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Posts Tagged ‘Culture’



New York. Trying to describe a few days in this city to anyone but your girlfriend, your mother or your friend who’s never been is like telling a group of teenagers that cigarettes are bad for them; everyone’s got their own way of doing it and, in the end, it will fall on, at best, ornery, overly-callous ears that will tell you you’ve got it all wrong.

Regardless, my experience in New York City was a great one. I’d like to go as far as to think, if not for a moment, that I “get” it. The style, the attitude, the similar-to-LA assumption that, even if you’re from a little farm in Iowa, here, you can be anyone you want to be. The moment I walked into Times Square I instantly found myself thinking things like, “Jesus, that’s a lot of overweight tourists” and “don’t these people know that some of the best chefs in the world are here, right now, running kitchens that I would give a body part to work in for a night?” And, I like to think, this is a good mindset to operating under while there.

New York is a city, mind you it’s a huge fucking place with more skyscrapers than any other city I’ve ever seen, but, still, it’s a metropolitan collection of different people, places and experiences unique unto itself just like any other urban hub on the planet. And, because of this, New York, hell the island of Manhattan alone, has more to offer than you can wish to see in a week. To hell with the three TGI Friday’s or the new Bubba Gump Shrimp they just built along 7th. If this is your, or someone you know, idea of New York then you, or said acquaintance, need help, and fast.

Before leaving I made a list of a few places I knew I wanted to see and, luckily for myself, I got to leave a check mark next to each of the items on the list (seriously, I’m a nerd, I checked each one off). Mind you I barely scratched the surface of what there is to see and do in Manhattan, let alone Brooklyn or Queens, but these are the places I checked out:

Gray’s Papaya Hot Dogs

As a Chicagoan I guess you could say I hold the hot dog to a certain degree of culinary scrutiny in other cities. The concept of a tube steak adorned with tomatoes, peppers, relish, onions, mustard, a pickle and celery salt is enough to make my salivary glands flow forth with anticipation. However, as a kid who grew up in Cleveland I, also, have an appreciation for the simpler kind of dog, some mustard, sauerkraut and yes, God forbid, some ketchup, too. In this regard, Gray’s Papaya makes the best hot dog I’ve eaten since the first time I tried Ballpark Mustard at Municipal Stadium with my dad as a wide-eyed youth. Luckily, there were two right around the corner from my hotel.


Bar Boulud

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my Canon while dining at Bar Boulud, but I did have my appetite. I had been waiting to try any of Chef Daniel Boulud’s creations, or a dish created by a chef who worked for him, for more than two years now. Finally, I was given the chance. It was perfect. The boudin blanc I ate there, coupled with the 2006 Coudoulet de Beaucastel I ordered with my appetizer of Oysters, was absolutely ridiculous. The only problem being, with this dish, that it made me hungry for a dish from Daniel. I fear it was only the beginning of a love affair with Boulud’s food.

Bar Americain

I am actually, and surprisingly, a big fan of Bobby Flay. I’ve been a fan, in fact, since I saw his show Boy Meets Grill on the Food Network back in college. The ginger chef with a hot wife and an affinity for chipotles and cilantro was one of the few things worth watching back then, let alone now, on the channel and, hell, he even cooked some kick ass food, on a Manhattan roof top no less. The lamb shanks I ordered were good. They weren’t the best pieces of red meat I’ve ever imbibed, but they were definitely better than any calorie and cholesterol explosion from Outback Steakhouse or similar. The beer selection was pretty cool, a good selection without a lot of the pretention you can get (I understand you have Rogue Dead Guy Ale, guess what, so does every other shit-hole bar on the planet). There was one surprisingly good offering that I went for, myself being on a budget, and it was the french fries. Sweet jesus they were good. I know, its hard to fuck up a fry and most, if not all, fine dining establishments make some really good french fries, but these were amazing.

Spotted Pig

I had really high hopes for this place. Located in the middle of the Village, right down the street from where Friends the TV show was set, it has the perfect location. To set the mood even more, picture a colder, rainy evening in the Village, a Thursday, with Autumn right around the corner. Feeling a little sick to my stomach from what I really hope wasn’t Bobby’s lamb shanks (but it might have been, that’s another story) I stepped into this place at what seemed to be fairy tale-caliber perfect timing as they were just about to begin seating customers. The ambience was relaxing, the perfect place for that first, second or third date, when you know you’re ready to sleep with the person you’ve started seeing. I ordered some house-made olives and roasted almonds to start out. Olives are one of my favorite foods and these were right up there with some of the best imports from Spain and Italy I’ve had.

