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Overheard in Thai restaurant...embarrassing "Yankees."

The charming Thai woman was taking the order from a table of four.. The menu is crystal clear as to its offerings, designed for the American trade, including a section stating, "We can alter the spicy level from 1 to 5, according to your taste," and beginning with "Mild." No toad nails, nothing exotic.

Woman patron looks up at charming server, and, in her best (Hyacinth-Keeping Up Appearances) manner, proclaims, "We're YANKEES we don't eat spicey food."

Now, apart from anything else, it was the "Yankees" who brought spices to the colonies. One wonders - did they choose this restaurant solely to dislike everything they were offered? Ice water in the lap would have been my "Yankee" response.

It occurred to me that maybe the reason the dinner prices were so much higher than the lunch menu is that the dinner crowd is invariably of such a type that the price rise represents an annoyance charge. I mean, have you ever encountered the likes of this during lunch? (It's just a hypothesis).

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  1. I don't see anything wrong with the patron's comment. I've said something similar in the past but maybe not at a restaurant. I usually reduce the amount of siracha in a recipe to about 1/4 of the specified amount. We're ok with "one chili pepper" maybe two. I think perhaps the woman patron thought she was being funny. Yankees have a dry sense of humor. One time at lunch in Boston's Chinatown, I asked for milk. The waiter was horrified and told me "you no baby, you drink tea". I had no idea the request would upset him.

    2 Replies
    1. re: dfrostnh

      Too funny! You scandalized the poor guy:)

      1. re: dfrostnh

        << I think perhaps the woman patron thought she was being funny. Yankees have a dry sense of humor>>

        are you saying that maybe she thought that being unbelievably boorish is being funny???

      2. If the comment had come FROM server to patron... "You Ynakees don't eat spicey food!?!"... that would be pretty offensive. UNLESS server knew parton(s) VERY WELL & knew they could take a joke!?!

        1 Reply
        1. re: kseiverd

          I've heard that comment a lot, but not about Yankees, but about white people in general. And they never believe me when I tell them I want it as spicy as possible. I have the spice tolerance of a Sri Lankan.

        2. You have to wonder why, if they dislike spicy food, they are eating in a Thai restaurant. Surely, other cuisines would have provided a menu that better suited their tastes.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Harters

            I'd have been biting my tongue to keep from retorting "then why are you HERE?!"

          2. "We're YANKEES we don't eat spicey food." - She should speak for herself and not make gross generalizations like that. And yes, why is she eating in a Thai restaurant? Although there are plenty of choices that aren't spicy!

            1. That whole WHY ARE YOU THERE aspect flew over my head at a million miles and hour?? Absolutely TRUE. Like... WHY would you go to a steak house, if not into BEEF?? Or a seafood place when you don't like fish??

              19 Replies
                    1. re: masha

                      Although my comment was tongue in cheek, it was intended as a serious point. On the other thread, a lot of Hounds were really critical of the MIL for being unwilling to even try an "exotic" restaurant that was outside her comfort zone. Here we have someone who ventured out of hers and we are critiquing her too. There may be all sorts of reason why this diner is at the Thai resto, including that other members of her party are Thai food fans. (And maybe she left her reading glasses home or she was intimidated by a really long menu of unfamiliar dishes. Perhaps she was hoping the waiter would help her select a dish that was popular among those who are faint of heart when it comes to heat level.)

                      1. re: masha

                        That's just it. We really don't know unless we were a fly on the wall.

                        1. re: masha

                          I don't question people's diet and preferences......what I do question is people eavesdropping.

                          1. re: masha

                            my only issue is with the pronoun - 'we' vs. 'I'

                            speak for yourself, not the whole table thanks. that's when I'd get pissed.

                            1. re: hill food

                              The "we" in "we are critiquing her," was a deliberate literary device, to avoid the more blunt "you people." Personally, I am not critiquing her either. My first post on this thread was to "recommend" Fourunner's comment downthread, where he suggested that she was using "self deprecating humor" and that others were coming down too hard on her.

                              The "we" in the sentence substitutes for "a large segment of the CH community" regardless if it includes each one of us.

                              1. re: masha

                                I think hillfood meant the we in "we yankees"

                                1. re: mselectra

                                  I see your point. Apologies HF if I misconstrued your comment.

                                  1. re: masha

                                    on re-reading, I was vague, but it got sorted out, that and her presuming to speak for the entire table. I would be pissed if one person decided the whole group wanted baby food.

                            2. re: masha

                              I have this image in my head of a restaurant door. On one side of the door, a crowd of people is shouting "You will find something you like! Just go in!" On the other side of the door, a crowd of people is shouting "You won't find something you like! Just get out!" And the weird thing is, it's the same people on both sides of the door.

                              1. re: small h

                                small h - I think that's a one-act play by Eugene Ionesco

                                  1. re: small h

                                    lord forfend. that's one of my favorites. and of the rhinoceros as well.

                                1. re: small h

                                  I think there's a little Schrodinger cat going on here too.

                                  1. re: Chatsworth

                                    When I got involved in this thread, I had no idea I'd end up having to discuss absurdist drama and quantum indeterminacy. I can't speak with much intelligence on either topic, but I am so loving Chowhound right now.

                          2. Aside from the rube-like behavior of the Yankee, I don't see anything wrong on either side.

                            She doesn't have to eat what she doesn't like.

                            The restaurant is in the US and they want to stay in business; they are wise to cater to their customer's varied tastes.

                            23 Replies
                            1. re: sal_acid

                              so a Thai place should serve bastardized dreck because someone might not want to eat the real thing? Let's serve up mac and cheese and call it Cheese Pad Thai, right?

