Monday, November 12, 2012
This is not chow mein
These days it seems like I only blog when I have something to rant about. If I keep it up, this might just merge with my other blog. But nothing raises my ire about Chinese restaurants as much as serving "chow mein" without noodles.
More... Recovering from a wicked bout of the flu, I was anxiously awaiting my first meal in three days. At some point after the nausea was gone, I was just trying to see how long I could go without eating. Once I finally regained my appetite, I ordered Chinese.
Growing up on the West Coast, ordering "chow mein" meant only the slightest bit of ambiguity. You're either getting the thick, soft noodle, or the crispy, thin noodle. The thin, crispy noodle is also known as Hong Kong style chow mein. Out here on the East Coast, through whatever asinine etymological perversion, apparently chow mein can mean no noodles at all. Instead, what I got was a glob of brown sauce and mixed-in bits and pieces, known in Chinese as 雜碎. Yes, this was chop-suey.
This is not the first time I've seen this monstrosity in Chinese kitchens. And to add insult to injury, I even found this order slip in the take-out bag.
The restaurant had even written on there "large pork fried noodles." Well technically they wrote "large meat fried face" but the Chinese word for face (面) is a homonym for the word noodle (麵) and was probably substituted for kitchen short-hand. Either that, or they realized the sick joke they were playing on the unsuspecting customers.
Having lived in New York for several years now, I've known that East Coast chow mein is actually called "lo mein." I just thought that this restaurant, which billed itself as authentic, wouldn't stand for this sort of linguistic atrocity.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Macaroon (above left) ≠ macaron (above right)
Normally I am not one to harp on my dining companions pronunciations of foreign foods. I say "bru'sket-ta" when eating at an osteria, but "brushetta" when eating at Applebees. For the most part, pronunciation is just a pretentious aspect of gastronomic culture that aggravates me the same way food fetishism does. However, I do make an exception when it comes to the popular pastries macarons because the mispronunciation or misidentification of these almond flour cookies as macaroons results in a completely different product.
More... I won't go into the rise of the popularity of macarons in this country. Suffice it to say, if someone's talking animatedly about a cookie, she's probably talking about a macaron. I don't think anyone gets excited about macaroons. Macarons are made with almond flour and powdered sugar and usually have a sandwiched filling of ganache or buttercream. Macaroons are more like small cakes or meringue cookies, typically coconut flavored in America.
Macarons are sexy and expensive, partly because of hype, partly because of the difficulty in preparation. Macaroons are what your grandmother buys in bulk at Costco (not to be confused with madeleines, which are sponge cakes). We've just been exposed to macaroons for so long, we're more familiar with them and I would guess that is why many people mistake the two. However, the proper pronunciation of macaron is something like "maka-ron" with a fancy French guttural r. Overexaggerate the pronunciation if you must, but don't feel like you're putting on airs because you don't want to sound too pompous. Otherwise, you might end up with the wrong pastry, a disaster of far greater proportions than the harm to your ego. Besides, you're idolizing a cookie; might as well jump in feet first and go full Francophile.
Photo credits: Jessica and Keven Law via Flickr ^
Saturday, September 29, 2012
It's that most wonderful time of year once again--Monopoly is back at McDonald's! Though McDonald's is promoting this year as the 20th Monopoly sweepstakes, the restaurant has been collaborating with Hasbro since 1987 all over the world. We all know about the elusive Boardwalk piece and the 1,000,000 McDoubles it would buy. Besides that top prize, the rest have shuffled over the years. Yet, the allure of the money has never been my main excitement over Monopoly at McDonalds. I decided to analyze the aspects of the promotion that make it so appealing.
More... Monopoly has always been about the American Dream. With some luck and saavy investing, you can become rich and powerful in your own little world. This concept is what drives American ideas of economy and power--we don't mind inequality, as long as everyone has a chance to make it big. We're inundated with individual success stories, despite the fact that real life odds are heavily stacked in favor of certain individuals. We celebrate that poor, come from nothing individual. This had special resonance during the Great Depression, when the game experienced its greatest growth. While there are plenty of iconic American board games, this is what makes Monopoly the most "American."
Pairing Monopoly with McDonald's was a stroke of marketing genius. If Monopoly is most representative of this country within the game sphere, then McDonald's dominates the food. These two powerful brands form a successful synergy, despite the fact that Monopoly at McDonald's is completely a game of luck, disregarding any semblance of strategy (unless you make tactical menu choices to optimize your game pieces, like me). If anything, Monopoly at McDonald's involves teamwork, pooling your pieces and splitting the winnings.
What Monopoly at McDonald's gives you is not just the sliver of hope of winning one of the prize. While that lottery mechanic's effect on behavior is well-documented and intuitive, the best aspect of the game is that it gives you a justification for eating at McDonald's. We have the chance to eat our way to fortune. How cool is that? If Monopoly is an analogy for life, Monopoly at McDonald's is the gloss of the American obsession with unhealthy food. We're all dreamers, now we can channel our dreams through fast food. ^