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It's official: I'm a peasant.

That does it. I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am just a peasant. I always knew there was something wrong with me. Faced with a stunningly constructed, top-quality, chef-produced restaurant meal, I have been consistently underwhelmed. Oh, sure, each bite is a sensory explosion and one is certainly impressed by the artistry required to create the plated dish. But it just does not one thing for me. Not. One. Thing. Give me a dripping porchetta sandwich served on a street corner; let me eat a bowl of flavourful ramen topped with freshly grated garlic and ground sesame seeds; leave me alone with a plate of olives, some feta cheese and ripe tomatoes; grill me a fish that was pulled from the ocean ten feet from where I'm sitting - and I'm in heaven. Heaven. I will remember that food for the rest of my life. But the fancy shmancy restaurant food, never mind the cost or quality, leaves me cold and bored.

As a food professional, I feel that I have somehow missed the boat. Shouldn't I be able to appreciate this other level of cooking? I've just returned from a trip to Japan where I ate from one end of the culinary spectrum to the other and, frankly, the only food I remember with any degree of passion was the stuff I ate on the street, in the fish market or from a bento box on the train. I am both relieved by this and depressed. Anyone else have this experience?

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  1. I suspect you will get a bunch of funny responses to this very honest post. I am with you 100%.

    1 Reply
    1. re: southernitalian

      >>But the fancy shmancy restaurant food, never mind the cost or quality, leaves me cold and bored.

      Insert 'tiny pretty overpriced artfully arranged' for 'fancy shmancy' and I'm with you 1000%.

    2. You know what? It's probably about the "soul" that's put into good honest food. Fancypants stuff is all about making an impact, it doesn't feed your base needs.
      Explains why even "gourmets" still go gaga over mac-n-cheese (even if some misguided souls try to fancy it up with truffles and such).

      1. Funny I love food and everything it entails but I have never been to a "top quality" place to eat...lol. I love it basic and simple yet delicious.

        1. There is nothing "wrong" with being a peasant, unless you happen to be a person whose self-image is based upon seeking approval from pseudo-aristos with blinders on! Virtually every "haut" cuisine has it's dirty-footed base in food that sustained peasants for millennia. When I, a joyously self-proclaimed peasant (heck.. I raised goats for years and I butchered them too), am "Faced with a stunningly constructed, top-quality, chef-produced restaurant meal" I see it as being like a trip to an art gallery to view pieces that are interesting and beautifully crafted and composed.. but that I wouldn't want to live with. I'd much rather fill my body and soul with the lovely homegrown Aztec bean and fresh ham hock soup swimming with onions, garlic, carrots,celery, fresh herbs from my garden, and stewed tomatoes from the garden.. than a perfectly constructed meal of teeny bites and that exquisitely prepared scallop with a silly headdress.

          My favorite restaurants are those local family owned ones where the food is different each time. La Tapatia's carne al pastor is always a little different and always mouth-fillingly delicious. I'd rather spend less than 10 bucks for a bottomless plate of Mongolian beef on fun noodles at Sam Wo than peck my way through a $100.00 meal.. not that I don't appreciate the skill and craft of the chef-produced meal. Truly, I do, and I've actually enjoyed more than a few.. especially if someone else is paying. It's just that my body and soul loves that earthy, heart-warming deeply sustaining peasant food.

          2 Replies
          1. re: fromagina

            Nyleve, the first thing I thought of when I read your post was soul. Love. Heart. So I'm tying in my thoughts to fromagina's similar post.

            I had one of the best meals ever a few weeks ago at a restaurant in Somerville, MA - not super high-end on the price point, but the potential frou-frou-ness of the meal was there. But the food and service was superb and it will remain one of my most memorable meals.

            But I've also still remember a birthday dinner when I was young. My birthday comes at a time of year that (way back in the dark ages) you couldn't get leg of lamb. One year, my mother surprised me with a birthday meal of leg of lamb. She had bought it in spring when lamb was sold for the Easter holiday (we always had ham), and stored it tucked way back in the garage fridge/freezer with my father's film canisters in the lower fridge. (Don't ask. <g>) She asked me to bring up what was in the freezer a few days before my birthday to defrost - and when she unwrapped the butcher paper, I shrieked with joy. It was a super-simple meal - probably little done to that lamb leg. But it was the thought that she remembered to get a lamb in the springtime for my birthday in the fall that has made it one of the best meals ever for me (that, and she made a spice cake - from a box mix! - for my birthday cake! NO one I knew had spice cake for their birthday cake!).

            One could also liken your post to what a parent would think of the first "painting" their child ever did for them - the love, heart and soul that went into that painting is no different than what Monet or Van Gogh may have put into theirs. You can admire the masters' works for their artistry and finely nuanced shading of light and color. But the pure continual enjoyment of seeing that fingerprint painting in its place of honor on your fridge door after having been handed to you by a beaming child saying "I made this for you, Mommy!" cannot even begin to compare to the enjoyment of the masters' works of art, can it not? (And I'm not a parent, but remembering the picture covered fridge in my house and seeing them in my friends' houses seems to prove this out!)

            Sometimes, simple is good. Like fromagina, I enjoy a chef-produced meal. But sometimes, the simpler the better. A good burger. Perfectly done french fries.

            You like what you like. Don't apologize.

            1. re: LindaWhit

              >>You like what you like. Don't apologize.

              How perfectly said, LindaWhit. Imagine there being any other point of view on this?

          2. I know a lot of people like you. Personally I like both peasant food and fancy schmancy food. I think each has its place. But I'll bet you'll be saving tons of money and not going through the ridiculous hoop-la I sometimes go through to get reservations! : )

            1. Like you... I have also become unenamored with Fine Dining.... too many underwhelming dishes with simplistic flavors & purees and tame flavor combinations... oh my god who would have thought of adding sauteed pears to that etc.,

              1. I've never thought there was much point in apologizing for, worrying about, or trying to justify matters of taste. There are lots of reasons not to like the kind of cooking you describe, but the bottom line is that, after giving it a more than fair chance, it's just not your thing.

                I presume you're not serious about something being wrong with you. I hope not, anyway.

                3 Replies
                1. re: jlafler

                  I'm not really serious but sometimes when I read about food - here, in the NY Times, wherever - I feel sort of left out because I just can't get worked up about some of the more highly refined stuff. I understand that this kind of cooking is akin to those fashion shows where models wear ridiculous unwearable clothes, but there seems to be an expectation that if I enjoy or know something about food, surely I will especially enjoy a dish consisting of a single raw clam, balanced precariously on the point of a pyramid of spun sea salt, surrounded by clouds of whipped agar agar flavoured with tangerine and coffee essence.

                  No, really, I won't.

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    Oog. That type of food is almost beyond parody. I mean, that sounds bizarro, but it doesn't sound any weirder than some things I've seen on menus.

                    I like fancy meals, especially on special occasions. I even sometimes go all out and cook an elaborate multi-course meal myself. But I don't like being experimented on. I don't like innovation for the sake of innovation -- if I'm presented with a new taste combination, I like to think that there's some reason for it besides a desire to outdo the competition in weirdness.

                    It's always hard to keep perspective when talking about matters of taste. It gets very emotional -- if you love something, it can hurt to see someone else criticize it, even gently; and if you want to criticize something, the feelings of people who will be upset by your criticism aren't the first thing you usually think about. My basic philosophical position is that taste is what it is. If someone likes (or dislikes) a particular food or style of eating, it doesn't make sense to say "no you don't!" Taste is 100% subjective. But then, what happens to standards? Is there any way to say that one thing is better than another if it's all a matter of opinion? There has to be. And I think that's where most of the tension in places like Chowhound originates.