                              I don't think so...if the sign over the door says Thai, there's hopefully not much doubt as to what someone should expect, and if their taste isn't varied enough to include Thai food, then they shouldn't even open the door.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                I spent some time in Thailand and now live in a large cosmopolitan North American city that prides itself on its food. I have yet to find a Thai restaurant that isn't serving "bastardized" Thai food - not necessarily "dreck", but not authentic. They're catering to the American palate.

                                1. re: Chatsworth

                                  Given how many restaurants fail, it's hard to fault places for trying to find ways to appeal to as many people as possible.

                                  The only Thai restaurant I've ever been to that had a very rigid perspective on spice levels was the Thai House in Tel Aviv. However, they really had a strong niche on the market (possibly as the only remotely authentic Thai restaurant in the country) and if you were willing to really fight with your server you could usually get some wiggle room on the heat levels. But they really were in a quasi-position of being able to say "if you don't like how we do it, buy a plane ticket and go find another Thai restaurant in another country". It's not quite the same thing when diners have multiple other options that will accommodate their tastes.

                                  1. re: cresyd

                                    Cresyd, not faulting them, just sad (because I'm selfish that way) that I can't find more authentic places.

                                    I'm surprised that Israel doesn't have more good Thai food, given how many Israelis spend time there after their IDF stint.

                                    1. re: Chatsworth

                                      I have a few theories - but there also aren't m(any) ok Indian restaurants. And I believe that more Israelis travels there post IDF.

                                      However, do keep in mind that in general the Israeli palate is far more similar to the US palate (hot) spice wise than to India/Thailand. Having hosted a number of TexMex dinners, spice levels for Israelis are typically very mild. Something like a jarred spicy salsa from Pace (....chowhound sad admission - but sometimes you want a taste from home!) was considered to be crazy spicy on the verge of unpleasant. Sure - go heavy with the cumin, coriander, etc - but keep those chilies in check!

                                      1. re: cresyd

                                        Funnily enough, I almost mentioned Indian in my previous response!

                                        It's been too long since I was in Israel, but I have to admit to searching out the "skhug" for my "sandvitch" because I love a little heat. I shall just recognize Ashkenazik influences and the Sephardic spices which don't necessarily involve heat. :-)

                                        1. re: Chatsworth

                                          That's Yeminite - different both from Ashkenazi and Sephardic tastes. Yeminite cooking definitely has that spicy thread, but general tastes in Israel (across religions and background) are really quite mild.

                                          Always leaving room for exceptions though!

                                        2. re: cresyd

                                          You seem to have a point. I don't know about Israelis specifically, but basically everyone (generalizing of course) which included Latin Americans, Euros, Turks has quite a lower spice tolerance than Americans. Despite what most Americans think, the American (specifically "white/Anglo") is pretty spice-loving.

                                          1. re: Wawsanham

                                            Yeah - when saying "large group of people dis/like x" there's always that scary line of generalizing too broadly. I feel the most comfortable sweeping that broad brush with Israelis having lived there, but more tentatively I'd say that about the bulk of the Middle East (excepting Yemen which does go spicier/has more African influences).

                                  2. re: sunshine842

                                    So to ask for something less spicy makes the food "bastardized?" Who knew.

                                    1. re: EarlyBird

                                      Only in some threads. In other threads, it's actually a kindness to offer less spicy versions. I leave it to you to figure out how one decides which side to be on (both is obviously an option).


                                      1. re: EarlyBird

                                        Please go back and read Sal_Acid's post, then read mine in response, and try to put it all in context.

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          I'm missing something? You suggested that to simply moderate the level of spiciness in Thai cuisine is the equivalent of serving "bastardized dreck," akin to mac and cheese "pad thai."

                                          I have to imagine that Thai people have differences in spice levels, too, and would still consider mama's curry with a bit less spice than normal, pretty good food, not dreck.

                                        2. re: EarlyBird

                                          given that the place already offers spiciness from 1 to 5, I think asking to be directed to the least spicy offerings is in no way "offensive"

                                          1. re: DGresh

                                            We agree 100%. Not sure if you meant to respond to me.

                                            1. re: EarlyBird

                                              Addressed the problem raised by numbing-down some Thai dishes (often cited as a problem by people from Thailand or with experience there) earlier in the thread:



                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                  "numbing-down" is a good word for it! :)

                                            2. re: EarlyBird

                                              If the food is intrinsically spicy the answer is yes. Take a key component away from a traditional dish and its no longer the same dish.

                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                Re PhilD: ... And it MIGHT even be a good dish in its own right. But a different dish, not fitting the label Thai.

                                                Thai cuisine is not all, or even mostly, about fiery-hot dishes. But it has famous ones that are, "intrinsically," very spicy. A QUALitative part of the experience. No need to order them if you don't like it hot! I think it's rather an American thing to want to "have your cake and eat it too," get every dish modified to your particular whim. Leading to things like "mild Vindaloo," which a celebrated Indian restaurateuse in the US called contradictory.

                                                Thailand even boasts a "small but deadly" pepper that has long contended for being the hottest on the planet: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6334...

                                                Again, this THREAD is mild compared to what you can hear from Thai natives. One Thai expat and food writer living in San Francisco was known in past years to answer the question "can you recommend a good Thai restaurant around here" with "basically, there aren't any in the United States." She has evidently decided to do something about it now, by opening her own: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/916663

                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                  Totally agree Thai food isn't all spicy and that's what is odd about the spicy debate.

                                                  Why neuter dishes that should be spicy - just offer diners the less spicy dishes ones that appeal to their palettes. Thai cuisine isn't one dimensional even Thai curries vary between the hot and spicy, through beautifully lip puckering sour, to coconuty and sweet.

                                                  Interesting to hear about Pim's restaurant - sounds like a good thing for SF hounds. And from reports looks like she is trying to keep it very real.

                                                2. re: PhilD

                                                  Indeed, at some point a dish can be so modified as to no longer be the dish it started out as. I'm not sure if that's what's being discussed here.

