Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fast food

We all know that fast food culture is steadily spreading throughout the world, often to the detriment of native food cultures. While I’m definitely not on the side of replacing or eliminating native food cultures, I’m not wholly against international fast food expansion per se. In much the same way that processed and ready-made foods can offer an accessible introduction into a new food culture, fast food originating in a foreign culture provides a way of expanding people’s food horizons and palates. It’s also interesting to see how different companies have adapted (or not) to the local cultural context and, on a nerdier level, consider the authenticity and terroir implications of such decisions. For instance, does glocalization on the fast food level constitute a type of fusion cuisine?

Here’s a quick look at some recent strategies to overcome cultural barriers in the fast food expansion industry:

Taco Bell recently opened its first store in India with an adapted menu that is beefless and incorporates more vegetarian options.

Novelty Proves a Hit for Taco Bell in India

Though McDonalds is also known for incorporating local flavors and food patterns into its menus, they found success in Australia by integrating the popular cafe culture into its physical location designs.

McDonald’s Down Under

By contrast, Subway has been expanding WITHOUT glocalizing its menu. After a period of letting individual stores have more control over its offerings, they decided it was more fruitful to maintain central control over the global brand of Subway.

How Subway Went Global

Friday, March 19, 2010

Crêpe complète


Crêpe complète at Crêperie Bretonne, 67 rue de Charonne, Paris 75011

I suppose I could write about the cultural history of Brittany, and the development of the buckwheat crêpe, or galette. I could distinguish between buckwheat savory crêpes and the more common sweet crêpes, or explore the differences between Japanese crêpes and French crêpes. But all I really want to do is post this picture of a delicious crêpe complète I recently consumed at Crêperie Bretonne in Paris.* This tiny restaurant is an ode to Brittany (and ripe for analysis of cultural representation and tourism what with its huge maps and posters and assorted kitsch adorning every inch of wall space), and the older gentleman who prepared my crêpe looked like he could have walked off the fishing boat five minutes ago. Sadly (for this blog, not for my stomach) my dessert crêpe with confiture de lait (akin to dulce de leche) was out of this world, though less photogenic. You'll just have to visit for yourself to know what I mean.

*Thanks to David Lebovitz for the recommendation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

High-fructose corn syrup is okay if it's "ethnic"?

A recent trip to a neighborhood Japanese market got me thinking about how culture affects our perceptions of food. Specifically how, for a certain group of foodies, the idea of "culture" perhaps inspires us to eat or justify eating foods we wouldn't ordinarily consume.

For instance, I generally try to avoid buying and eating processed foods, i.e. most things that come in a box at the supermarket. Since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, I've also been trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup, more to protest the crazy agricultural policies that allow it to be a cheap "filler" ingredient in lots of food products (do we really need HCFS in our sliced bread?) than the admittedly contested claims to it being less healthy and contributing to obesity rates more than other sugars. Yet, what did I end up buying at the Japanese grocery store? Fried fish cakes (processed fish, sorbitol, MSG, tons of things I can't pronounce), instant yakisoba (MSG), and instant Japanese curry (because, you know, it's so hard to find potatoes and carrots in DC...).


And it's not just Japanese food. I've found myself doing the same thing in foreign supermarkets of every variety. Potato chips rarely earn a second glance from me during my meanderings through Safeway. At Tesco in Britain, though, suddenly Thai curry and ketchup and lemongrass make artificially-flavored crisps more palatable. Instant tapioca tea in Chinese markets, boxed chestnut soup in France, and frozen minced pies in London have all tempted me at one point or another.

It seems I'm trying to eschew American fast/ready-made food culture, only to turn around and buy into its "fill in X culture here" counterparts. Clearly part of the attraction is the novelty factor of either seeing somewhat familiar foods in unexpected forms -- whoa, you can make Thai curry into a potato chip?!? -- or unfamiliar foods in familiar forms, as with instant tapioca tea in the same packaging as instant hot chocolate. By extension, it would seem that these supermarket versions of traditional food cultures might then present an easily accessible introduction into unfamiliar food territory. But how, then to balance cosmopolitan tastes with locavore philosophies? Does interest in foreign foods expressed through the more accessible processed food route undermine attempts to preserve traditional food cultures? Or does it help preserve it by maintaining interest in a more accessible form?