First off Happy New Year to everyone. Secondly a very big very thank you to Shokutsu et al. for keeping things moving in my protracted absence. I’d change the blog to be called shokutsuosophy, but it doesnt quite have the same ring. Hope you’re ok with that 🙂
Unfortunately, without a good internet connection, im not able to post anything with pictures, but i wanted to discuss a topic that’s been on my mind recently. It’s about the evolution of taste. What does it mean for people who blog, and how does it shape how we view food?
Let’s start with the definition of evolution: “a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form”.
What im referring to is the natural propensity of taste to change over time. I feel this happens personally, as in to individuals, and it happens culturally as well. Today, i want to address the personal aspect.
Personally, i’ve noticed that my own tastes change and evolve quite often. The more repeated exposure i get to certain types of foods, and really, the more exposure to different tastes (in wine, coffee, food), the more what constitutes my “ideal taste” changes.
While I wish I had a stunning review (there are many new restaurants out there worth talking about), a topical subject (the failure to ban Bluefin Tuna exports from the Atlantic for example), or something really interesting to share with you this weekend, I don’t. What I have for you is the gift of perspective.
You see, I’ve temporarily lost my sense of taste. When it will come back, doctors have no idea. 5 days? 10 days? Weeks? Some people report a year or two!
Food has pretty much no appeal to me. I can’t taste anything. I can’t tell if something is salty, or flavourful. I couldnt tell the difference between Batali and Olivieri. Between the tenderness of calf moose, or rotting beef. I can feel textures and acidity – astringent, “warmth”, mushy, firm but there is no taste. I thought i tasted banana today, but i think it was taste memory playing tricks on me. I tried eating garlic – to see if it would kick start my tastebuds. Now the people around me suffer as well.
So appreciate what you have. Great food, or slightly mediocre, a shared meal, or a quiet moment alone with a bowl of soup – appreciate the smell of roasting meat, the freshness of greenery, the warmth of a simmering pot, the bright smells of citrus, and the lowly smells of compost. Because without a sense of smell or taste, there is no enjoyment in food at all. And without enjoyment in food, this bond we all share, whether we agree or disagree on a given review, doesn’t exist. It’s a lonely place, feeling disconnected from something we’re all so passionate about. May you never have to experience it.
In looking back over the past year, I realize that in pursuit of my passion on a day to day basis, that I am always learning. Eating out, discussing food, sourcing ingredients, cooking, it all affords us the opportunity to learn. But while i learn something every day, there are those “A-ha!” moments that you have that stick with you. That change how you look at a cuisine, an ingredient, or a dish.
We started Foodosophy 18 months ago for a variety of reasons, but one of the primary ones was to learn from other people, and to share what we learn. I thought it would be a nice way to end the year by sharing, and encouraging everyone else to share things that they’ve learned.
So without further adieu, I would like to present my Top 5 things I learned in 2009.
[o-toro] Sushi is a topic which tends to stir a lot of debate due to its recent mainstream acceptance around the globe. We have (at times) been called sushi snobs, for having extremely high standards when it comes to this Japanese delicacy. So I figured it was about time that we (as a team) put in writing our honest thoughts on this topic – to start some dialog about the food itself.
I finally have a reasonably stable internet connection for a day or two, so I just wanted to drop everyone a quick line to say hello from hot and humid Vietnam. I’m leaving the country in a few days, so i thought this would be a good time to provide some general thoughts on my observations of Vietnamese cuisine.
It’s been a great time eating thus far. Vietnam is a fairly diverse country, with an abundance of wonderful food. If you are a food lover, this is definitely a great country to visit. I flew into Hanoi, and travelled from North to South, giving me a broad perspective on the diversity of dishes, and regional interpretations on many of the dishes available across the country. From meat to seafood, to fruits and vegetables, Vietnam has it all. Even though the country is generally quite poor monetarily, they have a very rich food culture.
Im a bit out of practice in writing, so i’ll try and summarize in point form to help structure my thoughts:
The first thing i noticed about Vietnamese food is how fresh it is. Even on the street, there is great pride in serving frsh ingredients. Everything needed is bought the morning of. Nothing is kept overnight. While some dishes are par-cooked to speed up the process, for the most part, things are cooked ala minute.
Balance is the key to a successful Vietnamese dish. They do an amzazing job of it.
Vietnamese food in North America is very heavy handed. Overly strong flavours, with big impact in servings. Vietnamese food in Vietnam is a lot more subtle. More complexity, more interesting, but a lot less in your face.