                                                  1. re: EarlyBird

                                                    EarlyBird: "At some point a dish can be so modified as to no longer be the dish it started out as. I'm not sure if that's what's being discussed here."

                                                    Well, it's what sunshine842, Chatsworth, PhilD and I were discussing from various perspectives and it's my main point in this thread.

                                          2. I don't know what Hyacinth is like, so without benefit of that knowledge, my guess is that the customer was cracking a joke about herself, and it wouldn't offend me in the least.

                                            To me, that's like the Thai woman asking me how spicy (as in hot) I'd like my food and me saying, "5 PLUS! I'm Korean!"

                                            Of course not ALL Koreans like their food as hot as I do, so it would be a somewhat hyperbolic generalization, but not totally out of left field.

                                            And from what I know of the cuisine of the part of the US in which people refer to themselves as Yankees, it's not hot at all, is it? ^-

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: inaplasticcup


                                              That's Hyacinth Boookay -- and a YouTube search will keep you giggling for a while.

                                              Funny, funny show -- but the sort of person you want to smack in real life.

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                Her long suffering husband Richard. The neighbors who run for cover whenever they see her. Same for the mailman. Her dysfunctional family. I can't think of anyone on that show who actually liked the woman other than that odd caretaker at Honeysuckle Cottage. Very funny show. My favorite after Fawlty Towers.

                                                1. re: miss_belle

                                                  I have to confess to preferring the Vicar of Dibley for all around laughs, but I won't turn Hyacinth away.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    my given name is Richard and it took many years before I could watch that (clever) show without cringing.

                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                  Thanks, sunshine. I've have a loookay. :P

                                              2. Am I missing something here? The patron doesn't like spicy foods and used a little self deprecation and humor to convey her message. Not all Thai food is spicy and they have the mild offering, which means probably no heat spices....not everyone reads the entire menu before the server gets to the table.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  I read it as having undertones of "you idiot -- why would you even ask how much heat we want?!"

                                                  Because I've known plenty of Yankees who DO eat plenty of heat.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    I read that as coming from the OP, not the server or patron. To me it's an innocent statement and allows the server to direct them to suggestions away from heat.

                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                      of course, we have no way to hear the tone of the statement, nor of the reaction from the Yankee's companions nor from the server...

                                                  1. You are taking offense at a fellow restaurant customer expressing her preference about the spice level of her food, when it's clear from the menu that the restaurant wants her to do so?

                                                    From my experience as a German-Dutch-Norwegian-Irish American, if she looks like a "Yankee" she's unlikely to receive any Thai food spiced above 2 unless accompanied by a Thai or Indian friend.

                                                    I hear people tell their waiters how spicy they want their food when I go out to lunch. Dinner prices are always higher. People tell their waiters how spicy they want their food at dinner also.

                                                    1. The comment of the customer is stupid and offensive because that person is purporting to speak for others.

                                                      And what's with 'Yankees?'

                                                      The next time I go to a French restaurant, I'll proclaim loudly "We Vikings don't like butter."

                                                      1. "Now, apart from anything else, it was the "Yankees" who brought spices to the colonies." Is this supposed to be ironic? I hope so, or do you not know anything about the Spice Trade? Not to mention the fact that Thailand pretty much managed to avoid the whole colonization thing.

                                                        To some (literally minded) people "We can alter the spicy level from 1 to 5" means that even 1 is spicy. Replace "spicy" with "nuclear" to see what I mean.

                                                        1. I can't believe I'm jumping in here, but:

                                                          1. I would hold back on judging the comment, only because I wasn't there. Someone may have been joking, and whether it was pulled off to any effect is in question. If said in all seriousness, that becomes another issue, but again, still not there.

                                                          2. I'm puzzled by the question of why they were even in a Thai restaurant if they don't like spicy food (by which I assume one means 'hot' rather than flavourful). It is my understanding that there are Thai dishes that are less hot in general (and that some (Thais) spice up with hot chillies based on taste, but not requirement of the dish). Indeed, the pride with which some declare their desire to eat the hottest of the hot and feel proud because they are so 'authentic' reminds me of various Asians I have known (from the continent, from East and South) who disliked spicy food.

                                                          (This kind of pride in the spicy makes me think of the sketch 'Going for an English' in which the Indians ask for food to be as bland as possible, both as a show of their bravery and a show of the sort of bullish ignorance which some approach food of another culture. Of course, they could have also been making fun of English food.)

                                                          Of course, I could be wrong about spiciness in Thai food, and certainly there can be preferences. But this sort of question as to why this group should even be there is puzzling. It is possible to have an aversion to spiciness/hotness whilst enjoying the flavours of Thai food. (Not that I'd know, since I throw chillies onto almost everything I eat. But I see that as a failing on my part-- not the part of others, but sometimes I wonder about this practice of mine.)

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Lizard

                                                            In the US, I think that pad thai has basically become like spaghetti, tacos, and sushi. Yes - they are dishes that come from other cultures with strong views on the "right" way to serve them - but they now have strong American versions that are pretty widespread.

                                                            So I think it's very easy for someone to think - "hey, I like the pad thai that I had at x place - let's go to a Thai restaurant". And never put together Thai food and spice. In the same way that having grocery store sushi or Chipotle isn't an indicator of whether or not someone will actually like a more authentic Japanese or Mexican restaurant.

                                                          2. The patron was self deprecating.
                                                            You were being nosy.
                                                            Live and let live.
                                                            An annoyance charge? If true, who is the real ass?

                                                            1. Reminds me of the "midwestern taste" dust up from another thread. And, is there a paragraph missing or something? The bit about pricing is random

                                                                1. re: beevod

                                                                  I particularly like the argument that "Yankees" brought spices to the colonies!

                                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                                      I've been scratching my head over that one for a while now. I mean, if the "colonies" are the present US and "yankees" are the residents of that land, is the sentence some kind of weird tautology akin to "I brought myself home to my house"? Besides, the capsicum were here first.

