Tex-Mex crap were actually created in the Sub-urbs of L.A.... I think Cal Mex is certainly no better than Tex Mex.

                                I do realize food is an emotional issue... but like other things of personal & cultural preference there are ways to come up with measureable criteria. For example, we can look at all the music traditions around the world and come up with 10 to 15 attributes that particular songs, styles, genres & performers that are relevant 50+ years later all share in common. Similar we can do the same with food... I have no doubt that on any metrics drafted by a council of Chowhounds.... Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, New-Mex-Mex will be obliterated by Mexican.... there is just no comparison in the range.

                                Just like you pointed out earlier... in your experience with Mexican-American cuisine you never once saw a stalk of Asparagus.... Mexican cuisine on the other hand has the depth & breadth that (for those who really have experienced it) put its in the same ball park as other great culinary traditions like Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Indian etc.,

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  LOL! Honeybunch, you need to let your sense of humor out of the box to come and play for a while. You've had your nose stuck to the research grindstone too long! Far as I know, not a soul in a carload here has said anything about Mexican cuisine not being world class... Nobody, no how, no way!

                                  But wait a minute! Talk about bad mouthing! Just WHAT is wrong with El Torito? I *LOVE* their corn pudding or whatever those little squares of stuff they ration out like tires during WWII are... I once ordered five combo plates but only ate those. Deeeeelicious...!!! '-)

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    Sweet corn tamales. The other contender for "biggest combo glop Mexican-ish restaurant", Acapulco, has a buffet lunch in some locations -- like Glendale, CA -- and have these things available. I love them.

                            2. re: cimui

                              You are kidding about Hong Kong Chinese, right? It falls under the Cantonese category and is one of the great cuisines of China.

                              1. re: suse

                                no, i'm talking about things like coffee tea (half of each), ham and egg buns, spaghetti served with pork chop and ketchup sauce, that kind of thing -- not straight up cantonese, which is a very different story.

                                1. re: cimui

                                  Stop it, you're making me hungry!!

                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                    *laugh* it all sounds so awful on paper (ketchup sauce?), but some of it is surprisingly good...

                                    i love this thread:

                                  2. re: cimui

                                    OMG -- those sound awful and disgusting!

                                    1. re: RGC1982

                                      yeah, i know a lot of them do sound pretty bad, huh? the coffee tea is shockingly tasty, though. and the ham and cheese rice is also very good. you get this lovely crust from baking the rice in a casserole dish (sort of like a proper paella crust) while the ham and cheese cooked over top get all bubbly and toasty (like a KY hot brown). i knocked it until i tried it, too. that's not to say that all of these dishes come recommended though!

                                      1. re: RGC1982

                                        Oh no... junjong is delicious -- it's tea made with condensed milk and coffee made with condensed milk, in equal parts, over ice... and a ham and egg bun -- well, picture ham and eggs inside an unsplit Chick-Fil-A breakfast bun (you know, the slightly sweetened kind)... deeeeeeeeee-licious.

                                  3. re: cimui

                                    I am not sure that I know what is "authentic" Tex Mex, but flour tortillas wrapped around brisket are probably up there, if I had to guess. Chicken and sour cream enchildas? Tamales? I can't really say -- as I mentioned, I don't have a personal stake it in and never really gave it much thought. But -- I will admit that will eat ALL of it -- and I live in Texas, so there is a lot to choose from that is not at Taco Bell.

                                    1. re: RGC1982

                                      Have you traveled around the interior of Mexico to compare?

                                      1. re: RGC1982

                                        i think i'd eat almost anything with texas bbq brisket and like it! =) i was reading another post a while back about open faced tacos (sort of like sopes, i guess) he said were invented in texas, but spread back across the border to mexico. if that's true, it's kind of a cool story of cross pollenization.

                                        1. re: cimui

                                          Many things have been cross pollenized South.... Pancakes, Hot Dogs, Burgers, Fajitas, Pies... maybe even some New Orleans cooking... but I can't think of any "open faced taco" that originated in Texas and spread to Mexico.

                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            yeah, i'll have to dig for that open faced taco post. i think it was on chowhound, but i'm getting a little senile, so don't hold me to it. :)

                                            1. re: cimui

                                              Hi, I think Chilli is texan, correct me if I'm wrong. However, why not call food from texas just that: "texan".

                            3. I think the Pho I have had in the US (and here in Canada) is better than Vietnam's.

                              25 Replies
                              1. re: fmed

                                NO way! Although I haven't eaten that much pho in the US

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Sacrilege I know...but that's honestly what I think. It's at least "as good" here....and perhaps tastes fresher and cleaner. (I think I'll put on an asbestos suit now.....)

                                  1. re: fmed

                                    Pho in Vietnam is always fresh and clean-flavored. Plus sitting at those low plastic tables on tiny wooden stools on the sidewalk in the early morning!

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      The ambiance is certainly better there! I'll just have to chalk this up to preferences.