I, also, ordered the skirt steak with horseradish and beets. It was melt in your mouth good and, for anyone who has tried to cook skirt steak at home, this is not easily accomplished, especially such a small cut of it. What made it even more fun was the fact that chef April Bloomfield was in the house, which was cool.


Sake Bar Hagi

I heard of this place from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. I like sake and love tempura so this seemed like a good choice for a late night snack and some alcohol. It was a cool place, underground and hidden from plain sight. The weird thing being, though, that it was right in the middle of everything. An almost literal stone’s throw from Time’s Square, I would have assumed it would be filled with tourists and crying babies however, fortunately for myself, it wasn’t. As a matter of fact I would say that the clientele were young, under 35, and a nice mixture of young Japanese business men, travelers, locals and hipsters. The sake selection was alright, the food was great and inexpensive and the atmosphere… well, I think that’s probably this places’ greatest asset. And there is nothing wrong with that.


And some random pictures:










This pretty much sums up Times Square.







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As an American in his mid-twenties, I grew up in a time when soccer, especially youth soccer, was just as viable of a choice as playing baseball or football. Barring the usual comments of “soccer isn’t as physical as football” and “its a wuss’ sport”, it really was no different in the eyes of, say, someone like my father, who didn’t really get the sport, and, even though he’s a 2nd generation Romanian immigrant, frequently called it an immigrant’s game. Soccer has slowly become a popular sport to play and, now, a sport to watch here in the US.

While soccer will probably never reach the status of the NFL, MLB or the NBA it still has a place in our country. It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone that soccer has increased in popularity since the early nineties, when the MLS was founded and the US hosted the World Cup. As the world slowly shrinks thanks to the Internet, more accessible cable television, etc. it makes it much easier to learn about different cultures and their sports. As a teenager, playing soccer in high school, had I had more access to international games from Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN and online portals such as Ustream and ESPN3 I feel like not only would it have made me a better player, but I would have had more of interest in it as a culture, not just as a sport.

Compared to the NASL from the seventies, and the MISL in the eighties and nineties, the MLS seems like the best chance soccer has had in America so far. This may be because of the people in charge, who aren’t looking for a quick phenomenon like the Cosmos, but building a tradition, a culture, like the rest of the world. As the US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati has put it:

The MLS is not trying to be baseball. It’s not trying to be the NFL. These are both sports with major history behind them. My favourite catchphrase when people ask me how long it will take for soccer and the MLS to prosper is simple, tradition takes time. We don’t expect a single event and the viewing figures to change the landscape of our game overnight, but the sport has been on a pretty upward trend for a while now. The difference between 1994 when the US hosted the World Cup and now is that we have a sixteen team league, ten soccer specific stadiums, soccer on TV and players who the public know about.”


With the arrival of David Beckham in LA in 2007, even though his time there has been short (I can’t really blame him), and now Thierry Henry in New York, Soccer should have an even better chance of gaining national attention and, hopefully, creating a sustaining culture in the decades to come. Also, with these aging players coming from Europe to extend their careers and get a little more playing time, perhaps the MLS can find its niche in the global Soccer arena as a place for players, like Henry or Beckham to, to do so. If that is the case, maybe we’ll see Van Bommel, Juninho or Del Piero stateside at some point?

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Romania



As an American from Romanian descent, and having a Romanian last name, I get a bit frustrated with the way my great grandparents’ home country is represented in the media. Especially after I watch the Romanian episode of No Reservations, where one of my heros, Anthony Bourdain, traipses through the country with Russian stereotype Zamir and depicts the place as a backwards, down-trodden Dracula theme park with no culinary history.

Can I blame Anthony Bourdain and the crew of No Reservations for making a show like this? The answer is an unwavering “No”. After reading his subsequent blog entry about the episode, one can take away that they weren’t trying to make a show like this and they weren’t trying to paint Romania in a bad light, that’s just what happened, much like the episode in Sicily. However, I can say that the way the show was edited made it seem that, much like every other representation of Romania in the English speaking media, Bourdain and Co. didn’t want to, or try to, show any of Romania’s good points, of which it has quite a few. In my opinion, it was just another biased joke at an entire nations expense.

