Differences in Taste

9 May

Kelly Dobkin, a writer on Zagat, recently posted an interesting article “Hooked on Acid – Has the American Palate Changed Forever?”  While I found interesting her article on the American taste changing from the creamy French to spicier/more acidic flavors in their food, what caught my eye was the fact that she suggests these spicier flavors are predominantly Asian in nature.  

As most of my readers know, I have traveled and eaten in several Asian countries ~ China, Korea, and Japan to be exact.  The lack of cooking utensils (and a determination to thoroughly enjoy ourselves) led me and my fellow students to local restaurants most nights.  Asia is awesome for many reasons, but the cheap food at restaurants is a real draw.

One of the things that I kept running into were warnings about the spiciness of their food.  Having been raised on Mexican and South American food, I have always had a preference for the spicier side of cuisine; and I generally order hotter dishes when I eat out.  Asia was no different, and I frequently was drawn towards dishes with the cute little jalapeno pepper symbol next to it.  Repeatedly, the waiters/waitresses would stop and ask if I was quite sure I wanted something that hot.  Over and over, they would warn “very hot. I think that in America you must not eat food this hot.”  And just as often, I would reassure them that if they didn’t hand over the beef dish immediately, they were losing a hand to my fork.  

Only once did I find a dish that actually was hot enough to catch me off guard ~ my friend Sandy and I shared a chicken dish as a small bar in Seoul and were swiftly sobbing in our drinks.  We didn’t understand why the meal was half off if you bought a drink, until we realized that we bought five and six drinks to get rid of the head from the meal (Lesson Learned–beware good food deals).

Generally, I found traditional Asian dishes to be far less spicy or hot than I was expecting, at least as a professional Chinese/Korean take-out eater in the States.  They used peppers and occasionally I just pushed the Jalapenos aside, but overall I never found a dish to be too hot.  Actually, I was generally disappointed–most dishes came across as fairly un-seasoned. Even the curry was fairly bland.  There were weird tastes from unfamiliar meat, vegetables, and sauces, but a lot of it was like a Beef Roast or Stew–tasty but flat.

There are of course exceptions to my findings — China and Korea both offer a red spice on their tables that will set you right up.  It’s kind of like a strong salsa.  And the Stone Bowl dishes in Korea and Japan can occasionally be spicy (especially if the red pepper seasoning is added).

Nonetheless, none of it was hotter than what I’m used to in the US ~ which is kind of Dobkin’s point.  Still, I would actually argue that our movement towards spiciness is actually greater than that of traditional Asian foods. As any traveler to Asia knows, American Asian food is not real Asian Food ~ we eat a lot more fried Chinese Take-out than actually exists in China (celery, cashews, and grilled meats seemed to be the go-to in Tianjin).  I’m not as familiar with Thai or the Southeast Asian dishes, but I think we eat far spicier foods than was my experience in Northeast Asia.





3 Responses to “Differences in Taste”

  1. Harold Delk May 9, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    An interesting aside from your graphic: Only one state in the US has an official state question; do you know which state? the question and the answer? Clue contained within your own post.

    • deceptivelyblonde May 9, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

      Lol, I just looked it up! New Mexico — ‘Red or Green’ as to which chile pepper/sauce you want with your meal. I’m gonna go with “Green”

      • Harold Delk May 9, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

        I learned that factoid while in Tucumcari, NM last spring while trapped there for 3 days in a sandstorm. Went to the local farm and ranch supply store and chatted with the locals (a very friendly bunch) who welcomed me with open arms. Had a blast visiting a neat old desert town. Jackie, my wife, and I fell in love with that place which is on old Route 66. We’ll be back.

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