Sunday, August 24, 2008

Food in America

There is nothing more memorable than what our senses perceive: colours, sounds, smells, tastes…. All of them are combined in food, and who does not remember cuisine of the country he (or she) visited? I remember food of all countries I have been to…

America has an “Australian” flavour. I would not say I spotted many significant differences between our cuisines; however, there are some specific elements…

First of all, food is mostly of a really good quality... We had a couple of disappointments along the way, but predominantly food is well prepared and all produce is of a high quality (better than in Australia – in average. I don’t know what the secret is, but even strawberries and tomatoes have much more taste than Aussie produce. Actually, maybe, I know: probably, in Australia there is a lot of hydroponic produce, but here, in California, we saw huge strawberry plantations - traditional, on the ground).
Chris complains that American food lacks refinement, which is true: quite often served meals are simplistic in their approach, but we – as Australians - should not complain, because elaborate and interesting cooking is not common in Australia either. By the way, simplistic approach in cooking is typical for Russia as well, but our Russian food is plain on top of everything.
Shortly, I did not suffer from the lack of refinement in American food, and Americans compensate simplicity of cooking with portions of incredible sizes.

You have to see their portions!
Even in good restaurants they are big (much bigger than European or even Australian size), but in some chip fast food places (fish and chips or burger type, such as In-n-out Burger) portions are fit to feed an elephant. Once we were surprised with European sizes of portions in one of the restaurants, but that particular restaurant had a big number of European customers, which could affect their approach to sizes of serves (but we were disappointed – it felt as if we did not get expected value for money, even if the restaurant was excellent). Even Japanese restaurants serve big portiones. Can they be still called Japanese? I got used to thing that Japanese culture is all about balance, elegance and moderation. In America Japanese developed a fusion style, where everything is big, with ketchup and Tabasco, but tasty nonetheless.
McDonalds has their recognisable sizes of meals (probably, traditional all over the world), but other fast food places try to offer as much “value for money” as possible, that it becomes insane in some instances. No human being can possibly consume such amount of food, - but some Americans do (I saw it). On the other hand, many people don’t, and some amounts of food end up in a trash bin. Such a waste of food!

After saying it all about sizes of portions I must add that the number of obese people is not as overwhelming as it is in Australia.
Two countries argue which one is the fattest nation, but Americans did not strike me as a fat nation. We’ve seen a few scarily obese people, but average numbers of people with “normal” weight are more positive in America. Maybe, we went to “slim” areas, maybe fat people here sit at home – we did not spot too many of them. May be, after all, a lot of food is not responsible for getting fat? I have no right to generalize - I am just stating an observation.

They eat a lot of sweets here. Often even bread with lunch is sweet. They call it a “roll”, but in fact it looks like a ban, and it tastes like a sweet ban. On the other hand – I had the best imaginable bread here, in America. I loved it so much more than even French bread. It only proves my previous statement that they love their food here and can do it well. Their bread is good!!! One just has to look for it. In Australia I tried some good bread occasionally, but Australians are not into nice breads, in general (after 13 years living there I can make this statement).

From time to time I get confused with their language. As I mentioned, they call a ban “a roll”. Do you know what they mean by “cordial”? – a mixed alcoholic drink! “Sodas” are soft drinks in general, and “Deli” sells milk-shakes and salads. But apart from the linguistic differences, all dishes are highly recognisable.

One very positive side of America: they know how to make Margarita. In Australia it is such a problem to get a descent Margarita! America is a heaven for Margarita lovers like me. In Las Vegas they serve Margaritas for 99 cents! And of course, the size is nowhere near I would expect in Australia; it is a quadruple size! It was one in a life time opportunity to become drunk with my favourite drink, but – bad luck – we never had time to stop for a Margarita! Bugger!

Another peculiar thing here is wines. They have a good selection of wines from all over the world here, and of course, a lot of Californian wine on offer. I found Californian wines weak after Australia, and went for Aussie and Kiwi wines, and guess what? All the best wines from Down Under are the cheapest wines on the local market (results of the clad) so I was happy.

One horrible thing about America I cannot (and don’t want!) to hide: they know little about tea. Hotels even don’t offer kettles. Not a single hotel we stayed in had a kettle! They have coffee making machines instead. Many of them even don’t have tea bags on offer. Even if they put a tea bag next to coffee bags (Oh! You have to see a selection of coffees they have in their hotel rooms – it is a paradise for coffee lovers!), try to make a descent cup of tea with a coffee maker!!! What a sacrilege!!!
Tea is of a bad quality, as well. I did not see any familiar brands here such as Dilmah, Lipton, Twinings, only some local brands (Once I saw Tetley). By the way, when it comes to shoes, suitcases, cars etc – we have identical stuff on offer on both continents, but it does not apply to teas!
Even in cafes they don’t know how to make tea! What they offer is hardly drinkable! They bring luke warm water in a mug and then give you a choice of tea bags! We tried to talk to a few of waitresses if there was a chance to make a better cup of tea, but it was impossible: they even don’t have boiled water on the premises; they offered to boil it in a microwave!!! It was beyond belief! Every tea bag has a clear instruction how tea should be made, but nobody cares here!!!
For a tea addict like me it is a tragedy and I am suffering without my 3 or 4 or 5 cups of tea a day.