                                2. re: fmed

                                  Were you by any chance in Central Vietnam? Because I also thought that the pho from that area really sucked compared to the US.

                                  My sister even went to say that she ate at one pho joint in the highlands (not touristy in the very least) where the pho broth tasted like dirt water.

                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                    There is pretty good pho in Hue; although Hue is known for other foods. As you go up through the highlands from Hue (past Hamburger HIll) the people are indigenous and not pho makers or eaters.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Yeah, my sister and I were not in Hue. We weren't too happy with our pho meals. But after I left Vietnam, she stayed and went down to Saigon where she said that she finally had good pho.

                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                        wow... they still call it hamburger hill?

                                        1. re: gryphonskeeper

                                          No. But my Vietnamese buddies always tell Americans that it was known as such

                                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Sam, I never had pho until 1967 in Viet Nam, compared to Spam and c-rations, it was heaven on earth! It is only very recently that I am able to eat it again. There is certainly something to be said, however, to be able to relax and enjoy my pho today in the in the peace and safety of an American restaurant.

                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                          keg, I never had pho until 1982, compared to food in the Philippines (para sa mga akin kaibigan taga filipinas, talagang gusto ko ang amin pagkian), it was heaven on earth. I was a junior in HS when you went to Vietnam. As a rice scientist, I was one of the first non-Soviet outsiders invited to Vietnam after you and our troops left and after several years of isolation. When I first went, there were few restaurants and almost no street food places--even in Saigon! I was lucky to work in Vietnam (and Cambodia, Laos, and elsewhere) as people were slowly able to again become Asians in the sense of jubulant street foods and markets. Have you been back? One of the joys is that the Vietnamese, having won the war, almost never look back, but always look forward! Wonderful and warm people with great food.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            You probably mean pagkain, but only the Tagalog speakers would catch that.

                                      3. re: Miss Needle

                                        From all over. South, Central and North. We can get proper regional Pho here in Vancouver where I I can compare as best as my memory serves me.

                                        1. re: fmed

                                          Maybe pho tastes better to some people when they're only paying less than one US dollar. : )

                                          Another thing I have to say tastes better in the US is sriracha sauce. I love Huy Fong but not too crazy about the Thai versions.

                                      4. re: fmed

                                        I grew up eating lots of pho in the Bay Area, and was a bit disappointed with the pho I had in Hanoi. Most American pho is based on southern Vietnam's cuisine, so I thought that maybe the reason I didn't like it as much in Vietnam was because I was in the north.

                                        When I returned, I asked a couple of Vietnamese friends (who frequently return to Saigon) what their thoughts were, and they agreed that they both liked American pho better. Though the ingredients in Vietnam were very fresh, one of my friends' thoughts was that the quality of the ingredients in the states is better, which I might agree with. The beef in N America is generally aged to some degree, whereas in Vietnam, I'd guess that the beef if quite fresh, which results in a tougher meat. The chicken pho I had there was quite bland as well.

                                        Still, far more fun to eat pho on a low stool on the sidewalk.

                                        1. re: fmed

                                          Either you need to tell me where you're getting your pho here in the U.S. (and/or Canada), or you need to find different places to eat in 'Nam.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            I get my pho phix at a bunch of nondescript places that cater to mostly Vietnamese (which is typical of pho establishments). I have eaten pho in at the same kinds of places in a few US cities (mostly Southern Cal and Bay Area ). In Vietnam - also the same kinds of places - pho establishments that range from humble to garish.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                If we are going down this road then...the only places I remember by name are places that Das Ubergeek recommended - Pho Thanh Lich and Vien Dong. The others places are places that LA colleagues, friends and relatives have taken me and did not bother to remember. They were good though.

                                                Would you like to know anything else? ;)

                                                1. re: fmed

                                                  That's surprising. The OC/Westminster usually isn't the best spot for pho.

                                                  The best pho in LA is in SGV. Have you tried Pho 79 or Pho Hien? Both in SGV, and both are excellent, but neither can hold a candle to what's served in 'Nam.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                                    Pho 79 (or some numbered pho place) sounds familiar...that may be the place my Vietnamese friend took me too. Thanks for the tips.

                                                    I'll just chalk it up to preferences. I have had good pho and bad pho in both continents.

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      Pho 79 is in Westminster... and if you haven't been to Pho Thanh Lich, you need to get there, because it's the best pho in Little Saigon.

                                                      Vien Dong doesn't, I don't think, serve pho. They do serve cha ca thanh long and bun cha Ha Noi, both of which are excellent.

                                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                        Oops, Yes you are of course right...we had the bun at Vien Dong. Pho Thanh Lich was great - thanks for that.

                                                        ...And it was Pho 79 that we went to.

                                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek


                                                          There's a Pho 79 in both Alhambra and San Gabriel.

                                            1. I don't know about the US, but I know my sister was shocked at the day to day food in Hong Kong as opposed to "Chinese" in Sydney. More on the bone food and skin on, more fatty in HK.