                                                                      Is it implying that Americans colonized Southeast Asia? Historically, that is super flawed. I'll grant such a relationship to France and Vietnam, but Thailand was never "colonized" by Western nations and the US didn't exist when European "travelers" brought chile pods to Asia. (I'll just ignore the fact that there is basically not even evidence to support the notion that other Asian nations "colonized" Thailand.) Moreover, even if we accept the idea that the US occupied the Phillipenes, that would certainly not have been considered a "colony".

                                                                      As far as I am aware, and given that absolutely no anthropological evidence exists, the possibility that any pre-Columbian Americans traveled west across the Pacific to the Asian mainland is quite a stretch. Moreover, there were certainly no "colonies" established. That is also ignoring the fact that such peoples long predate 1789 and the entire basis of the appellation "Yankees".

                                                                      I'm trying, but there is simply no way to make sense of the assertion at issue, unless, we take a Saul Steinberg view of the world outside Manhattan. In that case, is it possible that Joe DiMaggio brought garlic, oregano, and pepper with him on a road trip while playing games in San Francisco and LA?

                                                                      1. re: MGZ

                                                                        Great post.
                                                                        I distill it down to this- many, if not most, non-foodie Americans think potatoes come from Ireland and tomatoes from Italy!
                                                                        Who cares where any food originated and how it got there? Moreover, why would that have anything to do with eating in a Thai restaurant hundreds of years later?

                                                                        Anyways, it was good for a laugh.

                                                                      2. re: monavano

                                                                        yeah except back then spices were in the clove, allspice, mustard, coriander type levels, hot peppers either weren't used in Euro foods or largely came back from the Americas.

                                                                    2. I really have nothing to add except the Hyacinth comparison is absolutely hysterical. I discovered that series on Netflix last year.

                                                                      1. Ditto on great Hyacinth reference (the Bourgeoise From Hell -- IIRC, her family name was "Bucket" which she, alone, insisted on pronouncing Boo-kay). Priceless British humor.

                                                                        But I incline to side with Chatsworth and sunshine here, there are deeper problems with Thai food in North America, and in the 35 years it has been popular in my part of North America, these problems have worsened. One factor: early Thai restaurants all had Thai cooks & owners; later, people from other Asian countries started opening them.

                                                                        It's not just that recipes are simplified and adapted. 30 years ago, US Thai restaurants I knew cooked their stews traditionally, long and slow. One famous "green" curry was normally made with pork, and very hot. Another famous, red, curry with beef, and milder. If you happened not to eat beef or pork or very hot food, you ORDERED SOMETHING ELSE.

                                                                        Today, a typical mediocre US Thai restaurant flaunts "choice of proteins" [obnoxious term anyway -- most natural foods, even herbs and berries, contain proteins] which of course sounds nice, if you want your green pork curry made with shrimp, or your red "Mussuman" stew with tofu. But it means those ingredients are added on short order, NOT cooked for hours -- and the dish isn't the same, even when you choose the original "protein."

                                                                        Worse, some Thai specialties are by nature very spicy -- it is PART of the flavor, not some detachable option. Recently at a US Thai place I ordered a favorite rice-noodle dish that is properly very spicy. Was asked "heatness level," 1-5 (bad sign). The dish proved sub-mediocre in other ways. Then, at another, more traditional, Thai restaurant, I ordered same dish. NO question to me about heat (kitchen simply spiced it correctly, menu had warned it was hot) -- just a brief confirmation that the dish's usual meat content was OK (easy to alter in this dish, being a stir-fry). Lo and behold, it arrived full of subtle flavoring and aromas, from the background condiments to the fresh herbs. And was equally good, ordered again weeks later.

                                                                        Let the eater beware.

                                                                        57 Replies
                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                          I think that relying on restaurants/the business sphere to preserve culture is always going to be a losing cause. (And not one limited to the US - you want to see a truly embarrassing representation of Thai food, I can recommend Thailandi in Jerusalem *shudder*.)

                                                                          While restaurants can be about sharing culture, feeding people, and providing opportunities to learn and expand horizons - at the end of the day they're businesses. And the successful ones make choices that make money. If someone has a strong desire to preserve/respect a food culture - then the right venue for that is not necessarily a business. Not to say it can't happen, but that's most likely going to be the exception rather than the rule.

                                                                          I think that using nonprofits/community cultural centers/ places of worship/regional parades or festivals/etc are stronger ways to both educate the uninitiated on what the authentic versions are but also a safe space where business concerns aren't central. Waging the fight that the business world should be where culture, custom, and tradition should be upheld will always be a losing battle.

                                                                          1. re: cresyd

                                                                            Excellent points, cresyd.

                                                                            Mainly I lament (though less passionately than others who, unlike me, come from Thailand or have lived there) when, over time, many people learn a decreasingly authentic and, frankly, decreasingly _good_ version of one of the world's great cuisines, full of subtlety and unique flavors when done well.

                                                                            The "'Bolognese' meat sauce syndrome," I'll call it.


                                                                              1. re: monavano


                                                                                In another 30 years, CHOW "Recipe Features" or their equivalent will offer "classic" pad kee-mao using, say, ketchup and peanut butter -- because a generation will have learned it that way, and the "CHOW Food Team" didn't know any better -- and the feature will attract annoyed comments.


                                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                                  monavano, re 'Alfredoization - oh lord, just give the jarred pasta sauce aisle at a large US supermarket a careful perusal.

                                                                                  one night while reshelving and facing I was astounded at the variety as I had never really looked before (the few times I buy pre-made tomato sauce I just get a basic one and doctor it)

                                                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                                                    The jarred Alfredo sauces take it to a whole 'nother level.

