Food vs. Funny

Anchovies, “Bleu Cheese”, and Pizza/Hot Dogs with more than two toppings: Weingarten’s anchovy entry is a curveball, since most people are of the dislike anchovy crowd (including yours truly.) It’s a clever maneuver, so I gave out a mild chuckle here.

However, what’s with the rather unnecessary quotation marks around Bleu Cheese? We have enough rogue punctuation marks from Twitter and Facebook accounts. The punchline is pretty obvious as well and not terribly clever.

And as for the two-topping limits for pizza and hot dogs – is that really a big point of contention for anyone? It’s kinda’ like arguing whether the city of Toledo should belong to Ohio or Michigan nowadays vs. back in 1835, or whether Val Kilmer or George Clooney was the better movie Batman. Instead of spending too much thought on that, I think I’d rather chow down on a Maxwell St. Special or any of the mostly two-topping-plus creations in Downtown Columbus’s Dirty Frank’s.

Hazelnut: I admit, the easy target to me would be something like pumpkin and pumpkin spice (maybe Weingarten loves those things?) so I’ll give him a few points here. However, maybe he misses the irony of touting the spread of the ultimate fake-nut (peanut, which is a legume) over the “fake-nut”-containing Nutella spread. Additionally, his claim that peanut butter will never be usurped by Nutella only applies to the United States – worldwide, Nutella outpaces all peanut butter brands in sales.

(As an aside, the European Nutella is not only way better than the one sold in the U.S., it was a godsend when I was overseas in the Middle East and was confronted by what turned out to be a dire version of PB out there. Pretzels and Nutella proved to be a perfect snack pairing when I didn’t want to leave my hotel.

And in case you were wondering, a hazelnut actually is a true nut. Things we think are nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans are technically drupes, but that’s another blogpost…)

Old Bay/Green Peppers: I have no real experience with Old Bay Seasoning (my dad would sometimes add it to crab, which no matter what the seasoning was never a big like of mine) so I offer up no real opinion (and no real reason for laughter) here.

On the other hand, I do prefer yellow and red peppers over their green counterparts, so I’ll toss out a mild thumbs-up with that one. But I do wonder if there are really any supremely fanatical green pepper fans/serial green pepper haters that would be set aflame by his take.

Garbage Sushi/Sweet Pickles – I will say Weingarten’s tastes in what turned out to be his closing stanza line up more with mine, but I’m noticing something here. Unless you’re really invested in the food items mentioned, the enthusiasm (or outrage) for each take for me is pretty muted.

Interestingly, Weingarten here lines himself up with the foodie crowd in relation to sushi. If he claimed the opposite (“California Rolls are the bomb!”) that would be a far more intriguing take, especially if he gave both a cogent and humorous musing on why. However, here he’s essentially swinging downward, deriding the plebes and their love of so-called “phony” sushi.

And as for sweet pickles, I do prefer their more tangy cousins, but are the former really as abhorrent as chicken-flavored jelly beans? Well, considering that perhaps the most famous maker of jelly beans, Jelly Belly, sells flavors like Sausage, Black Pepper, and Moldy Cheese (or “eeuuu cheese”, maybe?) sweet pickles don’t seem so bad after all.

Balsamic Vinegar: As I saw one Tweet that focused on this portion of the article state, “Where are all the Modena defenders?” Reading on the history of Balsamic Vinegar (which has its origins to 11th century Italy), I can see how Weingarten’s take can raise hackles with those most invested in the product, similar to how fans of Indian cuisine received his original take.

But I’m taking the general lack of Twitter response as a big “who cares” shrug. Sales and usage of Balsamic Vinegar ain’t gonna’ tick drastically up or down based on the take of some random newspaper columnist. And thus perhaps the best line of the entire piece (“Balsamic Vinegar most likely broke up The Beatles”) is essentially given the “does a tree falling in the forest make a sound when there’s no one around” treatment.

Indian Food: This is the original segment that created the largest brouhaha. After a relatively intelligent start (references to useful things the Indian subcontinent has brought to the world), Weingarten then descends into a more dubious space.

