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Apr 4, 2009 09:00 AM

What are you a stubborn purist about?

The bagel and cream cheese thread got me to thinking about the ways in which we chowhounds are a contradictory lot—so open-minded and adventurous in some ways and so vehemently opposed to what we consider breaches of cultural integrity on the other. It may simply amount to privileging knowledge—feeling people should know the rules before they break them—but at any rate:

Midlife inspired this thread by suggesting that pizza, bagels, pastrami, and hot dogs caused the most furor.

In my case, most of my indignance is reserved for certain Italian dishes—not pizza, because I accept that that has truly been adopted and adapted in no less genuine ways by nonItalians (which isn't to say I don't have my own preferences, just that some foods belong to us all—*unless* you're eating it in Italy, in which case don't insist in English that it's got to have 4 types of meat on it for God's sake, which I did hear once and felt sick with shame by association).

But for the moment, I'm thinking that the thing I can't abide being done wrong is a Caesar salad. No virtually raw egg, no anchovy, no Caesar! Hell, it's a Brutus. Heh.

Et tu?

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  1. I'll come up with one or some of my own, but boy do I second your Caesar thing! I won't order it without asking about the egg and the anchovy and therefore I rarely get it. So it has Romaine? Is that it? Thanks, t. I think this will be a great thread.

    2 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      It's funny how a "purist" insists on anchovy. I've learned from two different sources that Cesar salad did not originally contain anchovies. They were something added later. It's the worcestershire sauce in the dressing that contains anchovies.

      1. re: Avalondaughter

        Yes, that was mentioned downthread. And all these years we thought....

    2. I started writing, then deleted, two different initial replies to your question. First, I thought I was a purist. Then I thought I was a curmudgeon. But finally, I have to sigh and accept the fact that I'm an American.

      When it comes down to it, I want all my ethnic food to be pure. I don't want gimmicky spins on classic ethnic dishes, I want prodigiously accurate takes on classic ethnic dishes. 90+ percent of the time, I don't want wasabi mashed under my coq au vin, or cassava root in my gnocchi (inside Boston wink, Taranta is actually pretty awesome), or sweet summer corn in my bibimbap. Along similar lines, I generally have little use for so-called fusion cuisine.

      But it seems I'm totally ok with innovation when it comes to American/New American food. No problem with lobster mac 'n' cheese, green chile cheeseburgers, miso-soy-glazed Rocky Mountain trout. It seems that if the base dish is American, I'm about 1000 times more tolerant of gimmickry, as long as it's super-delicious.

      10 Replies
      1. re: finlero

        Yeah, finlero, you know how I feel about Jose's gnocchi! :)

        That's really an American, do you therefore think you give more respect to other cuisines? That, in the same way that people of one culture should only get away with telling jokes about that culture and not another, you don't want to presume when it comes to others' cuisines?

        1. re: tatamagouche

          I'm sure it all flows from the same well of thought, but in this case, at least for me, I don't think it has too much to do with respect or getting away with stuff. As best as I can tell, it's driven by two main things:

          1) Food tourism - I think a part of my brain thinks of a trip to an ethnic restaurant (or even cooking ethnic food at home) as a mini vacation. You travel somewhere exotic, take in the culture, come home with the memories. In some way, the addition of non-standard ingredients pulls back the curtain on the illusion for me.

          2) Melting pot - America is so relatively young and such an amalgam of other cultures, its cuisine isn't as sharply defined as that of many world cultures. As a result, there's something of an "anything goes" sensibility into the food.

            1. re: finlero

              I don't mind if a classic ethnic dish isn't done authentically, but for god's sake if you're making some significant changes, label it that way on the menu! If I order "gnocchi" off the menu and I get anything other than potato-flour-egg-water, I'll be pissed. If you want to add cassava I'm totally cool with that as long as you advertise it as such, so I can order accordingly and not be surprised when it shows up on my plate. That said, when I'm cooking in my own kitchen you can be sure some totally unforgivable changes/substitutions/experimentations are going to be visited on some poor unsuspecting ethnic classics, but then I've got nobody to answer to but my own palate.