                                                                                2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                  I think that some reasons for that is that urge to cling to and proclaim the "authentic" as good, and the hybrid or diaspora versions as lesser. Therefore it creates an environment where people hype their versions as "authentic" because they've come to understand that's the only good way to talk about food.

                                                                                  So instead of saying "come over to my house tonight for a very tasty Pad Kee-Mao chez Johnson (aka that will not authentic but is inspired on the authentic, and will subsequently be very yummy)" - we've been told to be embarrassed by that. And that we should rename our dish entirely because it's totally wrong.

                                                                                  1. re: cresyd

                                                                                    I hereby propose the Chowhound variation on Godwin's Law. It's based upon the idea that at some point in any heated discussion of traditional foods, somebody brings up the notion of "authenticity". Given that I'm still counting the angels on the pin head before me, I'll have to refran from attacking another impossible endeavor . . . .

                                                                                    1. re: MGZ

                                                                                      A word of a thousand meanings and none.....

                                                                                      1. re: MGZ

                                                                                        I'm only buying into this Chow version of Godwin's if it similarly means that the person mentioning "authentic" is deemed to have lost the argument.

                                                                                      2. re: cresyd

                                                                                        Just start every statement about dishes you make with "my version of..."
                                                                                        I believe the Australian/Chinese chef Kylie Kwon (not totally sure of her name) starts most of her statements with that line: "Here's my version of PadKee-Mao"

                                                                                        1. re: cresyd

                                                                                          I see this as being more about the ordinary, complacent human habit (especially well developed in places like the US) of assuming that the version of things we happen to know or to've heard of is the only, or the only important, version. So, if someone got all their perspective on "Fettuccine Alfredo" from US commercial culture of the last couple decades, they can conscientiously write a public recipe for it that includes a lot of cream, and call it "classic," though major US cookbooks of much of the 20th century disagree.

                                                                                          You've all probably seen the perennial CH threads where Americans visiting Rome are surprised to find few people there associating traditional "fettuccine al burro" with Alfredo di Lellio's name, and no one who's heard of an "Alfredo sauce" even though they do make a similar sauce there, unrelated to Alfredo, under another name.

                                                                                          Likewise with "Swiss" cheese in Switzerland, "macarons" in most of France, etc. (just to mention some memorable real threads). I have even met Americans who thought Wiener Schnitzel had something to do with sausages.

                                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                            Well, weiner=hot dog to Americans, so that's not so odd at all to see how an American could assume weiner schnitzel is a type of sausage.

                                                                                            1. re: monavano

                                                                                              I just Googled "weiner schnitzel".

                                                                                              Mind. Blown. Yes, I would have assumed hot dog. :-)

                                                                                              1. re: UTgal

                                                                                                For the legions of us who grew up singing "Oh I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner, that is what I'd truly like to be..."
                                                                                                a weiner is a dog.
                                                                                                It's also a penis.
                                                                                                So, yeah, there's a sausage theme.

                                                                                                1. re: UTgal

                                                                                                  WIENER. As in from Wien. As in Vienna.

                                                                                                  Not Weiner.

                                                                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                    Ooof. My bad. Thanks for the correction!

                                                                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                      I German guy I used to work with, who had a very dry sense of humor, was set upon by a pack of school kids who asked him "Do you have a wiener?"
                                                                                                      Ralf replied calmly, "No, I am from Bremen."

                                                                                                  2. re: monavano

                                                                                                    My point exactly (though I was thinking of a US fast-food sausage chain, Der Wienerschnitzel, which must have helped promote the notion).

                                                                                                    Americans grow up hearing some offshoot version of something from elsewhere, _then_ are surprised to find that the rest of the world, including the people who created the thing in the first place, doesn't have the same notion. (But first, they write Wikipedia pages or online "classic" recipes to help propagate their version of it.)

                                                                                                    Today the US concept of Viennese (i.e. "Wiener") sausage finds its purest expression in those tiny sausages sold in little cans.

                                                                                                    Not to rehash the following CH cliché, but recognizable Frankfurter sausages remain popular in Frankfurt.

                                                                                                    1. re: monavano

                                                                                                      O_o I had no idea that (some) Americans made that assumption. I can see in hindsight why they would, but...

                                                                                                    2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                      I definitely agree that part of this is how we grow up and experience the world.

                                                                                                      However, I think there's a difference between the Wiener Schnitzel example and the Alfredo example. Wiener Schnitzel is just a case of a food not being translated into English and not terribly common in US menus - therefore unless someone's seen the dish, the confusion is different (I've never seen a Wiener Schnitzel on a menu that was a sausage dish).

                                                                                                      My point - and I think that this applies to a lot of Italian American food - is that there's some notion that the food being made is tied to where families came from. It's a huge part of the narrative. But the narrative of Italian American food isn't taught as its own narrative that was inspired by a country of origin, rather that it's a copy of the food from the country of origin. And unfortunately the narrative of Italian American food or Chinese American food is often accompanied by terms like "bastardization" or "dumbing down".

                                                                                                      Ultimately I think this creates a story where instead of saying embracing a change and evolution of traditions, it's become more common to cling to a narrative of "my grandmother came from x, and this is the way she made y - therefore y is a dish of x".

                                                                                                      1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                        Agree with you cresyd on the peculiar situation of Italian-American food as perceived in the US (Marcella Hazan in the original, unabridged, unBowdlerized, vol. 2 of her Classic Italian Cookbooks expressed horror at some American dishes she encountered, billed as "Italian" in the US.) John Mariani, an American from the Northeast, has written eloquently in various printed media about the Italian to Italian-American food evolutions and contrasts.

                                                                                                        Fettucine al' Alfredo is a unique case though. A comparatively modern import to the US (a century ago), it was a standard simple Roman pasta dish, which a particular restaurateur made his signature dish, doing it showily and well, then took on TOUR internationally, helping to popularize it (not just in the US). Can be amazingly tasty too, IMO, for a simple dish -- another example of unique and subtle flavors from venerable regional cuisines.

