Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
mitchells

Reviewing "Ethnic" Restaurants

Recommended Posts

poor edward lee. so excited to have taken an "expert" with him to an indian restaurant. sadly, the expert is full of shit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a few questions about the article itself:

 

The reality of this circumstance is that most immigrants will eat at places in their neighborhoods that are fast and cheap — because for working-class immigrants, time and money are the two things they value most. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the food is good or authentic or anything at all. It simply serves a purpose.

 

 

That's a "yes, but." Dominican lunch counters are fast and cheap, but I don't think one would long survive serving a poor (let alone "inauthentic") version of Dominican food. 

 

It also relates to something I said elsewhere, to the effect that subject matter expertise is certainly needed to comment on the provenance or authenticity of a Burmese or Laotian restaurant; but the same expertise is not needed to tell whether a place is serving good food at the right price for the neighborhood.  (Yes, it's not as straightforward if the cuisine is serving very unfamiliar ingredients, spicing...).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

medium's mail server just collapsed due to thousands of corrections from mongo.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It also relates to something I said elsewhere, to the effect that subject matter expertise is certainly needed to comment on the provenance or authenticity of a Burmese or Laotian restaurant; but the same expertise is not needed to tell whether a place is serving good food at the right price for the neighborhood.  (Yes, it's not as straightforward if the cuisine is serving very unfamiliar ingredients, spicing...).

I think it's more complicated than that.

 

Say you've never been to a piano recital, and haven't listened to a lot of solo piano recordings. You go to your first piano recital, and you think, "wow that was good.  That person really can play."  But you have no basis for comparison: all you know is that it seemed impressive based on no prior experience, and that you enjoyed it. You need a lot more knowledge and experience before you have the authority to express an opinion as a professional evaluator.

 

For Yelp, whether you liked something or not is good enough.  For professional reviewing, I don't think so.

 

(Obviously I agree with Ed Lee's complaint about mainstream reviewers of "ethnic" cuisine pretending to have more personal knowledge than they do -- since I made the same point a week or two ago.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is complicated, but I don't think that analogy works.

 

I'm thinking about someone like you or me, who has eaten in hundreds of restaurants, various cuisines. Confronted with a cuisine with which we're unfamiliar, there are a lot of things we won't be qualified to say about it. But I think we could tell whether it's good eating at a good price (in the neighborhood -- I add this qualifier, because I don't mean we could say it represents good food at good value in comparison with other places in its native region).

 

Real life example: I don't think you needed to be an expert in Thai cuisine, or have visited Thailand, to tell that Sripraphai was (in its day) one of the best places to get Thai cuisine in the city. Or maybe better example, Ihawan: I don't think I'd eaten much Filipino food first time I went, but I wasn't unable to tell whether the food they were sending out was any good (it was).

 

ETA: This maybe obvious, but with rare examples, an experienced eater with have encountered the ingredients and the cooking techniques before.  The fundamentals don't change much.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do, of course, agree that professional critics should be upfront about lack of experience. 

 

Oh, just to stir up the discussion: I can easily imagine a genuine expert on a cuisine being less well equipped than a Pete Wells to say whether an instance in New York represents good eating at good value in its neighborhood. Although they could surely pronounce on whether it was a good version of the cuisine.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

the point lee is trying to make is a good and important one. he's just making it very badly. not least because the "expert" he has drummed up to demonstrate his claim is, as i said, full of shit. the very first point she makes is completely wrong: "machhi" is not the bengali word for fish. the bengali word for fish is "maach". "machhi" is the hindi/urdu word for fish--its presence on a menu is no indication of bengali'ness. and that's only the first error.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Which in turn suggests a practical problem. I’m an editor. I persuade my regular restaurant critic to turn her column over to an “expert” when a restaurant is worth reviewing but she doesn’t have the expertise. Who identifies and vets the expert? Her? Me?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

it's a problem for sure. but the solution is not to find random people in farmers' markets and publish their ignorance not to mention their stereotypical views about indians from other parts of the country.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i am willing to offer my services for a hefty sum to any major publication that wants to fly me in first class for a week to eat at the local indian restaurants and consult on the reviews.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually the worst part is someone claiming to know a cuisine  "in a way that is both instinctual and omnipresent" just because they're from some ethnicity in some sense.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

you should read some of the indian food "experts" who write articles in the ny times, bon appetit, the new yorker et al. or write cookbooks for that matter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

of course all of this is just the logical conclusion of the familiar "my indian co-worker/friend/15 yo exchange student told me this is authentic" genre of recommendation that we're all familiar with from food forums.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know, and the reason I'm always happy to pick a fight with Ptipois, for example, is she's exactly such an "expert" on some cuisines I know very, very well, but I think there's some delusion in thinking things are any better when it comes to non-ethnic cuisine. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...