Regional Fun

posted in: Commentary | 0

A recent episode of How It’s Made featured a segment about the production of vinobrew, a relatively new alcoholic beverage that is a blend of beer and wine. Whether or not this drink leaves you “in the clear” or “never been sicker” is beyond me, as I’m not particularly big on mixed drinks, but the segment did get me thinking. I’m not sure why, but vinobrew strikes me as a particularly West Coast invention, a claim for which I have absolutely no material basis. (In my favor, however, the makers featured on How It’s Made were indeed from California. Their concoction blended port wine, stout beer, and coffee.)

(Let me get this out of the way first: I am not a foodie. While I might travel a certain distance for quality food, I don’t catalog anything about food myself, and most of what I do know tends to be tidbits from other food historians.)

There certainly isn’t anything wrong with inventing new dishes or flavor combinations, but when it comes to certain foods, I feel like the East Coast tends to be simpler with some preparations. I’m biased, of course, because I’m a native New Yorker who, frankly, hasn’t lived in any part of the country continent planet outside of the tri-state area. Hear me out, though.

When New Yorkers evaluate a slice of pizza, it’s a plain (cheese) slice that gets the scrutiny. Pizza with other toppings can and have won awards, but if you manage to perfect a cheese slice, you’ve done a worthy thing indeed. Same thing goes with hot dogs: nothing wrong with mustard, onions, and relish on a hot dog, but you get a really good hot dog and you won’t need anything but a bun. Sure, a New-York style cheesecake tastes great with berries or chocolate, but a perfect plain slice is magnificent. The Carnegie Deli’s pastrami sandwiches were massive, but they were essentially a single-filling sandwich. Philly cheesesteaks are relatively simple, as are Maine lobster rolls and Southern whole-hog barbecue.

Obviously, I’m not counting (read: terribly ignorant of) a lot of dishes here. I just want to contrast that approach with that of, say, a Chicago-style hot dog loaded with vegetables and pickles; or a San Francisco Mission-style burrito, crammed with whatever fits. This isn’t to say that those dishes are bad (quite the opposite, in fact) but that their excellence originates from the medley of flavors, rather than the perfection of a few ingredients.

Far from a conclusive analysis, for sure, but I do like how regional tastes still seem to vary, even when it’s possible to get ingredients shipped around the world in a matter of hours.

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