Friday, March 12, 2010

This Belongs on My Food Blog, but...

For the record, I'm a food snob. Not a real arrogant snob like Jeffery Steingarten (food critic and judge on Iron Chef America) or Toby Young (sometime Top Chef judge and British restaurant critic), but I suppose my level of snobbery depends on who you talk to.

At any rate, sometimes I just want to scream. Like when I go to the store (one of the only two in town, Kroger or Walmart) for leeks or fennel and they don't have either. Or like when I specifically need Italian parsley, but they only have the nasty curly kind for decoration only and the produce manager doesn't know the difference. Or like when they carried the beautiful trumpet, oyster or enoki mushrooms for five minutes, but because they didn't sell like hotcakes (read:profitable), probably because I was the only one buying them, they stopped selling them altogether. So, now the only fresh mushrooms in the produce section are the generally tasteless white button, crimini (baby bellas) and shitaki, all in their little blue pre-packaged containers. Or like when I go to the store for avocados and every single one of them is so ripe the skin is practically falling off because the flesh has rotted and receded and they should be throwing them away instead of selling them, or when I buy several of them that feel "just ripe" and I take them home and cut them in half and every single one is about 2/3rds brown and 1/3rd usable fruit (it actually happened to me and I was so mad that I took pictures and was going to send them to Kroger headquarters with a letter of complaint, but I never got around to it). Or like when both stores stopped selling pickled ginger (for sushi). Or like when I overheard a woman ask one of the 12-year-old butchers at Kroger what tilapia tasted like, he replied he had no idea because he'd never eaten it because he only eats catfish. Oh. My. God. One year, about 3 years ago when EVERYONE on the Food Network and Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray and every other celebrity chef was using meyer lemons, Walmart actually carried meyer lemons...for one season. When the tv chefs stopped extolling their virtues, Walmart stopped selling them. Kroger has never carried them.

The Walmart motto in our house is, "If Wally doesn't think you need it, Wally doesn't carry it. You get what Wally wants you to have."

Look, I could go on and on about my frustration with the lack of fresh ingredients available in abundance everywhere else but here (and maybe that dirty little store in Pell City, Alabama ~ shudder~). I know I live in a ~ cover your ears, here comes the food snob ~ culinary wasteland where fast food, chain restaurants that serve up mostly fried food and pre-packaged everything is king. But I've made some adjustments. I do alot - ALOT - of online shopping, particularly for authentic Asian, Mexican and Italian ingredients and limit my cooking to what fresh vegetables and fruits are available and dress them up with spices, herbs (I mostly grow my own), flavored oils and finishing salts.

So what started my tirade this morning? It was this forum topic, "Top 10 Businesses I Would Love to See in Conway," in our local newspaper, the Log Cabin Democrat. You can read the whole thread if you'd like, but I'll bring just one comment, the last one posted, to your attention...

"Soup, salad, sandwich, fast food, foreign food, OR-R-R anyone ever get tired of the loud music/fast food/foreign food connection [emphasis mine] and want to sit down to something quiet like a lunch or dinner a la cafeteria style? We had a Golden Host at one time at Town Centre but we didn't have a population to support it. Reasonably healthy food measured out with no second helpings might help! I could do with a Luby's or Golden Corral.

Okay, first let's just touch on the "foreign food" reference. Let's be clear - we don't have much AUTHENTIC "foreign" food here. Apparently, Mexican, Italian and Chinese food is "foreign." All the Mexican food restaurants have Americanized their offerings to the extent that it is unrecognizable. Hint: Mexicans don't make "nachos" or "cheese dip" and their tamales aren't stuffed with hamburger! We have a couple of Chinese restaurants, but their food is so over-cooked and over-sauced it's barely edible. Besides, Chinese food is supposed to be cooked fresh, to order, not served buffet style. Italian food? Pizza, spaghetti, lasagna and mostly poorly done. I saw a sign for a new Vietnamese place that's going to open on Oak Street. I am hoping for the best after the wonderful Pho we ate with Mike and Kathy last November. But I won't hold my breath.

So what does the above commenter think we need more of? Luby's??!!! Freakin' LUBY'S??!! Yep, cafeteria food. Oh sure, let's go backwards about 30 years. Back to canned green beans dumped into a chafing dish. Back to pre-packaged meatloaf from a square plastic container, gravy from a large envelope, macaroni and cheese (if it's not from a box, it's made with Velveeta) and more fried chicken. Lord knows we need more fried chicken.

Yes, I guess I'm a food snob. I eat fried chicken. I eat barbecue. And, I like them both, but not as a steady diet. I prefer - no, crave - good, fresh ingredients. I love a moist, juicy piece of chicken seasoned with fresh herbs with a coating of a light, flavorful sauce. I love a beautiful piece of beef tenderloin that's not formed into shape with toothpicks, ala Kroger style. I love fresh seafood, most fish and mollusks from the ocean. I miss having a fish market where I can get a large piece of albacore in season and throw it on the grill with a little herb butter. I miss a real butcher or fish monger who actually knows what s/he is talking about and doesn't try to tell me that short ribs are just "short ribs," or isn't offended when you ask to smell the piece of fish before you make the purchase. I miss stores like Vons or Harris Teeter or even Publix that carry foods and produce from diverse cultures and where you can buy your groceries and a really good bottle of wine at the same time, in the same store. When I see a recipe in a magazine or watch a celebrity chef prepare a particular dish or just want to create a dish I think would be good, I want to be able to buy all of the ingredients necessary in one place, on a moments notice, to prepare the dish at home for us or for my family and friends.

I don't know that I'm as much a food snob as I am just missing being around other people who enjoy the same things I do.

1 comment:

gina said...

I SO know how you feel about this. So frustrating to not be able to find good ingredients. I stock up when I get to fresh market...but even then it's only a couple of days worth of good, fresh food!

Also looking forward to trying the new Vietnemese place on Oak...since they're also advertising Thai food. Fingers crossed. I need a good lunch place.