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      >>enjoy a dish consisting of a single raw clam, balanced precariously on the point of a pyramid of spun sea salt, surrounded by clouds of whipped agar agar flavoured with tangerine and coffee essence.

                      Excellently put, Nyleve. Or, my favorite, 'foam'.

                      Exactly how I describe a lot of dishes served at some of the restaurants around here who find people silly enough to pay lots and lots of money for just such a dish.

                      More power to the restaurants who can hose those who allow them.

                  2. Welcome to the club! I think it is a matter of the style you prefer in life in general. I've always preferred food that looks and tastes like what it is. And my preference for the simple applies to other areas of life as well. I prefer one real flower to a bouquet of silk flowers, making my own preserves to buying them, walking to do my errands to going to the gym.

                    I've been to the French Laundry (for example) and enjoyed it thoroughly, as I enjoy an evening of theater, something contrived but entertaining. An interesting and beautiful experience, but it isn't about real eating.

                    I like what Ed Brown says: "When a radish can be a radish, you can be you! You may be thinking, 'I've got to turn these carrots into something spectacular,' and the next thing you know, you're thinking, 'I've got to turn myself into something spectacular!' To me, it's more important that you appreciate a carrot being a carrot and you being you rather than thinking you need to turn it into something other or better than it already is."

                    1. There, there, have another latke and don't be shy with the sour cream. Care for some chives? (Sorry if that has become du jour by the time you read this.)

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: mrbozo

                        Latkes in June? Surely you jest. Talk to me in December.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          latkes get apple sauce; blintzes get sour cream. lt's not have this discussion again in June. :-))

                          1. re: jfood

                            Not to beat a dead latke, but really it's best to eat alternate bites - one with sour cream, the next with apple sauce, etc. But still, this topic is unseemly in June.

                            1. re: Nyleve

                              Neither.... potato pancackes are best wtih a good mole, wedge of fresco & a roasted serrano pepper =)

                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                mole? have to try that.

                                latkes are never out of season and toppings are always to taste. I like butter and sour cream (and then a purge)

                                potatoes are after all a Western Hemisphere thing outside of dietary restrictions...

                                (edit) just read the following posts - JINX!

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  That may be a delicious potato pancake, but it's no latke!

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                      EN

                                      How about you and jfood agree on "different" versus "better" and allow the individual taste buds and traditions to dictate the level of satisfaction?

                                      Ciao

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        I play for keeps! You try my version(s) and then let me know what you think of the Sour Cream & Apple Sauce... like I said I really like latkes to... but I think the preps I have highlighted are at another level.

                            2. re: Nyleve

                              If you're poor enough or have uncontrollable cravings that must be satisfied then latkes are never out of season (as is true of any potato dish). I knew you aren't truly a peasant. ;)

                          2. Agreed! We recently went to a place which shall remain unnamed (being a darling of the board, I'd probably be filleted-this is as much of a review as I'm going to post). I really wanted to love this place. It's almost universally loved, considered foodie heaven. But I found it overpriced, overhyped, & frankly pretty average.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Josie

                              I also once commented about a locally beloved restaurant on another board and was quite thoroughly lambasted for my opinion. I, too, found the place way overpriced and with nothing special to offer beyond presentation and snooty service. My husband - even more of a peasant than I am - still talks about that dinner as being the most ridiculous waste of money. He was shocked at the cost of a meal that left him hungry and annoyed.

                              1. re: Nyleve

                                Food that schmecks is not dependent on price-tag or country of origin. As history continues to show us peasant preparations are refined or "improved" upon to suit the"delicate" tastebuds of the moneyed classes. This is not a bad thing in and oi itself, but when it leads to looking down upon everyday cuisine it becomes hypocritical. But that is the way of the world; appearances must be maintained. Bon appetit !

                            2. I feel the same way about food. I love(d) to produce countless plates of gourmet food for receptive customers, but if I have my choice it tends to be diners, ethnic dives, or street food.

                              I cook for the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment, but I tend to fine the same establishments to be stuffy and pretentious.

                              1 Reply
                              1. YOU ARE NOT A PEASANT!!!!

                                Jfood loves foods that ake him feel happy. Whether it's a lamb on pita from Raffiqi's, or a beautiful oyster from the west coast, to foie gras or totally constructed whatever. If it makes jfood smole then whethers it is one flavor or a plethora, that's all that counts.

                                jfood just finished a great fuji apple and will have his traditional frosted flakes in another 90 minutes. But last month was over the top in love with the food at Babbo. But he looks at the Blue Hill menu and says, ain't going there, or the ghastly food he ate last month at what some people call "the best restaurant in New Orleans." Different strokes for different folks.

                                So no you are not a peasant, you are true to yourself.

                                "sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't."

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: jfood

                                  and jfood, we are glad that you are not kosher. That you cover all the bases is a big part of your appealing texts.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    HEY! What's wrong with being a peasant? Post WWII proponants of earthy, close-to-the-source peasant cooking like Elizabeth David, then Alice Waters, brought freshness and simplicity back into the culinary world.. and whether the hot shot culinary experimentors of today acknowledge it or not, their dishes owe a great deal to peasant-style cooking. To be a peasant is to be close to the source of food and to respect that source.. the soil. .

                                    1. re: fromagina

                                      because jfood does not like classifying people into buckets like peasant, hoity-toity, uber rich, etc. You feel better with a broad brush, that's cool.

                                  2. Think of it more as a blessing that you are content; that you are not condemned to forever search for more.... for better....the feckless quest for...???

                                    1. IMO, the best peasant food is frequently to be found in the best restaurants, at least in the US and UK. Who else takes the time to do a long braise, for instance?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                        True. Haute cuisine is the ofttimes unrecognizable mutation of peasant food.

                                      2. no. lived/worked many years in asia. visit frequently. same for europe. i'd no more deny myself street food in singapore than a high-end steak in manhattan. do yourself a favor and go to better up-scale places.

                                        1. I prefer rustic, well-made food made with good quality, fresh ingredients over fancy food. To me, good food should never sacrifice flavor for the sake of presentation.

                                          1. As the son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a Japnese peasant, I would like to ask if you ate any of our real peasant food while in Japan. That is not sushi, sashimi, street ramen, street meat on a stick, or bento in a laquered box--but just o-kazu--peasant food featuring lots of quickly cooked vegetables, often sata-shoyu (simmered in a bit of water, shoyu, touch of sugar), and tiny bits of meat, lots and lots and lots and lots of gohan, and maybe some ume and/or tsukemeno, plus o-chazuke at the end.

                                            12 Replies
                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              I may very well have eaten some of what you mention, only I don't know the names of what we tried. We ate several meals in a Buddhist monastery and were cooked wonderful things by our host - one dish consisted of a delicious tofu stewed with some fish cakes and other stuff I couldn't identify. She said it was a chilly rainy day and we needed the warmth. She was right.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Hey! My peasant serf grandfathers escaped Russia to avoid fighting in the Russo-Japanese War. I love peasant food. With putting 5 kids through college, I've forgotten what upscale is.
                                                Isn't this another form of the Foodie vs Chowhound schools of thought?

                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                  I don't think so, but I'm nearly a virgin at this chowhound thing. I like the full spectrum of food and dining. Yesterday I had chips and a Snickers for lunch. I thought "chowishness" was finding food goodness wherever it occurred, regardless of price or pretentiousness; regardless of whether there were four waiters standing around the table or if it were serve-yourself buffet chinese.
                                                  I usually lean toward fixing peasant but I like to be treated royally once in a while and get new ideas and inspiration from the fancy-smantzy places.