Definitely a better balance of flavours, and served in much smaller servings, i find myself savouring food more, than gorging on it.
They use a lot more lemongrass than North America does. Other ingredients that show up a lot more than i would’ve expected are fried onion tops and mint.
Fishy flavours are extremely well balanced by citrus – salt, pepper and citrus make a great accompainiment for seafood.
A very distinct lack of MSG in most places here – i didnt realize how much restaurants relied on MSG in North America, until i ate food that didnt use it, or used it sparingly.
Restaurants in tourist areas are almost uniformly bad – no matter what the guide books say. Do yourself a favour – if you want a sitdown restaurant, get out of the tourist areas.
Many restaurants in tourist areas have no kitchens – they are just a place to sit, and a menu with pictures, or English. They run out to your local street vendor and buy the item in question when you order it. Makes it decent, but is a 100-200% markup worth it?
If i had to generalize quality of establishments, i’d say local restaurants in local districts, market food, street food, then restaurants in tourist districts
Vietnamese share a lot of dishes in groups, and eat fairly often. I’ve had trouble adapting to eating 5-6 times a day with the local family i’ve been hanging out with.
Beef on the street here is pretty bad. Cows are skinny. Beef is imported from Australia for higher quality establishments. That should be a pretty good indication that don’t expect much for your Pho Bo/Pho Tai that you paid 75 cents for on the street. On the streets, i would stick to pork, chicken, and seafood.
Food here is cheap – even for huge splurge meals, if you avoid tourist traps. I shared a late night seafood family meal with 4 others yesterday that was amazing. Cockles, snails, clams of all kinds, we ordered 6 or 7 dishes, 6 beers, and the total came out to under $30 for 5 of us. In comparison, 6 coffees/juices at a Western hotel with a view added up to more than this meal.
There are pretty big regional differences in food. You can definitely see more ethnic influences here in the south than in the north.
Many establishments, especially on the street, specialize in only one or two dishes. This makes the general quality of the food you get squatting on a sidewalk to be very high.
Smiling goes a long way when you can’t speak the language.
Vietnamese people are passionate about their food, and very very friendly.
I still don’t like Asian sweets.
Anyway, i hope you enjoyed my preliminary thoughts on the food of Vietnam. I look forward to providing you with much more specific recommendations on where to eat.
I would like to thank all the other writers at Foodosophy for picking up all the slack in my absence. Their time and commitment are greatly appreciated.
And lastly, and for me, most importantly, I would like to thank Foodosophy reader CH and family for all the time and effort you’ve spent showing me the cuisine of Southern Vietnam. It’s been an amazing experience for me to learn more about your culture and cuisine first hand. I can’t thank you enough for all the time spent driving, explaining, and tasting. I couldnt imagine having a better vacation than this!
On behalf of the editors, I wanted to take this opportunity to bring our readers up to speed with some recent developments…
As some of our loyal followers, particularly those from the Calgary region may have noticed, our beloved Foodospher has been M.I.A of late. Rest assured, he’s alive and well (at least that’s what we are assuming), but is out of touch (email, phone, etc.) this next little while as he is off traveling to the other side of our planet. With limited access to communication tools, it is expected that he will be offline until his return and thus there will obviously be no Calgary updates from him for the time being, but we expect him to give us plenty of reports from his journey, hopefully including his first authentic Pho experience!
Also, today marks a welcome piece of news in the form of a new contributor to Foodosophy. Interloper, who’s bio you can read on the Who we are… page, becomes our first Eastern Canada-based writer, and will report from the incredible food town that is Toronto. We know his addition will increase the scope of our coverage in North America and abroad, and trust you will all welcome him with open arms.
The Foodosophy Team
P.S. This month’s header image is of a takeout sushi set from Fujiya (Vancouver, BC)
Well, it is that time of year again. Good friends, family, and good food. What this means is parties, get togethers, and not a lot of restaurants. As a result of the holidays, we wanted to let you know that we will be following an abbreviated posting schedule until the New Year. We will still be posting when we have the time, but will not be able to commit to our daily posting schedule. After all, even those of us at Foodosophy need some time off once in a while! Otherwise, the next post may be the “Foodosophy of Divorce” 🙂
We want to thank you all for making the last 7 months as enjoyable as they have been. We wish you and yours the very best for a safe and delicious holidays!