First, does anyone NEED to reference the word “ethnic” with any cuisine, a term that is almost always applied cuisines considered “foreign” to the majority of people (former WaPo writer Lavanya Ramanathan had a great take on this term.) Why not use the term “cuisine” without the identifier?

Secondly, ask anyone prominent Indian in the cooking field like Padma Lakshmi (who had her own fiery response in the Post), Priya Krishna, Nik Sharma, or even your average cook in an Indian household. They can tell you that his “one spice” take is completely off the tandoor. Heck, even my spouse (a “European Mutt” as she likes to joke about herself) will tell you that Indian dishes have perhaps the most diverse collection of spices of any cuisine in the world. About a quarter to a third of my spouse’s considerable in-house herb and spice collection are those she would those typically use in any of the Indian dishes she cooks up on occasion.

Later, Weingarten threw more gasoline onto the fire by implying that all Indian food is smothered in curry (which isn’t really a thing – the word is essentially derived from a word meaning gravy or sauce; for a good primer, check out this Atlantic Magazine article) and tosses in a weird “knocking a vulture off a meat wagon” reference to reflect his dislike of, in his mind, a one-spice and one-form cuisine.

Interestingly, Weingarten doubled down on his claim by sharing his experience with the well-regarded Rasika Indian Restaurant in DC on Twitter. While Weingarten said his dishes were well-presented, he went on to say his food only confirmed that the blend of spices didn’t agree with him.

In fact, the only things he confirmed with this follow up post were that his initial take (Indian cuisine based only on one spice) was blatantly wrong and that (again) he did not care for Indian cuisine.

Later, Weingarten apparently had second thoughts and issued the following apology statement:

Okay, fine. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, he did that originally. Does designating a specific dish like, say, Chicken Makhani (otherwise known as Butter Chicken), make the piece any funnier or incisive?

“Chicken Makhani: The Indian subcontinent has vastly enriched the world, giving us chess, buttons, the mathematical concept of zero, modern-day non-violent political resistance, the Fibonacci Sequence, rock candy, cataract surgery, USB ports, cashmere…and the only dish in the world insanely based on one spice! If you like Chicken Makhani, yay, you like Indian food! If you think Chicken Makhani tastes like something that would knock a vulture off a meat wagon, you do not like Indian food. I don’t get it, as a culinary principle. It’s as if the French passed a law requiring that every dish be slathered in smashed, pureed snails (I’d personally have no problem with that, but you might, and I would sympathize.)”

I dunno’, is that any better? Does that have you rolling in your seat scattering chaat all over your lap as much as this awesome over-the-top collection of action scenes from Indian cinema?

To me, not really. Granted, humor is an individual thing, but when taken as a whole, the article is merely a collection of Weingarten’s food quirks. If he planted these on one of those longish Twitter threads asking users about their most reviled foods, I doubt they would gain much notice.

And for the Indian food section as originally written, the gist comes across as dismissive and completely ignorant of an entire country’s cuisine at best (doubly strange in that Weingarten seems to have some sophisticated tastes such as “real” Sushi and French escargot.) At worst, it comes across on the racist side, something akin to the claimed unhealthy MSG-ridden nature and supposed “dirtiness” of Chinese cuisine.

And here’s the thing: it’s perfectly okay not to like a particular dish or even country’s cuisine; as the French say, “Vive la différence.” If Weingarten had simply said this matter-of-factly, he may have gotten a few raised eyebrows, but nothing nearing the outrage that arose from his attempt at humor.

But expressing that dislike in a funny way is hard to do. Hell, good humor in general is a difficult task. I peppered this analysis of Weingarten’s column with my own bits of humor, but I admit this blogpost’s total humor content is probably the equivalent of the amount of Everything Seasoning grains still embedded on the average bagel in the grocery store bargain bin.

Consider the great George Carlin, whose 13-word-long take on sushi eclipses the combined humor content on my blogpost and Weingarten’s column with plenty to spare…

“I never eat sushi. I have trouble eating things that are merely unconscious.”

And with all that said, I am now really hungry. I think a good Vegetable Biryani with Samosas, Chaat and a Masala Dosa from Columbus’s Dosa Corner or similar sounds like a great idea right now.

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