                                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                    Nope, paraphrasing from Jim Leff's manifesto etc. both foodies and chowhounds love all kinds of food; the difference is that foodies eat stuff found to be delicious by someone else, chowhounds find delicious stuff to eat by themselves.

                                                  2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    Onaka ga suita! Some sheets of nori, tofu in various forms and miso soup always added to a meal as well! Regards, the son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a samurai-turned-peasant... That reality must have sucked!

                                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                                      Hahaha... mom's side was the generations of useless samurai class. Dad's side was the generations of peasants. Official classifications back then--for centuries. That's right--nori, tofu, miso, fish and lots of backyard fruits and vegetables were among our staples.

                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                        My mom's side goes back to the then-scorned merchant class. But she's always had the mindset of a peasant, always concerned about where the next meal was coming from, squirreling away foodstuffs when they were on sale, and in the huge circle of local Nihonjins who offered each other their surpluses of yard-grown veggies, fruits, and sometimes eggs (the best eggs I'd ever been fortunate to enjoy), and fresh fish caught on Sundays - most JA fathers I knew worked six days a week as a rule, some seven.

                                                        I've been catching your entries on many of the threads relating to Japanese cuisine, stating that most of what is enjoyed by most (Angelenos) is in fact, not everyday food for the most part for many generations of Japanese, and even the average Japanese person today. I'm in total agreement. Not to say that the average Nihonjin hasn't had most if not all of those dishes - most have - just not in the abundance, level, or frequency that non-Japanese are accustomed to. They'd be broke, fat and foolish. Nabe-based meals I think are the rule, and lots of dishes that are based on or are binary to the basic starches like rice and noodles.

                                                        Probably the two most common types of ingredients that I recall threading through so many meals are tofu and various vegetables. We like you were fortunate to live in an area and era where fast foods and chains were the exception, and a relatively stable JA population could support various local businesses that catered specifically to our local population (I'm one of I think 20 native Angelenos from the mid-century modern era that is still living in this city - the modern-day real-life epic tale of "The Last of the Mohicans" '-)).

                                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                                          Gads, someone who understands peferctly. Funny that hakujins still do not know nihonjin food.

                                                          What a laugh. My mom not only lived though the great depression and was thrown into the concentration camps in WWII, you'd think that she was with Scarlett at Tara after Sherman the way she scrimped and saved (Love you, mom). We grew Japanese pears, grapefuit, oranges, avocado, pecans, walnuts, grape leaves, asperagus, kumquats, and pomegranites in the back yard. Mom and the aunts canned every year--peaches, apricots, nectarines, and more. "Aunty" Kiyo next door made ume (best I've ever had). The extended family went clamming and abalone diving at Pismo. We gathered watercress in the Sierra foothills in the spring. The cousins and I hunted and fished as we got older: trout, much later stripers, pheasant, duck, doves, geese.

                                                          "Peasants" with the freedom to do so seem to have quite rich lives when you come to think about it.

                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                            Sukiyaki was most common on our table - really it was just a catch-all name for whatever could be thrown in the pot with tofu, and other stuff from either the local circle of friends and neighbors, the yasae-san and sakanaya-san in the big green vans, what was available at the corner store or in the cupboard, along with a few eggs cracked on top, and of course the obligatory sato-shoyu and maybe some mirin.

                                                            Wow... you're making me nostalgic... I never hunted, but just about all the other things you listed are close to being carbon-copies of my past. I don't know if fiddleheads (warabi) were available in the Sierras but we'd forage for them in the local San Gabriel mountains - we'd come back with three or four grocery bags full and of course distribute them to neighbors and friends.

                                                            We did the pismos too, and the local spots for abalone was the Palos Verdes peninsula. We could actually pry them off the rocks at low tide. They were there in abundance back then - so much so that I remember one time it was just too tempting not to break the limit by a few. Those few were hidden under our friend's teenage son's t-shirt and jacket. He was bawling his eyes out by the time we got to the top of the cliffs - the abalones had decided to reattach themselves to his belly and chest. We all were laughing so hard - except for the son!

                                                            You are so right about the freedom and wealth of experiences that the folks of humble means take in. Poor in the pocket, rich in life...

                                                            1. re: bulavinaka

                                                              My goodness, bulavinaka, don't open the memory doors. We ate sukiyaki--and all sorts of tsukemeno, assorted quick yasai tsukemeno from shoyu no daikon to nasu no tsukemeno and more. All kinds of suimono, donburi (my favorites), sunomono, udon, soba, fish fish fish, buta, and--now and then--yokan, manju, and mochi. Musubi and teriyaki was more common than sashimi and sushi, although we had these latter luxeries often enough--as did we foods from all over the world, from a T-bone steak to filipino adobo to Swedish meatballs to you name it.

                                                              The folks, given their time and culture, didn't have any kurombo or kuru-chan foods. They would have, however, had they had the chance.

                                                              And everyone knew how to grow food and to clean and fillet fish, pluck and clean birds, debone or section cleaned and plucked birds, transform a dead rabbit into a bowl of ready to cook parts, make jams and jellies, make sushi, cut sashimi...

                                                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                Wow, I remember the sakanaya-san in the big green van too. I'm not sure how many roamed the LA area in the era, but I remembered as a child always accompanying my mom to buy fish in the van and Ikeda-san (I'm pretty sure that was his name) always had a treat for me. Back then, Enbun market (now in Little Tokyo Plaza) was located on Washington Blvd, a couple blocks away, so it was our source of vegetables. By the way, you're not the only JA in the LA area. There are at least 5-6 families still within a block radius of my folks, and they have plenty of friends who still live in the Crenshaw district.

                                                                I know several Japanese parents who have a similar hoarding instinct that was instilled in my mom, and when you see their freezers, it's packed to the gills. Since all the kids have moved out, they gave up the second freezer in the garage, but back then, random friends coming back from fishing or foraging trips would come by the house and drop off a sack of goodies, like those fiddleheads (which are called zenmai, by the way), or pounds of fish, which went straight into the freezer, or were grilled and eaten the next day. I think my mom was known in the community to be a good cook, so she was on the short list of people to bring surplus food to. I seem to remember lots of abalone (we always had abalone shells around), and even a burlap bagful of uni one time. That led to a late-night uni eating binge at age 4 for me, and I was hooked for life.

                                                                I think what makes "peasant" food even more appealing is this sense of community it implies. Big portions of food with ingredients gathered by various people in the group, prepared simply for a large number of communal eaters is what I seem to think of. It seems that the recent "locavore" movement has a similar vision for how we should be eating. Peasant cookery has always been about "locavore" eating, hasn't it?

                                                                1. re: E Eto

                                                                  My parents used to shop at the Enbun off (I think it was) Jefferson. I jest in my mini-rant about being one of a small handful of remaining native Angelenos, but it does amaze me how many left back in the 80s and 90s.

                                                                  I think zenmai is the Japanese name of the actual fern - we all used to just call it warabi - the name applied for its food usages as a vegetable and in mochi...

                                                                  Abalone was such a cheap commodity when I was a kid. I still remember seeing cans of abalone on the supermarket shelves for less than a dollar. I could never eat uni as a kid - it just reminded me too much of various things I'd rather not mention. But when I finally knuckled under and tried it as a teenager, I realized what I had been missing for all of those previous years...