              1. re: Emmmily

                Not to worry—Taranta, which is a Peruvian-Southern Italian place, indeed labels it as cassava gnocchi with a chicha de jora green lamb ragu.

                I agree with you about the wording too. For instance, when a menu says "eggless Caesar" or "vegan Caesar" or some such, at least I know well enough to avoid it.

                1. re: Emmmily

                  Even "properly labeled" non-ethnic ethnic food is enough to push my buttons. I'm sure if my great grandmother ever saw Mrs T's Potato, Cheddar & Jalapeno pierogies she would roll over in her grave! And don't get me started on Cook's Country"s choice for "Best Kielbasa" being Smithfield's! PHULEEEZE! I can hear Grandma rolling over again!

                  1. re: al b. darned

                    pierogis and kielbasa aren't ethnic food?

                    1. re: thew

                      I think this was intended as an extension of the bias against ethnic food with wacky ingredients thrown in.

                  2. re: Emmmily

                    Here Here! That is one of my pet peeves too. Just tell me. Taking liberties with a universally known preparation without informing your unsuspecting diner is just rude and egocentric. I don't care how talented a chef you are, if you're calling it by a name associated with a specific recipe, I'm going to judge you based upon my knowledge of that recipe. If you want to tweak it, please, just let us (your patrons) individually decide whether we're feeling adventurous or traditional that night.

              2. re: finlero

                Very nice summation of how I feel too. Bravo.

              3. An already lost battle, and not exactly food, but still... the Martini. Gin, vermouth, full stop. These colored sugary concoctions that you'll find everywhere may or may not be cocktails, but they are not a Martini.

                30 Replies
                1. re: Gin n Tonic

                  If I have vodka and vermouth, I call it a Vodka Martini. I know it's not. Guess I should ask for a vodka with dry vermouth. And then the bartender will probably correct me and say "oh, a vodka martini." But *I'll* know the difference, won't I?!?

                  1. re: c oliver

                    I'm almost (almost!) willing to look the other way when it's a "vodka martini." I can't abide these blueberry-pomegranate "martini" abominations you'll find everywhere now.

                    1. re: Gin n Tonic

                      I whole heartily agree that a Martini is Gin and Vermouth. (a'la M*A*S*H) but a "Vodka Martini" in my mind is not a huge fopaux. for those who don't like gin, but just cuz you serve it in a martini glass dose not a martini make.

                    2. re: c oliver

                      You can right a wrong that has been wrought against the name of the Martini (and stump most bartenders) by ordering a "Kangaroo."

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        I think I read that. Maybe here? Maybe from you? If I stump bartender, do I get a free Kangaroo???

                    3. re: Gin n Tonic

                      I agree! I find I actually have to order a "dry gin martini" in order to get what I want, and even then......
                      Or order it by stating the name of the gin.

                      1. re: Gio

                        I always order by name (gin of course) because otherwise it becomes a decision tree

                        - martini? yes
                        - vodka? no
                        - gin? yes
                        - vermouth? dah
                        - olives or onion? !?!?!
                        - up or on the rocks? ?!?!?!?!?!?!

                        A martini is not the glass it is served in - me 'sapphire up olive' (love it but now very rarely!)

                        1. re: alwayscooking

                          "A martini is not the glass it is served in"

                          Exactly. The glass is a cocktail glass, and the concoctions served in it are cocktails, the martini being a very specific one. It really is the glassware nomenclature that begat the problem, I think. When people think of it is a "martini glass," they understand anything served in it to be a "martini." Grr.

                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                            Hmm. Manhattans tend to be served in Martini glasses (in my experience) but I somehow doubt that anyone would mistake it for a Martini...

