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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.

risks of phone autocomplete

If it's any consolation, there is some really delicious vegan ice cream to be had across the street at Van Lewin.. I never liked their regular ice cream but, they seemed to have found a niche with this vegan stuff. 

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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.

 

 

That's pretty congruent with Sneak's point, I think. Certainly, an experienced and thoughtful food person can generally tell things are directionally right (just as an experienced pop music critic should, I would hope, be able to tell if a piece of music is well played), but, as you say, context is really important. Sri is a great example. Peak Sri would not be noteworthy in Thailand. It was good, but there's lots of good Thai food in Bangkok. A critic experienced Thai critic with limited knowledge of NYC might miss that it was great for NYC, and vice versa.

 

Where I think critics need to be careful is mistaking something good and new and different for something really specially. The first time I had somtum at Sri, coming from a place with zero good Thai food in an absolute sense, my first experience of somtum at Sri was a revelation.  I legit thought that this was three-star cooking. It wasn't. It was just good somtum and I wouldn't feel that way now. But I was still correct that it was good. 

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I think it's easy to tell that shipping container cuisine is not going to be world class. How many discounts are you willing to give it because it's still fucking delicious is another question, to which I suspect three NYT stars is not the answer.

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