                                                    2. I think it is possible to appreciate artistry from an intellectual perspective, but not be moved on an emotional level. As an example, I can intellectually appreciate the quality of a good wine from Bordeaux, but I rarely fall in love with wines from Bordeaux. It just doesn't turn my crank ( please note there are some notable exceptions, such as Pichon Lalande... I'm in love). I know they are spectacular wines, but they leave me a bit cold. This doesn't make you a peasant in my books. This is purely a personal preference, and one of the many variations in humans that make life so interesting. I think you should be relieved, but not depressed. You will save a lot of money in the end!!

                                                      Although I think I might be being classist here, when I hear the word peasant, I think of someone who doesn't appreciate the quality of a high end restaurant because of lack of knowledge or exposure, not just because of preference. But you know what, i have no problems with eating with "peasants" either. I've had some really great meals with people who have not been exposed to "high-end" fare, but have a great palate and know how to cook and taste food. For me, the most important thing is that my dining companions "know how to eat"!

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. "It's good because it's good".

                                                        A. Bourdain.

                                                        The reason you like "Peasant food" is because it's the best. It's the stuff you subsist on. The "Fru fru" stuff is nice. It's like dating. You date a stripper but you don't marry one.

                                                        Do you ever wonder why Tony Bourdain's (And all chefs according to him) game of, "What's you last meal" always ends up with the top flight chefs choosing a hot dog or mac and cheese for the last meal?? It's because that's the good stuff. As Emeril says, "Food of love".

                                                        Personally, I like the high falutin' stuff. But like you, in the end, it leaves me wanting.

                                                        DT

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Davwud

                                                          "Personally, I like the high falutin' stuff. But like you, in the end, it leaves me wanting."

                                                          I agree 100%. I love the fancy dancy stuff, but these are special occasion events. I could not eat fancy restaurant meals every day of my life, an dI doubt many could. I don't even like eating out at any resto every night of the week, I start to feel unwell from all the salt and fat and calories. I need my simpler healthier home cooked meals to feel balanced. And that is why we love these foods, they make us feel good.

                                                          Besides, if you ate in a fancy place every week, it would quickly lose its appeal and its special nature.

                                                          1. re: moh

                                                            I totally agree 100% with both of you.

                                                            I haven't had my share of the high end but, know I love it. With this week being a holiday week we'd eaten out a bit more than normal. Last night I needed to "cleanse" in a sense. I made the most simple dish of an array of sauted veggies with shrimp and fresh herbs. Wow was it not the best meal we had this week! So refreshing. So perfect.

                                                            Best of both worlds works in my books

                                                            1. re: livetocook

                                                              That is key.... try having an expense account.... sounds good doesn't it? Well it doesn't take long to get tired of fine dining meals.... I wonder if any body else has take clients to a stand up Taco stand followed by Janneu armagnacs at a fancy hotel bar? You get desperately tired of the fine dining experience and the lack of substance after a while.

                                                        2. Isn't that combination of these poles what a truly great restaurant is? I'm thinking of St John's in London; peasant ingredients (marrowbone, trotters, tounge) cooked with intelligence and skill in well designed surroundings - does it cost? oh yes; would I eat there every day until my innards demand a divorce? Without a doubt. And no foam insight...

                                                          1. I enjoy the occasional treat of a fancy restaurant, but not when the ingredients start sounding like a Dr. Suess rhyme. I look at the menus and If I can't figure out what the heck they are talking about it is off my list. I was at this restaurant run by a transylvanian chef. We spoke and I told him about the foods I ate as a child, that my grandma who had roots in transylvania, would make when she visited. They are some of the most memorable dishes I have ever had. He said "Oh, yes! Peasant food, it is so good." Therefore I have strong peasant roots.

                                                            My absolute favorite foods are sandwiches. Put it between 2 pieces of good bread and I am happy. I seek out good sandwiches like others seek out fine wines. And I am not ashamed! Cheap tacos, tortas, burgers, burritos, etc., all are great in my book.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: danhole

                                                              I, too, am Transylvanian. Both of my parents were from there and my father, especially, was a true peasant. I guess that's where I get it from. He ate with gusto, wasn't afraid of bones or innards, and embarassed me to death when I was a teenager. Going to a restaurant with my parents mortified me utterly. Table manners? Ha! For sissies! He had a vegetable garden where our neighbours grew rose bushes; he was an avid fisherman and cleaned his catch in our driveway (and used the guts for fertilizer); he cooked thickly sliced potatoes on the barbecue outside when my friends were all enjoying proper hamburgers. Now, of course, I appreaciate all that. As a 15 year old? Oh. My. God.

                                                              My self-assessment as a peasant wasn't meant to be as negative as some of you have interpreted. It was just a sudden realization that I simply cannot appreciate the persnicketiness of fancy food, no matter how good it might taste. I understand the artistry, the searching, the competence. I just don't enjoy it the way many people do. I always suspected that I just haven't eaten "the best stuff" but now I think I have and I discovered that I don't actually like that kind of food. It was, to be honest, a bit of a surprise.

                                                              1. re: Nyleve

                                                                I didn't think it was negative nyleve, as a matter of fact I was relieved! A peasant at heart is not a bad thing to be. It's in my blood, but unlike you I do enjoy some fine dining when I can afford it!

                                                                1. re: Nyleve

                                                                  I also didn't think that you meant anything negative by it. In fact, I think the majority of posters agree with you. But I don't quite get some of the responses where "hoity-toity" food is looked down upon just because it is higher-end. Just cuz something comes from the liver of an overfed duck and served with a gastrique doesn't have to mean it's being hoity-toity just for the sake of being hoity-toity. Personally, I think that tastes great -- and not because I've been conditioned to think that I must love it.

                                                                  It really just comes down to personal taste. I'll never get the allure of five-hundred dollar bottles of wine. I've had them and don't really get it. In fact, I prefer the taste of bottles that are more like in the range of $20-$40. Am I a "peasant" in the area of vino? Perhaps. But I just like what I like.

                                                              2. RGS (Really Good Shit) exists in all guises. The one really fancy place I ate at in Japan was a sashimi lobster and crab place, and I appreciated every bite. I would love to try the exquisitely crafted and well thought out pieces at El Bulli if I ever had the money and the reservations. (I think you get one and the other follows.) But the freshest salmon roe that I got in buckets and quick cured following my uncle, the Japanese fisherman's advice, was just incredible - it was free, but it wasn't really street food, and it was far too simple and crude to be haute cuisine.

                                                                I guess the question is, why would you eliminate one possibility for excellence, an entire class of food, from your selection criteria? I am a peasant and don't like fancy food is as pretentious, to me, as I am a gourmet and don't like street food. Of course, I am a foodie and don't like chain food is perfectly acceptable and normal... (I would put a wink here, but I mean it!)

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: applehome

                                                                  Yes, "RGS" can be had for free and for second mortgages. Maybe a peasant sensibility is being content to find the RGS within ones means.

                                                                2. Whatever ingredients you've got at hand make them as tasty as possible under the circumstances.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: mrbozo

                                                                    Yes, and whatever circumstances you find yourself in when going out to eat, go find the tastiest possible food for those circumstances. Ultimately, if you have all the money you need, and are at a place that offers, and with people that will tolerate, incredible street food as well as some very tasty fancy dishes, the solution is simple. Eat both.

                                                                  2. Thank you, Nyleve. I thought it was just me. The most delicious thing I ever ate in Europe was bean soup at an Amsterdam hole-in-the-wall. We seldom eat out any more because there is so little available between KFC and lah-dee-dah. And we REALLY don't like our sauce measured out with a teaspoon and finger-painted on the plate.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Querencia

                                                                      "there is so little available between KFC and lah-dee-dah."
                                                                      I'm not sure I agree with that. I think that's why Chowhound exists.
                                                                      I recently found Brookside Inn that fit in nicely between. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/52566...
                                                                      They don't really finger-paint, but I think they have about as much fun.