                                                                                                        It was captured pretty faithfully by US cookbooks for a couple of generations (good Parmesan and rich butter absorbed into good noodles, preferably fresh) -- I have a lot of those cookbooks -- until around 30-40 years ago, US restaurants helped to promote a variation using cream -- sometimes MOSTLY cream -- and that newer offshoot became popular. So it was an Italian dish, imported intact, which evolved more recently, within the US, into a new variation. With a "sauce." Then the further offshoot (mainly in the past 10 years or so) of a deliberate, bottled, "Alfredo sauce." Basically just a thickened cream sauce. Which would have amazed Alfredo di Lellio.

                                                                                                        I think such a sauce is a false convenience because anyone who plays around a little bit with heating cream (or rich milk or "half and half") with a little butter and good Parmesan, then tossing freshly-cooked noodles in this, learns that the noodles themselves thicken the sauce and absorb some of it, no need for any deliberate sauce thickener. It's easy. Italians do this, they'd call it fettuccine alla panna. But the US convenience-food industry is ever resourceful at creating needless demand.

                                                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                          It is a unique case of the dish being brought by its founder (opposed to immigrants) - but I don't really see much of a difference. I mean, whether or not pasta carbonara should be made with cream or not is another issue I think found a home in the US.

                                                                                                          It still relates to this idea that instead of saying "Chicago style Alfredo" (or whatever....), it's functions under this mechanism of 'act first, apologize later'.

                                                                                                          1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                            One difference is that I've personally seen the popular perception of noodles Alfredo evolve, a lot, from its origin, in recent years. Unlike any other popular Italian-derived specialty.

                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                              Fair enough - I definitely haven't been following alfredo's specific evolution. But I do think that once any dish enters the "all American hit parade" it does get put through the restaurant-business gears that can heavily alter any dish (going back to my earlier point of how business should not be relied on to preserve any kind of culinary tradition).

                                                                                                          2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                            I always think of Alfredo as being a specifically American offering. It's a sauce I enjoy but can only recall seeing it on menus in that country.

                                                                                                            Certainly it doesnt generally appear on menus in the UK and I'm sure I would have recalled (and ordered) had I seen it on menus in Italy.

                                                                                                        2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                          Well, these dishes that change a bit or a lot in another country--in another context--are something that happens all over not only in the US. So, an American alfredo is something specific, and through ignorance is thought to be THE Alfredo dish (or whatever) it was in Italy.
                                                                                                          For example, chicken fried steak is "Milanesa" in Argentina, or a mix of parseley with other soup greens is called "Wloszczyzna" (Italian stuff) in Poland...all these things may have their roots but they take on their own life in a new place, and may or may not correspond correctly to some other, maybe original, version somewhere else. It's ok--more to talk about...
                                                                                                          Der Wienerschnitzel is kind of a Southern Cali tradition, and I see no problem that it's about hot dogs and corn dogs and not a breaded Vienna-style pork/veal cutlet--that supposedly came originally from Italy anyway.

                                                                                                          1. re: Wawsanham

                                                                                                            Especially since it's "Der", when it should be "Das."

                                                                                                            But if they're selling dogs under that name, I guess that doesn't matter at all.

                                                                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                              Lingua, you may be amused that in Japan, Asahi was brewing Löwenbrau under license, and advertising it as Der Löwenbrau. Japanese doesn't have definite articles, so the locals really love it when they are presented, in any language.

                                                                                                              1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                Those articles are a bitch to learn for any foreigner. I don't blame anyone for not being able to keep 'em straight.

                                                                                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                  When I took German in high school, we were amused that men took a masculine article (check), women a feminine (check), boys a masculine (check), and girls a neuter (?)

                                                                                                                  1. re: DGresh

                                                                                                                    It's a diminutive of a feminine word is why, I think (but don't hold me to it).

                                                                                                                    If you called a boy "Bub" instead of "Junge", and then turned it into "Bübchen" (little boy), it would be neuter, too.

                                                                                                                    Why is the French table feminine, but the German masculine? We'll never know. Grammar: it's there to make you go mad.

                                                                                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                      sounds reasonable. Now why did Frau whatever-her-name-was not explain that in four years of German?

                                                                                                                      1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                        ever read "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris? an hysterical account of figuring out the French articles, genders and plural forms and how they all change depending on the context.

                                                                                                                        f'rinstance he keeps coming home from the grocery store with 2 of everything as he can't figure out how to order a single chicken.

                                                                                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                          I've read all of his books. He is a favorite of mine (even better live!).

                                                                                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                            adore all of David's work, and his sister is a hoot too!

                                                                                                                            1. re: Bellachefa

                                                                                                                              yeah I about wet myself the first time I heard him on NPR in the car back 1991.

                                                                                                                              Amy used to be listed in the phone book, I used to call her and leave nice, not stalker, messages whenever I saw her in bit parts on TV. last I heard she was making cupcakes between gigs.

                                                                                                                              whoever answered the phone the last time I bothered (2009?) claimed (in an identical voice) to have no idea who she is... I took the hint.

                                                                                                                            2. re: hill food

                                                                                                                              David Sedaris is just brilliant, and a really funny writer.

                                                                                                                          2. re: DGresh

                                                                                                                            "It's a diminutive of a feminine word is why..."

                                                                                                                            Famously maddening learners' language. Almost as much trouble as Latin. Some German word genders are covered by rules -- diminutives, "eum" nouns neutral (das Mädchen, das Museum), attribute nouns (-heit, -keit, -ung) feminine. But the killer example is knife, fork, spoon -- all different genders and seemingly arbitrary. Spanish is much easier, the gender can generally be told from the spelling. Easier all around.