                            1. re: huiray

                              But, as CM points out, it's not actually a 'martini glass.' The correct name is a cocktail glass. I don't see many Manhattans being drunk these days but when I do it's on the rocks not up.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Yes, but as has also been said THAT glass is so often presumed to contain a "martini"...

                                I drink Manhattans often when I dine out and want a cocktail. Or in a bar when with other folks (alternating with Gin & Tonics). Straight up, two cherries, stirred not shaken. I'll send it back or refuse it if it comes to me all frothy and bubbly internally.

                          2. re: alwayscooking

                            This reminds me of my recent experience at Bonefish Grill. I asked for a gin martini straight up with olives. (I've found that you have to be that specific to avoid getting something other than what you want.)

                            What I got tasted wrong to me, so I asked the bartender what kind of vermouth he had used and how much. He told me that HE HAD NOT USED ANY VERMOUTH (!) because that was his general policy in making martinis. It's a two ingredient drink. How tough is it to make it correctly? GRRRR . . .

                            1. re: gfr1111

                              on the otehr side i was at a bar recently and the woman next to me ordered "a vodka martini, no vermouth"

                              that's not a martini. it's a shot

                              1. re: gfr1111

                                My reply to that would of been "If I wonted gin I'd of ordered a gin"

                                1. re: gfr1111

                                  How can it be his generally policy to turn a martini into just gin? I'm appalled (and I don't even drink martinis).

                            2. re: Gin n Tonic

                              Oh, that's my Dad's pet peeve. A "Martini Up" order, if questioned whether gin or vodka, immediately gets immediate disapproval. Personally, I just try to get lime in my vodka-tonic instead of lemon.

                              1. re: Gin n Tonic

                                I don't even like traditional martinis and I know it's made that way and it pisses me off that people consider a "martini" to be anything with vodka in it. Martini doesn't even refer to the vodka/gin in the drink. It refers to the vermouth!

                                1. re: Avalondaughter

                                  What do you consider a "traditional" martini? Are you saying you just don't like martinis?

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Ha ha. That's correct. I don't like martinis. That's why I find it funny that I'm such a purist about nomenclature. I don't drink them.

                                    1. re: Avalondaughter

                                      Ha ha back at ya! I'm sure I hold equally strong views about many things that don't effect me in the least :)

                                  2. re: Avalondaughter

                                    True in Italy that you'll likley get a vermouth (Martini and Rossi brand) when ordering a martini but lost to us the origin of the classic gin martini cocktail. Wiki has it starting in the gold rush but it seems well established by the very late 1800's - before Martini and Rossi would have likely had a wide distribution. Since it has been around for more than 100 years, a martini is absolutely gin, vermouth, and olives - shaken and stirred is up to the drinker - I'm flexible on that.

                                    1. re: alwayscooking

                                      In Italy you have to ask for a "martini cocktail" otherwise you do get vermouth!

                                      1. re: roxlet

                                        Made that mistake only once! But then I switched to the lovely local wines.

                                    2. re: Avalondaughter

                                      You mean I'm not the only one?

                                      I get fairly nutted up about the "pour coors in a cocktail glass and sell it as a Coorstini" marketing (and imbibing) that I see.

                                      The really stupid part of it is that I don't even drink martinis.

                                    3. re: Gin n Tonic

                                      Count me in with the martini purists.

                                      If you put beer in a martini glass, it would not suddenly become a beertini. It would still be beer. Grape juice poured in a wine glass does not miraculously become wine. Tea poured in a coffee cup does not become coffee.

                                      It's rather simple, my argument: The drink doesn't change because of the glass.

                                      1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                                        Although it would be awesome if grape juice did do that.

                                      2. re: Gin n Tonic

                                        I am with you 100%. I'm willing to even be a little bit lenient - you can call a vodka martini a vodka martini. But a martini sans adjectives has gin.