                                                                      1. re: Querencia

                                                                        where are you from querencia? i can't disagree more - there is a huge gamut of places between KFC and lahdeedah. i would say 85% of my dining occurs in that space.

                                                                        ok - distatsteful joke of the month - [please stop reading if that isn't your cup oif tea - tho im sure it will get this post removed by our more than scrupulous monitors]

                                                                        why do bulimics love KFC?
                                                                        .
                                                                        .
                                                                        .
                                                                        .
                                                                        comes with a bucket

                                                                      2. Good food is good food. And reverse snobbery is still snobbery.

                                                                        Anyone who won't patronize a place because it's too high-brow, or not high-brow enough, be my guest. That will make it easier for me to get a table, or will make the line at the cart shorter.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: julietg

                                                                          It's an old thread (which I just found) but this post sums it up best -> Good food is good food independently if it is high end or "peasant" food. And snobbery goes in both directions. Just because a high end restaurant uses expensive ingredients makes the food better than any food from a cart but on the other side just because a high end restaurant uses unusual ingredients or techniques makes the food less "soulful" than any food from the cart. (This thread reminds me of some other discussions about which country has the best food/restaurants etc. which is also an absolute useless discussion)

                                                                        2. Been thinking about this.

                                                                          I completely agree with you, Nyleve. I've worked all over the developing world and have had to spend time in the developed as well. For me, a big part of the fun all these years has been eating in the homes of small farmers and street and market foods, meals in no-name road restaurants and highway stops. My favorite countries end up being Laos (laap, khao niyao, sausage), Pakistan (highway flatbread and mutton), Mexico (morning tamales, mondongo for lunch, taqueria for dinner), Guatemala (no-name roadside eateries), Vietnam (from sidewalk pho to banh mi on the ferry to thousands of meals at tiny places), Thailand (!), and China (dumplings, steamed buns, steamboat places). My rule for the past years was to never eat in the hotel. Food made all of the excessive travel (almost) worthwhile. Even in the developed world: kebabs and the food stands outside of KaDeWe in Berlin, low end in DC and NYC, pubs in the UK.

                                                                          There are, however, a (very) few times for a posh meal. The restaurant in the Hotel du France in Tana, Madagascar, a full-on no-stops Japanese meal in Kyoto, dinner at one of the two or three top restaurants in Mexico City, and a fine dinner at one of the wineries abound Cape Town. Although none of these fancier meals involves large plates with small towers of convoluted and foamed food.

                                                                          So I would guess that I'm quite like you--albeit, I think that those of us who seek out and enjoy your so-called "peasant" food are not the peasants. The peasants have been freed from their bondage and aspire to eat fancy shmancy along side of the bored and boring aristocracy.

                                                                          11 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                            Sam, some years ago I had a conversation with a gourmet cook in Berkeley (where I lived for a while) about what I'd like to see in a restaurant. I said I'd like to see a plat du jour menu of peasant-style dishes made with fresh, organic ingredients. Then I added, just to be impish, "and a wine list to pay through your nose for." He laughed and told me I'd just described Chez Panisse. (I'm not sure that his assessment of Chez Panisse is quite accurate-- it has sometimes indulged in culinary excesses. But that ideal certainly informs a lot of what that place does.) I've long been convinced that it is hard to get bad food if it is prepared by the people who produce it according to their culinary traditions. John Thorne's books espouse what he calls "simple cooking." And I think a lot of the people involved in community-supported agriculture and the "locavore" movement are reintroducing people to the flavor of food. I haven't been exposed that much to "peasant food" in my travels, since I was usually in a monastery. But the meals I have enjoyed most have been almost invariably examples of simple cooking.

                                                                            1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                                              Father Kitchen! I've always thought that if somehow one could beam a no-name restaurant or market stall family over to the US and not have them be subject to social reality, that they could make a lot of dough if they had a decent place, and someone like you to guide them past the pitfalls and put together the wine list. People who make the greatest food with nothing but the simplest of "cookware" and the locally available ingredients. Magic from thin concave edged (from long sharpening) bladed knives and cheap tin or enameled pots and pans.

                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                One of the blessings of living in Monterey County CA is that both the Foodie and the Chowhound in one's soul can be fed royally. The Monterey Peninsula has plenty of Foodie Havens where one can spend a fortune for a museum-quality dinner; and towns like Salinas are havens for the Chowhound who want to visit Mexico without the long drive. Salinas and surrounding agricultural towns like King City, Soledad, and Greenfield have tiny 6-table holes-in-the-wall that serve Mama-made dishes from all over Mexico and Central America. Mom and Pop cook, the kid with the best English mans the register, and the rest of the kids wait the tables and wash the dishes. I wouldn't be surprised if the carne adobada was being sliced with that concave-edged knife from home! Some of these places have been around for years with the same lusty regional foods being prepared by generation after generation. These places have a primarily Hispanic crowd of loyal lovers of lovingly prepared regional food. Others become slick with sour cream, canned enchilada sauces, and combo plates hoping for the KMart crowd. Hmmm.. I don't think any of my favorites have a wine list.. but most have homemade horchata, tamirindo, atole, and at least 10 varieties of beer!

                                                                                1. re: fromagina

                                                                                  I just ate dinner, and you're still making me hungry.

                                                                                  When I go to Monterey County (as I have often of late, having a daughter of aquarium age), I always have a much stronger sense of living in Alta California than I do in the Bay Area.

                                                                                  1. re: fromagina

                                                                                    froma... I know what you're talking about. I was born in Fresno, used to go diving in Monterey Bay and along the coast and eating in the region. My first wife lives there with her husband, another known artist. Sure she eats well.

                                                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                      My husband is a Fresnan too.. go McClaine (sp?)! He escaped to the coast as many Fresnans do. He ate Fresburg food until he met me and now he revels in about 85% of the mouth-filling from-the-source food this peasant loves. Can't get that man to love organ meats, though. sigh.

                                                                                      Yes, this is an art-filled area. Heck.. retired from catering and teaching cooking to playing in the mud with ceramic sculpture.

                                                                                      1. re: fromagina

                                                                                        gina, I grew up in pre-chain Fresno. It was then full of really good small ethhnic restaurants reflecting the diversity of peoples who came to work on agriculture in the Central Valley. Back then "Fresburg food" was as good as anything on the coast. "McLane"--I graduated there in '68. email me.

                                                                                    2. re: fromagina

                                                                                      A food related lesson from Monterey would be Cannery Row (a la Steinbeck) - a complete wiping out of a fishery bringing down all the lives and businesses associated with it. 50 years later, one of the nation's leading aquariums is a haven for studying environmental issues and insures that it couldn't happen again, although I understand that there's a whole lot of sports fishing going on in the bay. Nothing whatsoever to do with peasant food, but when I hear Monterey, I can't help but think Cannery Row. Although that's a thought - can you have fish (at $6.00/lb and up) at all as a peasant, or are you stuck with tortillas, rice and beans, and cheap cuts of pork?

                                                                                      1. re: applehome

                                                                                        Cannery Row is tourist c--p to me.. can't remember when I last went there for anything but the aquarium. Ah yes.. 22 years ago there was The Beau Thai.. wonderful Thai restaurant that had to close 19 years ago because the rents skyrocketed.. probably a T-shirt shop there now.

