Real Time blogging during “No Reservations – Down on the Street”, tonight at 10pm EDT
Week 3 of this little creative experiment has wrapped up. If it’s not blatantly apparent by now, Monday nights are kind of slow around here. Tonight, Tony Bourdain indulges in one of his favorite indulgences – street food. A recent article in the local paper belabored the lack of street food in Lexington, KY. So even if you live where you can’t enjoy the various delicacies of mystery meat in tube form, hopefully you still enjoyed the show and our commentary as well. Think of all this as a culinary version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, only without the robots. However, I am considering adding a talking Cuisinart as a side-kick.
The whole blogging while watching Anthony Bourdain thing is starting to feel vaguely stalker-ish, which really was the inspiration for the leading photo tonight. I wanted to draw a chalk outline underneath the books and DVD’s, but lacked both the chalk and any artistic ability to produce something resembling the outline of a human body. There is a part of me that thinks I should just turn off the TV and go cook something.
Michael Ruhlman has an excellent post on his blog where he equates foodies to people who “watch food television with their pants around their ankles and buy The French Laundry Cookbook for the pictures”. Now, I own The French Laundry Cookbook, and I can’t honestly say I bought it with the intention of tackling any of Thomas Keller’s dishes, though I suspect I will eventually. And as far as the former criticism goes, I haven’t watch TV sans pants since Nigella Lawson’s last cooking show was in reruns. Ahem, anyway. Ruhlman’s post starts out discussing the media coverage for the new movie Julia and Julia, before launching into a critique of a Michael Pollan article in the New York Times Magazine. Rather than summarizing it here, Ruhlman does a better job in his own words, so check out his blog by clicking here.
If internationally acclaimed chef’s like Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria represent the pinnacle of food porn, then I guess a “No Reservations” episode on street food is the diametric opposite – gritty, grainy 8mm amateur perversions. Things you don’t really want your upper class neighbors to see you buying. Yet deep down you know, under the cover of night, Mr. Smith the banker and Mrs. Jones the Real Estate diva are sneaking away from their white linens and foie gras to dash down to the corner and pay off the local “Snack Shack on Wheels” in order to experience a guilty few minutes of culinary pleasure. They’re just hoping they don’t get recognized, kind of like Baptists running into each other in a liquor store. Speaking of which, it’s time.
No Reservations – The Drinking Game
Week one produced 3 hits in an hour. Last week we upped the anty to 4. Tonight, we’ll see if we can break that mark. Everytime Tony mentions or indulges in anything from a street vendor that can be construed as “animal naughty bits”, take a drink!
Street food isn’t just about sight, smell and taste. It may one of the only types of food preparation where sound figures significantly into the equation. The thwack thwack thwack of meat being cropped on a griddle. It lends a certain authenticity to the whole scene. It’s being made right in front of you, how much fresher do you want your meal? Of course, fresh doesn’t automatically mean “tasty”. For those keeping score, here’s a rundown through the first commercial break.
Puka dog’s in Hawaii. Tortilla’s in Mexico. Liver, kidney’s and sheep hooves in Saudi Arabia. Pig’s ears and intestines (the lower business end, so hey that counts for a drink right?) in Columbia. Entrails on a stick in Hong Kong. Squezzel, which turned out to be porcupine, in Vietnam. Pretend your taking the SAT in high school all over again – which dish doesn’t belong. If you said “Hawaiian Puka Dog”, you’d be right. Nothing that gourmet can legitimately be called street food. Mango relish and toasted buns are for wimps.
We could call this the Fire interlude. Tony’s adventure continues with drum pan chicken in Jamaica. As an aside, jerk chicken is one of my favorite dishes in the world. Back to Vietnam for sidewalk grilled pork. The bicycles on the streets in Vietnam allow passerbys to really catch the fragrance of the food being cooked. Uruguay, where we see perhaps the biggest single pile of grilled meat, ever, plus grilled chorizo between slices of French bread. Vietnam’s Street of Snails, chicken feet, fresh water crabs, with lots and lots of beer.
The problem with clip shows is usually the lack of a coherent narrative, kind of like watching anything the E! Network. Fire as metaphor works, but there’s still too much jumping around. And I’m really not happy about going an entire segment without any contribution to our drinking game.
Singapore Hawker Centers. Food courts as they should be. Ok, maybe I was too quick to dismiss the Puka Dog, but it’s does sound like a Thomas Keller idea gone bad. Bone Soup, however, sounds good, looks good, but I still don’t get the point of the Red Dye Number 5. How would you like to walk into the nearest mega-mall and see people sitting around sucking marrow out of mutton bones? I, for one, might start going to the mall more often if they did.
Blue corn quesadillas in Mexico City – how could one look at that not make you hungry. Jumping back to Hong Kong, and I’m thinking this show would have worked better if it moved geographically around the globe – street food of the North Hemisphere in the west, America and Mexico, moving down to the Southern Hemisphere, then across the Pacific to Asia. Right now I’ve got jet lag.
I still believe the noodle making scene in Hong Kong is one of the most artistic things I’ve ever seen on a food show, or even a quasi food show. How can you watch this then go and tune into someone decorating cakes in a competition? All you can hope to do after watching that lone man in his workshop, with his bamboo pole pressing out the noodles not by hand, but through the sheer physical effort of his body, is go to bed and pray you dream of eating those noodles. Because without someone to carry on the craft, that’s as close as you’re ever going to get.
Train food in Ireland. Nothing like a Guinness at breakfast. Indian train food is slightly less gourmet than in Ireland. A man in boat, delivering pancakes to your waterside room in Malaysia. Beats the hell out of most room service I’ve experienced. Probably costs less too.
The whole point, I think, of street food throughout the world and the near total absence of it in the US except in the largest of cities (where it nearly always comes with a strong ethnic component), is American’s have just become too uppity for our own good. Nothing reflects this as much as our food. Bourdain’s comment on cruise ships and the Norwalk virus is a case in point, and one that seems to be reinforced regularly in the news. Uptight middle class tourists afraid to leave the boat being felled en masse by ship borne contagions. Open air markets means just that – open air. Which is a hell of lot healthier than the cramped inner confines of even the most luxurious cruise ship.
A bowl of something good. A stranger who is not afraid to speak to you (would you have ever spoken to her first?), suggesting you try something at the market in Peru. And in case you’re wondering, noodles in spicy broth really is a great hangover cure. At least that’s what I’ve been told. Sweat out those toxins from the night before and you’ll be ready to go again in time for lunch.
Anthony Bourdain and Phillipe Lajaunie, owner of Les Halles, sitting around a bowl of goodness in early morning Vietnam, an image that is juxtaposed in my mind with the French plantation scene from Apocolypse Now. Two Vietnams, two different eras, but the meal was still the unmoveable center around which everyone gathered. Personally, I think I’d rather dine with Tony and Phillipe.
Next time you find yourself buying food from a street vendor, look around. That other person staring back at you with a mix of appreciation and respect, an almost secret society like private acknowledgement passing bewteen the two of you, gets it. That other person, is one of us too.
Until next week, bon appetite.