                                        1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                          And what is interesting is, unless you specify gin, more often than not, the bartender will make you a vodka martini. I have to remember to be very specific when I order a martini. I made this mistake quite a few times before I wised up.

                                          1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                            I agree with the martini sentiment. I like both vodka and gin martinis. I like dirty vodka martinis a lot as well. That is a far as I am willing to go on the bending of the term martini though. Anything else and it is simply a cocktail.

                                            1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                              but the dirty, and the vodka, and certainly a dirty vodka martini IS bending it. i say bend away

                                        2. Pho is my feel good meal - went to Fork and Spoon with work folks and ordered the pho - horrible stuff. I should have known and yet people rave about how "authentic" the food is.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: juliewong

                                            LOL- we visited friends last weekend, and she proclaimed herself to be a Chinese food snob - turns out she only likes Chinese food from PF Chang's!
                                            I didn't laugh out loud because they were treating us to lunch at PF Chang's at the time, and it was quite tasty, but I'd be surprised if anybody from China got off the plane, went to PF Chang's, and pronouncd the food to be authentic.

                                            1. re: EWSflash

                                              Oh my. We went to PF Chang's with my brother some years ago and, yes, it was a really tasty and fun meal. It's probably the closest they ever come to Chinese food. They were amazed when we mixed our own dipping sauce rather than having the server do it for us. This probably belongs on the "sheltered" thread. I guess I DO forget how different 'hounds are. Thank heavens :)

                                              1. re: EWSflash

                                                If you got off a plane in the middle of China and walked into the nearest restaurant, chances are you wold not eat one thing presented to you! Authentic Chinese is not something most Anglos can appreciate. Believe me; I have been there.

                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                  Mmmm...I don't believe you—yet. I need examples. Cause I'll try virtually anything once.

                                                  1. re: tatamagouche

                                                    Meat that is way past what we would consider safe to eat. (Think "aged chicken" without refrigeration.) Most of my issues were with food past the point that I found (safely) edible. Weird ingredients I can handle.

                                                  2. re: pikawicca

                                                    My bro-in-law, who has a truly milquetoast-midwestern-white-Lutheran palate, was supervising construction of a gold mine in Mongolia. Can you see where this is going? He was based out of Beijing, and his local coworkers routinely took him out for dinner to play "shock the foreigner, and get him blithering drunk while we're at it". The two things I heard him talk about was eating donkey, which he said was very muddy and dull-flavored, plus eating a donkey made him sad, and a whole roasted frog, which for some fool reason (probably comedy related) he took the first big bite between the frog's back legs. Guess what came shooting out into his mouth in molten form . He said everybody at the table was laughing until he started gagging- he said that quieted things down at the table. immediately.
                                                    Yeah, I dare say there probably isn't a place in China that tastes like PF Changs, not that it isn't tasty food that I crave sometimes, Im not fooling myself that it's anything approaching authentic anything besides authentic PF Changs.

                                              2. I guess I am far from a purist. If I want something pure, I make it. I never expect to have it when I order out. Dining out to me is enjoying my company and food is secondary to me. I order something simple I know will be descent and I don't mind. It is a chain or a 5 star, I've had lousy food at a top and great and a chain. But I don't let it bother me. I don't eat out often and when I do it is with my friends so I am there to have fun and not be a food critic.

                                                A purist ... no 1,00+ ways to make chili and I care less but I still call it chili, spaghetti another one, a meat or pasta of spaghetti pasta is still called spaghetti. Who care if it is the traditional purist way when you go to a restaurant they still call it spaghetti. Caesar, I know how to make it but some restaurants add a bottled caesar dressing and call it caesar, which is why I would never order caesar in a chain restaurant. Go to a true Mexican restaurant in TX or New Mexico or Nevada and you will get multi versions of tacos. None like most americans make or eat daily. Which was real, they all claim to be. They were all good, and I still like the ones I make very NON traditional.