                                                                                        This may read a bit Extreme Environmentalist, but my family no longer eats ocean fish unless we line-catch it ourselves. We believe the commercial fishing industry has gone amok. We eat a lot of homegrown veggies, beans, fruit, buy a whey-fed pig every year from a friend (and cheap shoulder from stores because it's so delish), and share a weaned beef calf with friends. Salinas has one of the highest costs of living in the USA and that is very hard on us peasants unless we fully utilize the Peasant Underground like FoodCo and the Alisal area.

                                                                                      2. re: fromagina

                                                                                        Funny, both Scargod and I are stranded in New England and crave good Mexican food that we had in Texas and New Mexico, respectively. On the way to my visit to my mom's next week he has offered to take me to some taco trucks in New Haven (I bring the beer!) as I pas through. Now that's hound peasant bonding!

                                                                                      3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                        Sam, I'm not sure I could guide anyone past the pitfalls and put together their wine list for them. As a gourmet cook friend's wife said, when I asked her about wine, she said she knew nothing about wine, but she sure could taste the difference.
                                                                                        That said, one of the most memorable meals I ever had was in Indio, California, in about 1975. We were driving from San Jose to Tucson and decided to stop at a small restaurant where trucks had pulled up. It was called "El Mexico Tipico." The cook was an old abuelita. Her ten or twelve year old granddaughter waited at our table. The food was simple border Mexican cooking: arroz, frijoles, enchiladas. But everything was exquisitely prepared from scratch. Of course, as the Italians say, hunger makes the best sauce. But even allowing for that, this quite ordinary food was in fact extraordinary.
                                                                                        As for beaming market stall familes over to the U.S., I read Alford and Duguid's cookbooks and wish someone would do just that. There is a lot of great food out there.
                                                                                        Several years ago I had dinner in the home of a couple from Madras. It was all vegetarian, all prepared simply, and yet the flavors of the individual dishes combined in a wonderful symphony. What people can do with an economy of means, whether in Italy, Provence, Africa, or south Asia amazes me.
                                                                                        People complain that that kind of cooking is labor intensive, but is it really? I cooked dinner for our community this week and, because of time constraints, settled for oven fried chicken made from frozen chicken parts. (I don't usually do our shopping.) When I finished thawing the chicken, getting it out of the damn packages, and prepping it for the oven, I realized it would have taken me less time to roast a couple of chickens whole or to cut up a few birds and brown and braise them with onions, garlic, a few herbs, and splash of wine and broth. That was another case where the peasant approach would actually have been easier and more flavorful. (But I made up for it with spaghetti with a proper marinara sauce and cobblers made from fresh plums.)
                                                                                        For me the bottom line is not whether it is haute cuisine or peasant, but whether it is honest food whether it reaches my table in a just and equitable way for all concerned. Also, I care if I have someone to share it with. Still, most of the meals that have met that criteria in my experience have been quite unpretentious.

                                                                                  2. I've been thinking about this (off and on) since you posted it a couple of days ago, Nyleve. For me, I don't think it's a matter of high end dining versus peasant. For me, I think it's more a matter of having enough of anything on the plate presented to me to taste. I'm talking about those fancy schmancy restaurants that serve you something with three dots of some sort of reduction that weighs less than the ink on the menu describing it. Who knows what it tastes like? And if it's supposed to compliment whatever the main item on the plate is, that ain't gonna happen any time soon.

                                                                                    The progression of fine dining in my lifetime has gone from haute cuisine to nouvelle cuisine to... Well, whatever you call the $30.00 per dot of reduction on your plate cuisine of today.

                                                                                    For me, tasting food has a lot of parallels with tasting wine. You look first (don't serve me ugly food!), you smell second, then you taste, and in tasting, you may not swish food around in your mouth the way you do wine, but my god, you've got to have enough to let it roll across your entire tongue and a bit under it too. "Mouth feel" is an important term as well.

                                                                                    The great joy of "peasant" food is that it is served in quantities that not only caress your taste buds, they voluptuosly embrace them! There are no thin layers painted on your plate. Nothing is "deconstructed" so that you have to embarass yourself by mixing the components together and mashing them in an effort to get something that tastes mildly reminiscent of what you ordered.

                                                                                    When I was younger, I used to bemoan and damn the "dropped from a ladder paint on canvas" of Jackson Pollack and the "ruler art" of Mondrian as "audacity art." I felt the big spenders were ignoring some real talent and going for conspicuous consumption of the unworthy. And that pretty much sums up how I feel about a lot of the "high end" "fine" dining of today. Don't stack my food so high that if I accidentally bump the plate, it will fall over in a path that stretches across the table. Don't serve my sauces in such miniscule quantities that I have an inner urge to pick up the plate and lick it because if I try to use fork or spoon I won't be able to pick up enough to taste.

                                                                                    In short, I want enough food on my plate to taste. I'm not talking about so much sauce or gravy it looks like a stew. But I would like enough to have at least one decent "full mouth" experience with my food. Maybe I've been going to the wrong places, but that doesn't seem to happen for me all that often in high end eateries these days.

                                                                                    Oh. And high end or low, I want the food to taste good. That doesn't seem to happen as often as it used to either. I'm starting to cook at home a lot. Maybe it's because there are fewer and fewer peasants these days?

                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                      I full agree with you. When I was single, dating and started making money, some higher end, fancy type places were really fun to go to. Now, I'm happier with some Pho or Jerk or Curry or something like that.
                                                                                      Don't get me wrong, last year on my 40th we dropped almost $300 on dinner and loved every bite. It's just that there's something about the simpler dishes. I guess it's the history behind it. You can't really taste all the work that's gone into a dish that's been around decades. But it does feed your soul as well as your body.

                                                                                      DT

                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                        Your post reminded me, once again, of the movie Ratatouille. Keller's confit byaldi is supposed to be something he serves at The French Laundry, and he probably provides a portion much like what Remy the rat served, which looks big enough, especially if it's part of a multi-course meal. We make ratatouille all the time, and I have now made Keller's recipe several times - it is incredibly good. I have to tell you that we eat much more than Remy's portion.

                                                                                        But it did take someone with Keller's experience and vision to come up with this recipe - a fine dining version of a traditional French comfort food. To turn one's nose up against fine dining would mean to miss this kind of invention and creativity. I'm not saying that fine dining is always better than peasant food, but why would anyone pass it by if the opportunity presented itself?

                                                                                        Ramen stands are great, but if Morimoto were to create a special version, as if for Iron Chef, and you had access to it, would you pass it by in favor of the Ramen stand down the street?

                                                                                        Peasant food is what most of us eat most of the time. But fine dining has its place.

                                                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                            Much grass, senior! Rants polish the soul. '-)

                                                                                        1. As I see folks pile on to the peasant food side, I find myself in absolute agreement with all the wonders of home cooking presented here, especially Japanese, which is what I grew up with. So there's no wrongness in liking that over finely prepared cuisine.

                                                                                          But as I watched ICA tonight, with Flay and Samuelsson doing things with corn that would most certainly not fit into the peasant food or general home cooking criteria, I really, really wanted to eat many of their dishes. This is simply not cold and boring to me - it may be inaccessible, and that's a different argument - but it is, nevertheless, food of great interest to my palate.

                                                                                          Yes - I cannot forget the Yokohama-eki shumai that I grew up with. I bought as much as I could the last trip to Japan, including a large box to eat on the plane back. But the Izakaya chefs I've known have created some really interesting and non-traditional foods that rival Morimoto's dishes - and I think those have been as delicious as anything else I've had, and as memorable - for example, I still remember (and have made) bacon & shiso wrapped cherry tomatoes. Real wagyu (mishima or kobe) is just something that is unique and wonderful in your mouth. My okasan and obasan were indeed wonderful cooks, but they never served me that.