                                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                              and then there are the curveballs. like the former central Parisian food market Les Halles: I have heard it's pronounced with a hard 's' for the article, as Halles is originally a Germanic word that was adapted so doesn't follow the usual rules (that's what my polyglottal jerk friends told me anyway). beats the heck outta me. and I lived. people can be more forgiving than language.

                                                                                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                The pronunciation of the "s" in les before Halles is standard French pronunciation. The "s" is pronounced, like a z, whenever "les" precedes a word that, phonetically, begins with a vowel, which applies to "Halles" because the "h" is silent --e.g., "les anges" (the angels), "les avions" ( the airplanes), etc.

                                                                                                                                1. re: masha

                                                                                                                                  Odd. When I was there in the 80s, guest of a friend in Paris, everyone seemed to pronounce Les Halles as "ley-yall," i.e. silent S -- which reality at first kept me (with only embryonic French) from parsing and transcribing the spoken place-name right.

                                                                                                                                  Similar problem in a different direction with the Bordeaux wine property Château Cos d'Estournel. A wine expert corrected me (in the 1970s) from following the textbook pronunc. rule that masha cited above, which would suggest silent S in Cos, given that the d IS sounded. Expert said the people there say it "kose-dest..." Adding snippily, "Of course, they may be wrong."

                                                                                                                                  1. re: masha

                                                                                                                                    I don't know about the NY restaurant, but in France/by the French neither "s" is pronounced. I can't do phonetics, but it sounds roughly like "lay al".

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chatsworth

                                                                                                                                      This is correct. H is a consonant, you drop the "z" sound in Les Halles. Even though you do not pronounce the H......

                                                                                                                                      "Lay ahl"

                                                                                                                                      Cue the Twilight Zone music.

                                                                                                                                2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                  The Latin declinations make it much easier to figure out the gender.

                                                                                                                                  With German, it's mostly a crap-shoot, save for the few semi-general rules you mentioned -- like words ending on -ion, -ung, -heit & keit.

                                                                                                                                  There are still enough exceptions to put anyone off of trying to figure it out.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                    "Latin declinations make it much easier to figure out the gender."

                                                                                                                                    Yes; "all" you have to do is learn the declinations. Latin is a wonderfully efficient language, it just requires a formidable buy-in, even more than German IMO, which was my point there.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                      If by efficient you mean dead :-)

                                                                                                                                      German comes in much handier these days.

                                                                                                                        2. re: Wawsanham

                                                                                                                          Wawsanham -- indeed "chicken fried steak" and what many Latin cultures call a "Milanese" cutlet is essentially a Wiener Schnitzel (real, Vienna, sense). The "chicken-fried steak" is among several specialties of Texas and thereabouts famously associated with immigration there from German-speaking Europe. (With wonderful circular irony, restaurants in the US and elsewhere have now taken to offering chicken meat in a version of "Wiener Schnitzel," a variation lighter than the traditional veal etc. -- so rather than cow's meat being fried like "chicken" in the sense of the Texas name, you have the reverse, from the Vienna perspective.)

                                                                                                                          Harters: What has come in recent years to be called "Alfredo sauce" in the US was already a familiar concept throughout Europe, and even in the US too, but under the name "cream" sauce, and actually it has nothing to do with the original Alfredo pasta dish, it reflects an evolution of US perceptions.

                                                                                                                          While Alfredo di Lellio himself is just the agent by which US food culture heard about Rome's longtime "fettuccine al burro" -- from which route Americans, but very few others, associate that specialty with Alfredo's name.

                                                                                                                    1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                      Cresyd - I wonder if this is unique to the US and a factor of the relatively low percentage of people who travel overseas (IIRC 80% of US citizens don't have passports). Over the years I have seen the evolution of restaurants in a few countries (UK, Australia, and HK) and it seems to follow the same model.

                                                                                                                      First, the food arrives via immigrants, its cheap, often very interesting but not served in the most salubrious of surroundings.

                                                                                                                      Second, the young (often students) discover the food (cost is a driver), and this leads it to go more and more mainstream, and as it does it is adapted more to perceived local taste and often somewhat neutered.

                                                                                                                      Third, once it is fairly mainstream the more enterprising restaurant owners then take it up-market by going back to its roots and (dare I say) heading for more authenticity.

                                                                                                                      Fourth, the mass market sector then looks to the higher end and seeks to replicate the model and moves the "high street/mall" restaurants in a similar direction because they see greater profits (and better customer segmentation).

                                                                                                                      I saw this with Indian in the UK, Thai in Australia, and now Spanish (bizarrely) in HK. Maybe this model doesn't translate into the US as much because people are not exposed to real "foreign" food on their holidays and therefore are more resistant to trying new things.

                                                                                                                      However, is that totally true. Could you argue that Mexican food in the US is improving as more people are exposed to genuine Mexican food on holidays, and the new generation of Mexican chefs take pride in the richness of their cuisine. In my limited experience I have seen this happen (although maybe better Mexican food is down to asking about it on Chowhound).

                                                                                                                      And thinking laterally is the craft beer movement in the US not another good example of when consumers discover real flavours and quality products the business world wakes up to the higher margins that can be extracted from a speciality sector.

                                                                                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                        I definitely think that a lack of travel from Americans abroad doesn't help. Places in particular like China and Thailand really make it on very few Americans' travel lists (who aren't either very enterprising travelers or have family in that part of the world).

                                                                                                                        However, I do think that if you look at Italian food in the US - that has fit more within your perceived trend (also a place where a wider variety of Americans do try to visit and also tv cooking shows have tackled). I think that in the 90's comments on Italian American food vs Italian food would have been pretty limited to foodie circles but now is a bit more mainstream.

                                                                                                                        That being said - and I'm not sure if you see replications of this in other immigrant based countries like Australia - but I've definitely also seen it in Israel - once a dish becomes adopted as "American" (or Israeli), then it's a horses out of the barn moment where you can reclaim appreciation for the original - but it will always be niche. I don't care how educated the American public becomes on Japanese style sushi - at this point it's also a 100% American dish that is doing its own thing.