                                                So I don't order steak from a seafood restaurant, or fish from a steakhouse, Caesar unless they make it in front of me, don't order, I order what is safe. Unless it is a truly small dive in New Mexico (i.e., example) serving truly authentic Mexican food, I will order but not expect authentic.

                                                Honestly, I order what I like and very very seldom have I ever been disappointed. I can go to Micky Dee's and get a big mac but that is all I expect and nothing more. Maybe just easy to please or not very "picky." I do enjoy good and great food and appreciate it, but realize, not everyone is like me.

                                                However a good bourbon and coke ... they better not get that wrong :)

                                                31 Replies
                                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                                  A truly good bourbon should not be ruined with coke. And that is what I am a stubborn purist about.

                                                  1. re: smarsh

                                                    I don't think any good liquor should be adulterated. And using Coke as a mixer ruins the liquor AND the Coke. Bleh.

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      I agree. If I'm treated to a bottle of good single malt scotch (have The Balvenie right now) guess what goes into it? Scotch.

                                                      1. re: bayoucook

                                                        Absolutely. We usually have two bottles of scotch in the house -- a single malt for sipping and a good blend (usually Dewar's) for scotch and soda, cooking (ie butterscotch pudding) and hot toddies.


                                                        1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                                          I'm a purest about absolutely hating (meant in the whole sense of the word) scotch. and it is not because I had crappy scotch what i tried was 15 year old glen fittich so hadn't had it since.

                                                          1. re: comfortcaffe

                                                            I'll post something about actual food later, but on the scotch... yeah, if you can't get along with a Glenfiddich, you're probably not going to like any others. It's pretty middle-of-the-road for single malts.

                                                            That said, I have enjoyed every scotch I've had, except for Laphroig.

                                                            But the whole "alter the well booze all you want but don't mess up the good stuff" applies to a whole lot of foods. None more obvious to me than coffee. You don't take a premium single origin and dump Splenda and skim in it. Drink it black. Appreciate the aromas and the flavors. Learn how to taste what's in there.

                                                            Want to screw up your coffee or espresso with additives - that's why they make french roast, supermarket blends and Starbucks. But ordering a Panama Esmeralda, Kenya Kangunu, Ethiopia Michelle or Honduras La Tortuga or similar and stepping all over it? Not cool.

                                                            That's probably my biggest "purist" pet peeve.

                                                            1. re: Panini Guy

                                                              excuse me, but no. one may well be able to "appreciate the aromas and flavors", and know how to "taste what's in there", but that isn't the way they enjoy it. and some people may even be able to tell the difference between a supermarket blend and a premium origin, after they "screw it up" to their taste.

                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                A) the thread is about what items one is a 'stubborn purist' about and this is mine.
                                                                B) I completely disagree with you and would call it "rationalization". Putting milk and sugar in Panama Esmeralda is no different that putting Coke into a glass of Chateau Montelena. Many people enjoy a little Coke in their wine. But once you've done that to a great bottle, you might as well be drinking plonk.

                                                                Yes, you might be able to discern some trace of blueberry after putting milk into a particularly long fermented Ethiopia Harrar and you may get some of the woodsy/earthy qualities of a Lintong Sumatran as both are pretty strong in those coffees.

                                                                But you'll never pick out the jasmine in a quality Yirgacheffe, the blackcurrant of a good Kenyan, or the lemon/tangerine acidity of an Esmeralda once you've altered it with cream and sugar. And what a waste of a good coffee that is.

                                                                1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                  As the OP, I took PG's post to be in the spirit the thread was intended. And as a wine drinker, I understand his point—even if I myself haven't learned to appreciate good coffee and probably never will.

                                                                  1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                    "I understand his point—even if I myself haven't learned to appreciate good coffee and probably never will."