                                                                                          To say that these chefs have no heart (compared to cooks that make peasant or home made dishes) is silly. They have pride and experience, and a desire to please their audience. Yes, there are plenty of shoemakers out there - but there are plenty of bad peasant food places as well, even with immigrant families. As Fromagina says, the bad places are often those that have compromised their native food be more acceptable to the majority of their new audience - seeking the lowest common denominator to achieve more financial success. But the same is true for fine dining establishments - there are those that indeed have no heart, as they have replaced it with the cash register. The ones with heart and pride make delicious food.

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: applehome

                                                                                            You had your okaksan cooking for you?????

                                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                              Oka-san - I never confused my mother with a guest! Besides, that would be okyakusan.

                                                                                          2. politicising food is just goofy.

                                                                                            i'm more peasant than you? whatever.

                                                                                            i'm an old boat guy and asia bum. lately taken to hanging out in italy in march. i'll be in london next month but it's not my fault.

                                                                                            as i've told sam, i'll be happy to cut up veggies, boil water and watch him cook. also said something to to the effect that i would clean up, wash dishes and swab the deck after the feast. i think he agreed that i should get out of his way when he cooks.

                                                                                            it's all good.

                                                                                            1. In terms of human evolution, the vast majority of us WERE peasants not very long ago--perhaps as recently as one or two generations ago? We look back with nostalgia to the food of our ancestors, forgetting the famine, infestation, etc and the fact that the variety of available crops was severely limited by what would grow in a particular geographic locality.

                                                                                              Where one half of my ancestors came from--Hungary--cabbage played a big roll in the diet, and whenever I eat cabbage with certain seasonings, I feel that I am feeding a deeper hunger than what I satisfy on a daily basis.

                                                                                              I also remember reading somewhere that our individual metabolisms are tuned to a particular geographic frequency, ie that over thousands of years our metabolisms evolved in response to the availability, or not, of certain crops. Perhaps someone will know more about this.

                                                                                              As for fine as opposed to rustic dining, fine dining cuisine often, in this country at least, is the product of a business plan, and the unusual pairings and presentations can be interesting and enjoyable, but not as satisfying.

                                                                                              1. Wow, someone who lacks pretension and enjoys food. My favorite tastes are all associated with some great place that I visited, my gramma's thanksgiving stuffing, something that was presented well, served in a manner that was exceptional and shared with great company. Some of these have cost me bucks, others just the time and energy spent with people I love...great post.

                                                                                                1. I agree that good food is good food, whether peasant or fancy pants. It's the preciousness of the fine dining experience I'm not into anymore, like the "excellent choice ma'am" response to ordering. That's why I tend to prefer eating at the bar in an up-market place rather than in the dining room. I realize that some people like the experience of being treated like a queen and that that's part of the fun, but it's just not for me.

                                                                                                  1. I've been thinking on and off about this over the last few days.
                                                                                                    I've decided to compare it to clothes. It's great to get dressed up and go out with your tux or suit on. But you don't lounge around the house in them. You have your sweats/PJ pants/dungarees, whatever you want to call them. They both have their place but. Fancy is great and comfy is great too.

                                                                                                    DT

                                                                                                    1. It could be it's not the peasant food itself that you like so much -- maybe it's your associations with peasant food (people, places, memories) that make it so appealing.

                                                                                                      The atmosphere in which food is presented makes a huge difference in how it's perceived. You could take the *exact same dish* and serve it up two different ways: one on a beautiful plate placed before you by a waiter at the corner table for two at a fancy schmancy restaurant; OR in a large communal platter, placed in the centre of your dining table by your grandma as she encourages the entire family to dig in. Two very different experiences. Eating is so fraught with emotion that I don't think we're ever able to be totally objective about it, nor are we able to completely separate the emotions tied to the food from those tied to our surroundings.

                                                                                                      Fine dining is a pleasurable business, but it's still just business, a transaction between strangers. Being fed by your Oma is always an act of love, and that's where peasant food has its roots. Pure, simple nourishment that never needs to be clever or fancy or fashionable.

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: mogo

                                                                                                        You are so right, mogo. I sometimes like to go to a play and experience fantasy or performance art. In a high-end resto it's like peasant food on a high.

                                                                                                      2. I have just read through this thread. Fascinating! It got me thinking about what I like when it comes to food. I have always told people that when I cook, it is down-home, low and slow, basic cooking. Soups, stews, roasts including all sorts of ethnic food (lately Indian food is my fav). I love to eat out in a fancy restaurant occasionally but thinking about it, it is more of the experience I think I enjoy then the food. Being waited on, ambience, hubby has to face me and talk to me, no dishes to do...One of the posts mentioned that his/her most memorable meals were the very simple street foods or fish caught 10 feet away. I totally agree! I have a hard time passing up a hole-in-the-wall with a lot of local people in it or a line on the street waiting for a food cart.

                                                                                                        Great thread!

                                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: jodymaryk

                                                                                                          I think the common thread that runs through most of these posts where we reminisce about our fondness for peasant food and the experiences associated with it is the love and emotion that most of us have experienced that have turned these into fond memories.

                                                                                                          As good as haute cuisine can be, I typically don't associate this kind of emotion with a well-prepared meal at a fine restaurant. To me, it's more like a contest where it's chef versus diner. The chef is (or should be) trying like heck to impress the diner, and the diner is (or should be) setting those high expectations that chef is trying to exceed. So many "Peasant" meals are almost a by-product or result of strong bonds with each other...

                                                                                                          1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                                            And I was just thinking that we've been conflating two related but distinct concepts: peasant food and home cooking. For many of us, the home cooking of our childhoods was peasant food. This wasn't the case in my family, though. My mother did most of the cooking (my sister and I started to help fairly early), and she's an adventurous eater and an inventive cook. She didn't cook out of any particular ethnic tradition. And it was 1960's and 70's Northern California, with all that implies. So I can think nostalgically of many favorite foods from my childhood, but I wouldn't exactly call them peasant food.

                                                                                                            1. re: jlafler

                                                                                                              My mom was a peasant/farm girl from central Texas and my father and she eventually settled in Dallas. What we had was peasant food till (in the 50's) she found the taco kits, pizza kits and the cans of Chinese ingredients. She even figured out how to make sauerbratten and many other "non-peasant" dishes. These were not peasant food to us!

                                                                                                        2. I've been away from the computer for a few days and have come back to a pile of very interesting responses. I don't think I was apologizing for my tastes in my original post, nor did I intend to say one type of cooking/eating was better than another. I actually wrote it as a result of the sudden, unexpected realization that I personally prefer the "peasant" experience to the "chef" experience. It wasn't a value judgement - just actually surprise. For most of my adult life I've lived in a rural area, so my exposure to really "fine" dining has been very limited. Never mind the finances, it just simply wasn't available. So I always believed that when I did get the chance to eat all this fancypants food, I'd be bowled over. Turns out, I never got bowled over. I'm not talking just once, but enough times to see a pattern here. I'm not saying there wasn't wonderful food, creatively prepared and beautifully presented - it was. It's just I all of a sudden understood that it didn't speak to me the way I thought it would. When I said it was a both depressing and a relief, I meant that it's a bit sad when you discover that you don't actually want the thing your thought you wanted. And it's a relief to know you're not missing out on anything, really.

                                                                                                          Obviously I am speaking strictly for myself - different strokes for different folks, of course.

                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: Nyleve

                                                                                                            I concur with your posting here and the original. My life experiences have had some great food but my great eating experiences have little to do with the "chef" experience and more with the company and the context of the meal.