Either way, this isn’t an essay dedicated to bashing one of my literary, travel and culinary idols. I’m merely stating that Romania gets an unfair depiction in contemporary media. To quote John Peterson, from the Romanian Times:

“My feeling was (and still is) that Romania is a great “undiscovered” place to go, that it has lots to see and wonderful out-of-door venues.”

“What impressed me most was that Romania ‘fits together’. It is a culture and has a sense of place, with great landscape as a setting.”

“It is not a plastic tourist attraction, but a living, breathing neighborhood that is fascinating to engage, see and enjoy.”

In terms of culinary heritage, while nowhere near some of its neighboring nations, Romania has made some contributions. Being on the most eastern borders of the Roman Empire, many different cultures passed through the area now know as Romania and all left something different behind. One site that has showcased, perhaps better than I could, is The Culinary Anthropologist. Check it out here.

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I’m not really trying to turn this blog into a place to post other articles, however this one caught my eye. Its not difficult to see why, either:

From All McNuggets Not Created Equal.:

U.S. McNuggets not only contain more calories and fat than their British counterparts, but also chemicals not found across the Atlantic.

CNN investigated the differences after receiving a blog comment asking about them.

American McNuggets (190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain the chemical preservative tBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product. They also contain dimethylpolysiloxane, “an anti-foaming agent” also used in Silly Putty.

By contrast, British McNuggets (170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat for 4 pieces) lists neither chemical among its ingredients.

“I would certainly choose the British nuggets over the American” says Ruth Winter, author of “A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives.”

McDonald’s says the differences are based on the local tastes: In the United States, McNuggets are coated and then cooked, in the United Kingdom, they are cooked and then coated. As a result, the British McNuggets absorb less oil and have less fat.

So similar chemicals, that one might contend aren’t really that necessary, to silly putty are found in the food children across America covet. Let’s call that another win for foreign foods, although no one really wins with McDonalds… While I think McDonalds can do whatever they’d like with the food they sell, its definitely not right for these kinds of companies to sell a product without giving explicit lists of what goes into them. Definitely not healthy…

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Well, it can’t really be described in one post, let alone one blog or even one dissertation, but Rachel Laudan, a food historian and anthropologist, examines what Culinary Heritage means to a culture and its history, as well as where it is headed.

Intangible cultural heritage is designed to induce economic development, particularly tourism.

She described how she was with UNESCO in Cuba in the 1980s when the economy was at a particularly low state. That, and the fact that income from tourism formed the largest part of GNP in a significant number of the world’s countries, made her and other officials at UNESCO rethink the idea that development depended on material resources such minerals or agricultural land. Economic development could also follow from promoting a country’s cultural heritage.

At first this meant identifying important buildings or groups of buildings or natural features (Havana, Guanajuato where I used to live, Yosemite etc.). These “patrimonios de la humanidad” don’t seem to me to have a huge amount of visibility in the United States but they certainly do in Mexico and many other countries. I’ve never seen any figures on whether they increase tourism but clearly they are widely believed to do so.

Next step. Tourists don’t want just monuments, natural or manmade, they want experiences. Hence UNESCO decided to set up this other category of immaterial cultural heritage. Gloria Lopez repeated several times that the culture in question was not to be limited to (or perhaps not even to include) European-style high culture, Goethe being one example she gave. It was to emphasize dance, folk art, and even cuisine. Here’s a list of already-approved immaterial heritages at the UNESCO site

I should mention that Rachel is actually citing a speech made by Gloria Lopez, however Rachel examines these topics on an almost daily basis on her blog, which I’m sure I will be citing myself often in the future.

I like the concept of examining food as another tourist experience. Just like many other tourist spots, food and culinary heritage can be ruined by too many outsiders trying to get “the real experience” or visit something exciting, but not too exciting, and Mexican food is a perfect example. one needs only to go to the nearest Mexican restaurant in America to find this out for themselves… Not to say that Taco-Burrito Hut is a bad thing, especially at 3 in the morning on a Friday or Saturday…

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