                                                                                                                        I think that pad thai is also on this list. And going forward for Thai food enthusiasts, it's just relevant to keep in mind. There are going to be people who've had pad thai at the Cheesecake Factory - and that may ultimately influence Thai restaurants. There can be niche movements of "this isn't Cheesecake Factory Thai food" - but there will always be that competing factor. Something that I think would also apply to the craft beer movement. Miller Lite isn't going away, but there is now a growing niche that enjoys more complex beers.

                                                                                                                        I think it's easiest to just embrace the niche communities and not fight dishes that at this point have just become American.

                                                                                                                        1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                          Good point - some dishes do evolve to a local palate and become institutionalised. In the UK its Chicken Tikka Masala that which is in every supermarket ready meal aisle. That said I think your Italian example demonstrates this results in segmentation, so you get American Italian, and Italian Italian restaurants.

                                                                                                                          Although I suspect there is then further segmentation where the better American Italians try to differentiate based on authenticity - but I wonder do they segment on more American (the Godfather taste) or more Italian...?

                                                                                                                          I also discount the foods on the "international" mixed cuisine menus as they these places rarely do anything well even their local foods (how are the cheesecakes at the aforementioned factory?).

                                                                                                                          So yes potentially embrace cuisines that have been absorbed (if they are still worth eating - Chicago deep pan pizza for example?) - but don't confuse them with the real deal.

                                                                                                                          1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                            I am not of Italian origin nor did I grow up in a heavy Italian origin neighborhood (though my mother did). So I don't want to go too far out on a limb, but I've experienced numerous examples of first generation Italian Americans talking about how they grew up eating "the most traditional Italian food" - and that being of the American style. But again, it's not a culture in the US I know well enough to speak about with authority.

                                                                                                                            1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                              First generation as in the generation that was born in Italy before they moved to the US?

                                                                                                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                                First generation as in parents born in Italy, child born in the US. That being said, I also know plenty of "born in Italy" immigrants of my grandparents generation who were quick to adopt Italian American cooking as well.

                                                                                                                  2. Were A-Rod and Jeter there?

                                                                                                                    1. Maybe she was being humorous--a dry sort of humor, and even quite self-deprecating.
                                                                                                                      Or, she was just being honest, and it was her way to be guided to the least spicy dishes on the menu.
                                                                                                                      What she said was put in a silly way, but totally legitimate, perhaps sounding better as "I don't like spicy food" It's the same if someone went to an X restaurant and said "I don't like tomatoes" and could be thus guided toward the non-tomato containing dishes. Totally legit, and shame on the posters for making fun of or disparaging this person.

                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: Wawsanham

                                                                                                                        really people find the most amazing things to be "offended" about these days. I agree, she was being self-deprecating, in perhaps a clumsy way, but she was clearly just asking for help finding things that aren't spicy. And the restaurant has already indicated their willingness to help in this regard by having a spicy-rating from 1 to 5.

                                                                                                                        1. re: DGresh

                                                                                                                          It's very difficult to say without hearing the tone in which it was said.

                                                                                                                          I'd rather give the OP the benefit of the doubt. As subjective as an individual's interpretation can be, it's all speculation if you weren't there to hear it.

                                                                                                                          1. re: ursy_ten

                                                                                                                            I don't think that the OP needs the benefit of the doubt. Some of the responders do though. There has been an awful lot of self-righteous condemnation spread about.

                                                                                                                            1. re: sal_acid

                                                                                                                              That's what I was saying... I think. Maybe I'm using that phrase wrongly?

                                                                                                                              I meant, I think people need to let up on the OP - after all, they weren't there and didn't hear the tone or observe the body language, the OP was.

                                                                                                                      2. The lady was clearly making a self deprecating joke, as indicated by the put-on "Hyacinth Bucket" impression, while communicating to the waiter that she prefers less spice.

                                                                                                                        How anybody could possibly be offended or embarrassed by her comments is beyond me.

                                                                                                                        Dear Lord. Sounds like somebody needs to get a life.

                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                        1. re: EarlyBird

                                                                                                                          Well yes. The hypersensitive will react to anything.

                                                                                                                          So many issues at play here....authenticity...ethnocentrism...self image.

                                                                                                                        2. Well, since I've read all the posts on the thread, I'm just going to come out and say what we are all clearly thinking: "I miss the sun-sweated meat of the Tigris rats and the roots of the palms that grew from River shores the way our ancestors made 'em. Folks just keep bastardizing the classics. If that's the way they made it first, than, that's right."

                                                                                                                          I will, however, admit, though, that I do kinda, really miss the whole tree leaf bikini thing. Damn lycra and underwires and all those added layers, and hooks. Why hooks????

                                                                                                                          1. Have you ever tried to order Thai hot in a thai restaurant?

                                                                                                                            "Oh, no honey, that too spicy for you" says charming Thai woman.

                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: Bellachefa

                                                                                                                              I was admonished for that at a mom 'n' pop place once, and ya know what? the guy was right, his wife's version of medium was plenty hot.

                                                                                                                              1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                At our local Thai place, the servers were grinning ear to ear when DH and I were quaffing down water while eating their dishes!
                                                                                                                                We have them the "thumbs up" so they didn't think we were suffering, rather, the heat was a good thing, and we were happy they served it up to us.
                                                                                                                                Although I'm sure that our dish heat level was nowhere near how hot it can get.

                                                                                                                                1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                  Picture a thai woman that looks like jack nicholson in A Few Good Men with an asian female accent....

                                                                                                                                  "You want the heat? Yoooooou can't handle the heat!!!"

                                                                                                                                  She is a pistol, and we now laugh together and I get whatever heat I want.