                                                                    Now that I get completely. I feel the same way about tea. I know it's really complex and there are thousands of varieties each with different characteristics. Even had some cups of unique teas that were really enjoyable (brewed at correct temp and unadulterated). But there's only so much time and brain capacity. I don't enjoy tea nearly as much as coffee, so I'm at peace settling for a more basic knowledge on the subject. As we sell some excellent teas in the shop, I can converse a bit on those, but a lot of my customers know more about tea than I do.

                                                                    However as anyone on CH who's read my rants knows there are few things get the back of my neck hairs as stiff as a statement implying "it's only coffee/it's all the same". And it's not just a snob thing. There are significant geopolitical implications that result from choosing bad coffee over good.

                                                                    1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                      Yeah, I was actually defending you up there... :)

                                                                  2. re: Panini Guy

                                                                    i dont dispute your right to be a purist about it. not in the least.
                                                                    i'm just not sure i agree with your whys.

                                                                    1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                      I love good coffee, but I take mine with >gasp< half & half & splenda. Please invite me to a coffee tasting at your place. Your descriptions made me very curious.

                                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                                        Would love to have you. But it's a long trip to Pittsburgh from Berlin!

                                                                        Don't know how motivated you are on this, but there's a wonderful group of guys in Copenhagen who'd rock your world on the subject and would likely be happy to have you in for a tasting:

                                                                        1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                          Perhaps when I'm back in PA - Happy Valley ain't so far from the 'burgh '-D, and it's been a while....

                                                                  3. re: Panini Guy

                                                                    I even like Laphroaig and the other Islay malts. Most of the time. A while back (like 1990 or so) I had a 16(?)-year-old Laphroaig that had such a strong hit of iodine that it tasted like it had been aged in barrels full of Band-Aids and plastic pool toys. Too much of a good thing.

                                                                    Still and all, I'll add a little water to a good whisk(e)y to open up the nose. And although I usually drink my coffee black, I find that a touch of cream sometimes adds a new dimension to some varietals. It has a tendency to kill the bouquet in anything that's light and floral, but can actually enhance brews that have earthier flavors.

                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                      Funny thing is I love Lagavulin. And it's only a short jog between the two distilleries. But to me, the peaty smokiness of the Lagavulin is enjoyable while the Laphroaig has an overwhelming taste of burnt microwave popcorn to my palate. And I'm kinda bummed about that because acquiring a taste for Laphroaig is sort of a badge of honor in scotch circles. Just can't do it.

                                                                      1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                        My SO adores Laphroaig. Even the smell turns my stomach.

                                                                        He's also a serious coffee drinker. Hm.

                                                                        1. re: Panini Guy

                                                                          +1 for Lagavulin, my DH however dislikes it's peatiness. More for me :)

                                                                        2. re: Panini Guy

                                                                          Spot on about the java, PG. Tat, I learned to drink black coffee at a coffee house, The Purple Elephant, just down the street from UNM. My wife knows when coffee idsweak or just plain bad, when I put the cream in.

                                                                  4. re: c oliver

                                                                    Ditto. I like my vodka (preferably Ketel One) with ice and olives.

                                                                    1. re: cycloneillini

                                                                      Absolutely. Nothing but ice and a little green vegetable. Hmm, is an olive a vegetable or a fruit? It has a pit.

                                                                        1. re: tatamagouche

                                                                          Either way, if you have enough vodka cocktails or martinis, I think you can count the garnish as one of your recommended 5 fruits/vegetables per day.

                                                                          1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

                                                                            That's been my personal philosophy for a number of years. Like hiding vegetables in chicken nuggets to get children to eat them :)

                                                                        2. re: c oliver

                                                                          If you get an almond stuffed green olive you get a serving of fruit and protein. That's my story and I'm sticking to it

                                                                    2. re: smarsh

                                                                      Nor should a good Coke be ruined with burbon-lol

                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                          haha! For the record, i prefer my bourbon, scotch, and whiskey with one ice cube. For martinis I do vodka (because of my adversion to gin... see post about things you haven't had since college), but usually i'll do a gibson.