Follow the foodies
May 29, 2007
Though I don’t eat much, I go to great lengths to ensure what little I do eat is excellent. While in Asia I had a terrible time trying to find authentic regional dishes. My hotel always sent me to tourist traps that produced bland food suitable for Westerners. My Lonely Planet travel book recommendations were equally bad. Some on Chowhound suggest that you should follow the crowd of locals because they know what is best. This is wrong. Just as Americans flock to McDonald’s and Applebee’s, people in other countries eat at similarly awful local places. I know a great deal about authentic northern Indian food. First, it is nearly impossible to find these dishes in the US because most restaurants have essentially the same menu. The situation is nearly the same in India, too. Most restaurants over there offer the same boring set of not-quite northern Indian dishes. Second, the spices in the US are watered down for American palates. Third, most of the restaurants in the Indian district (Devon St. in Chicago, Queens in NYC, etc) are terrible. Fourth, most Indians, just like most Americans, are not foodies who care about the quality or variety of their food. Bad restaurant food is still better than their mother’s or wife’s terrible cooking. An old Thai woman at a restaurant I frequented told me the situation is the same in Thai restaurants: nearly all use premade pastes to make their curries, spice according to American tastes, and cut corners in many other ways. The situation for foodies is grim. Following the crowds is not a good strategy; follow the foodies instead.