Recently in a cycling forum, a question floated over the Internet: “Do you have a discerning palate?” That got me thinking about foodies, people who pride themselves as food connoisseurs, worldly arbitrators of food dishes from a dizzying array of cuisines.
Just a Stove-Top Foodie: Homespun Knowledge
I fancy myself as a foodie. Not a complete foodie addict, but more a casual stove-top foodie than a Food Network TV couch foodie. In fact, I’d rather not be part of the cursed couch foodies that sparks the ire of some Vancouver chefs. According to the restaurant industry, the Food TV Network, has changed the culinary scene. As one local chef opined:
“.…What makes Vancouver restauranteurs’ and chefs’ jobs challenging is today, everybody believes they’re an expert when they don’t have enough background.”
Indeed, this is the challenge or problem, these days for big city chefs anywhere in a competitive restaurant market.
Growing a Foodie
I’m a stove-top foodie, because my culinary palate was stoked decades ago, long before Food TV Network, and before I knew how to read cookbooks. As any Asian kid raised on a traditional Asian cuisine, will tell you, babies and children learn to eat all sorts of weird, mostly wonderful stuff without even knowing the English translation for every ingredient or the cooked dish itself. Sometimes I still don’t even remember the proper Chinese name for the dish. But I eat it anyway.
It wasn’t until my teens I realized I was eating rehydrated lily buds in steamed Chinese meat dishes, bird’s nest soup at wedding banquets and wood ear fungus in Mom’s stir-fries. This was the early 1970’s, not today, when weird food reports have now penetrated globally via the Internet, tv and celebrity cowboy chefs, like Anthony Bourdain storytelling their culinary discoveries.
Children: Equal Partners in Food Discovery
It is children who sit equally at the table with their parents, at a feast or restaurant and gobble down, course after course, of less familiar foods, minus the tea and wine. These
children are not food-ghettoized to their own table of bland adult food versions.
This is how a child becomes a stove-top foodie: they are expected to try a food dish, be a teachable guest, learn over time by taste, what makes the dish enjoyable or dull. Not by how a food dish looks. How else do you think very young children can happily eat tofu, hot curry or sushi?
As I had explained in an earlier blog post, my palate and knowledge of cooking techniques was confined narrowly to Cantonese style cuisine until I left home. It was the regional cooking that my parents grew up and knew. That was my “restricted” culinary world living 100 km. west of Toronto.
I didn’t scratch the surface or even know about Malaysian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese as well as South Asian fare, until I earned enough money to eat in restaurants. I actually considered (and still do) cheaper just to cook Chinese food at home.
Later, I layered my stove-top palate, with a few seminal cookbooks and literary foodie books on long, diverse gastronomic history of Chinese cuisine, lore and technique. Fuschia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Chinese Cooking, as well as books by Chinese cookbook authors from disapora, — U.S. and Britain, who went to visit motherland to document and photo -shoot their culinary connections and discoveries.
Refined Tastebuds Discern Gastronomic Nuances and Innovations
A well-tuned palate for at least, one complex cuisine, can quickly distinguish between the canon of restaurant cuisine and home-cooking, along with nuances of quality and inventiveness.
Now, with East-West fusion cuisine, it does tease your tastebuds out of complacency. But there are some no-no’s to me, no matter how innovative: raw bok choy just is so …wrong.
But last year, for the first time I had raw, fresh kohl rabi slices. It was delicately crisp and lovely. I was more familiar with kohl rabi soup from childhood or Jack’s German dish of sautéed kohl rabi with a white sauce.
Happily my stove-top palate is enriched with exposure to finer German cuisine. I don’t mean just beer, bratwurst and sauerkraut. I’ve written about my cycling adventures on spargel (white asparagus), multi-layered cake tortes and dumpfnudel, the German cousin of Chinese bao.
No doubt, I have yet to fully know, the spicy nuances for all regions of India or miso differences favoured in Japanese and Korean cooking. But I could tell you that won ton or gyoza like wet dumplings shares similarities with Ukranian perogies and Italian ravioli. It’s differences in cooking technique, fillings and sometimes sauces and dips.
As for ever becoming a garden foodie, nah. I’ll leave it to the patient gardeners and farmers.
Some of My Favourite Foodie Blog Posts and More:
Come and Get Your Dumplings: Some West-East Comparisons.
Romanticizing the Best: Asian Craze for European Desserts. See under Site Index at the top of this blog for more foodie blog posts.
Da Silva, Michelle. How Food Television is Changing the Way We Dine. In Georgia Straight. Mar. 12, 2012.