                                                                                                            1. re: Nyleve

                                                                                                              You may be hitting the wall that many of us hit regardless of our choice of occupation - that is, that we go down a career path because we're very good at it, but somewhere down the line (some sooner, some later), the realities of meeting the day to day expectations and putting up with it all just draws you up short and makes you realize that it just isn't as much fun, or as challenging in the right ways, as it used to be. Lots of career changes happen around that time. Sometimes re-dedication, or decisions to go down a management or teaching path, etc. - good luck with that. My personal advice is to not jump ship too fast, the grass is always greener...

                                                                                                              Perhaps we're comparing apples to oranges. What peasant food (comfort food, country cooking, etcetc...) represents is something that is just completely different from fine dining, not only in terms of content and technique, but in terms of where it belongs as a part of the human experience. The activities just happen to share the same basic function of stuffing our face - but in such different contexts that they fulfill different needs and represent totally different aspects of our lives. Bulavinaka nailed it when she said that fine dining was about chefs extending themselves to exceed expectations. That's no different than a musician that learns more concertos, auditions for orchestras and contests, and ultimately wants to play in front of people and make them happy. It's a career and a set of challenges - techniques to master and then opportunities to show your mastery. As a listener to classical music, one follows the progress of musicians, listens to the same piece played by different musicians and orchestras, and generally listens critically to see if the musician "nails it" musically as well as technically.

                                                                                                              But then there's picking and singing around the campfire. There's just no basis of comparison, other than that notes are involved. Someone saying that this guitar picker is an inferior musician to the orchestra member, is just meaningless nonsense. At once, the answer is, so what? What are we comparing? The fun of a campfire sing-along with Brahms? huh?

                                                                                                              These activities replenish your soul in very different ways. Depending on who you are, you may find one to be more a part of your life than the other. But certainly, one is no better than the other - just different.

                                                                                                              1. re: applehome

                                                                                                                Even better: Bring Brahms back to the Hootenanny ... he was into folk music anyway. Goes over better than staged folk revivals...and I won't name names ... Mark O'Connor. I'd rather stuff my face with Brahms than the orange-blossom foam of dressed-up Country.

                                                                                                              2. re: Nyleve

                                                                                                                I enjoyed your first post, Nyleve, and I've greatly enjoyed this one. I think it's representational of life across the board. When I was younger, there were occasions when I wanted something so bad I could taste it, then I'd save and save and when I finally got it.... what a let-down So some of the joys in life may come more from the wanting than from the getting. After all, aspirations are about the future, achievement is about "it's all over, I'm there."

                                                                                                                But there are a few things in the discusson so far I'm going to bargain over. For one, I'm not all that comfortable with the connotation that seems to be given to "peasant" food. If you look at the very long history of man's eating habits, there is something to be said for the challenge of limitations as well as the joy of having your favorite seasonal food become available. I think it made those foods far more enjoyable when they were in season than today's "everything is available for a price."

                                                                                                                As for "peasant food" being "plain" food, it just ain't so. Which is not to say there weren't people among the peasant class who were downright terrible cooks despite the fact that it fell to them to cook for many. Pity the "many!" But there were also amazing and creative cooks. Many of the "gourmet" dishes we think of as high end cuisine today come directly from "peasant" (wish I could think of a better word) class cooking; beef Stroganoff, boeuf Burguignon, coq au vin, quiches of all sorts, all of the great ragouts. The list is huge! If you stripped all of the "fine dining" dishes that have "peasant roots" from an upscale fancy schmancy menu, you'd be left with a pretty sparse menu!

                                                                                                                What we do have today that is neither peasant nor haute cuisine is diner food and fast food. I'm not a huge fan of fast food, though I do eat my share when out running about, but I can really work up a serious case of "I want that!" when watchng Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. Some of that food looks amazing!

                                                                                                                I think the biggest thing wrong with food today, "peasant" and "haute" alike, is that damn little food in the world today tastes the way it's supposed to taste, thanks to the care and tutelage of "agribusiness." And I'm beginning to doubt it's safe to eat. The dangerous tomatoes lurking around as I write. Newscasters telling me it's okay to eat cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes and tomatoes with stems attached, but the rest could give me serious salmonella! Last Friday I went shopping, bought a gorgeous looking eggplant with the intent of making some caviar d'aubergine on Saturday (caviar d'aubergine is basically ratatouille without bell peppers, overcooked to the mush stage, then chilled and served as a dip) but when I got up Saturday morning, the eggplant had turned into a nightmare with a huge rotting orange spot that absolutely was not there on Frdiay afternoon! <sigh>

                                                                                                                I've never thought of it in this light before, but there was a time when hardly anyone could name the chef of a truly magnificent restaurant. Today people know the names of not only the chefs of great restaurants, but the not-so-great too. I wonder if it's because so much flavor has been bioengineered out of today's food that we have to turn to celebrity status to keep our food interesting?\.

                                                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                  Interesting, troubling as well....

                                                                                                              3. I rarely eat at fancy restaurants,and certainly not any that people have mentioned.
                                                                                                                Have I eaten at a few pricey places in the past,yes,and with family.Did i enjoy it, yes.
                                                                                                                But i just prefer the things my late mother made,or going to some diner and getting a blue plate special,or some hole in the wall taco place,just plain ordinary food most of the time.Nyleve, did eat some Hungarian cabbage rolls,but that's the only thing my mom did make,since she and her brother and sister were county kids(Dad died of pneumonia,mother had nervous breakdown),and did'nt for what ever reason have much contact with their relatives on either side,so very little Hungarian food for us. She tried to get my grandmother to teach her german dishes,so she could make them for my dad,but the two didn;'t get along at times,so so much for German and Hungarian peasant food.But there is nothing wrong with prefering ordinary food becuase I think it has that connection to family and home,even if it's a taco or a bowl of noodles,regardless of what ethnic group makes your food.Which is I think something we all seek,especially in this time when every one works so much and we have little contact
                                                                                                                except through emails and cell phones,instead of face to face.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: HollyDolly

                                                                                                                  I love a middlin' good restaurant meal, and I've had a few that were fairly well into the Fine Dining category, but if you look at my profile you'll see what I loved best in France! That and the Tripes Provençale, also consumed at an outdoor table. When we were in Burgundy, staying with French cousins, the cook was a chunky Spanish woman who specialized in the older classics of French home cooking, and I remember every single meal we had there (18 years ago!). But we also went to eat George Blanc's food in Vonnas, and though I remember having a pleasant time there, I don't remember one damned thing I ate.

                                                                                                                2. The problem with a lot of fancy pants restaurants is that the chef's trying so hard to impress that it's all technical - how best to put the most expensive ingredients in unusual flavor combo that nobody in the right mind will want to eat.

                                                                                                                  I think a lot of it is emperor's new clothes. Not many people would want to say that they spend an astronomical amount of dollars for a meal that's really not that memorable in the long run. Conversely, most people assumed that if the meal is expensive it must be good (see the study on wine and pricing at http://news.cnet.com/8301-13580_3-984...

                                                                                                                  )

                                                                                                                  Takes a lot of guts to say otherwise, and I agree that at heart although very occasionally I enjoy the starred restaurants, that's the exception rather than the rule. Generally it's the simpler, more rustic fare that speaks to my soul and have more of an emotional connection that no amount of foie & gold leaf topped towering contraption with foam can ever complete with. I still dreamt of the very inexpensive suckling pig rice plate at Hong Kong many years ago, rather than any of the expensive restaurants that we spent hundreds of dollars at.