I have a dark, dirty secret… when I go to restaurants, I always order the same thing.
I am a serial order-er.
And a total bore.
As much as I love reading food blogs or cooking memoirs… as much as I love whipping up a batch of buttery brownies… as much as I love eating… I get stuck in ruts.
I think it’s why I love diners and simple diner food. It’s breakfast time? I’ll order an omelet or pancakes. It’s lunch time? A milkshake and basic cheeseburger please! And while I’m being honest… I’m happy eating a cheeseburger basically anywhere I go. But if something ain’t broke, why fix it? Every time I eat Thai food, I order the Pad See Ew. EVERY TIME. I can’t think of a time when I ordered anything other than Pad See Ew, and it’s because I don’t think I ever HAVE ordered anything else!
I envy fearless eaters. Men and women who proudly order brave dishes that they’ve never tried (or heard of) before. I’ve lately become a bit obsessed with the Seattle eating culture and I have an embarrassingly large list of restaurants that I want to try out… but no courage to actually go to! Because one, I don’t want to go by myself and two, because I know I’ll ruin my choice of location by ordering something boring. In other words, my mom sent me this book at the perfect time.
Cheesy cover, I know… but it’s only the most fascinating thing that I’ve read in months. Rather than compile a long list of restaurants, Danyelle Freeman (who has a fantastic written voice) tackles each country and it’s cooking style. She has a blog called restaurant girl but I recommend the book first. I’ve never learned so much about food cultures in one place. The layout tackles each culture with gusto and inserts millions of facts without causing a dizzying headache. She somehow even makes my mouth water reading about foods that I don’t particularly like, like Mexican (though I did skip over Greek food entirely, because really, who am I kidding?). Did you know that in Mexico there are over 1,000 regional variations of the tamale? And while I’m not a huge proponent of Korean food, did you know that they introduced frozen yogurt to the US by way of chains like Red Mango and Pinkberry? Now that I think of the funky minimalistic interior decor, it makes sense, but before I read this book I always though frozen yogurt was something that Orange County moms made up to save on calories.
What surprised me most about this book was how much I learned about foods that I thought that I had understood! I’ve eaten Chinese food thousands of times in my life and yet I never knew that there were four regional differences, Cantonese, Beijing, Szechuan and Shanghai with four entirely unique flavors. Some have more noodles, some have more rice, some are spicy, some emphasize seafood. It’s amazing that I had never NOT noticed how different Chinese food was!
Even in Italian food… which I considered myself to be somewhat adventurous in… I was overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge of foods that I eat regularly. There are over 350 types of pasta! And certain types are made for certain sauces. For instance, shells are perfect for “scooping” thicker, meatier sauces while ridge-less pasta is better for thin sauces. And pastas that end in -oni are the larger versions of pasta than end in -ini… that makes sense, right? Also, the Italians named espresso their national drink, not wine!
Finally, my apparent ignorance of Japanese food appalled me. I mean, my local sushi restaurant knows me and my order by heart! I thought I knew my stuff! Did you know that it’s actually considered more appropriate to eat sushi with your hands (my hands lack chopstick abilities) and to dip only the fish in soy sauce… never the rice. If you eat the ginger (I don’t) use it as a cleanser between each bite and not on the roll itself.
It’s pretty simple… if you like eating (of course you do) and you like eating out (I know you do) then you should read this book. Or you can borrow mine! I apologize in advance for all the dog-earing.