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Author Topic: American Chinese food
Mucus
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I just came across this hilarious and informative TED video. If you eat North American "Chinese" food, then its a pretty fun video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6MhV5Rn63M

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Noemon
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Interesting! Thanks, Mucus!
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scifibum
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I saw a slicked up version of this on TV at some point. It might have been an episode of "This American Life" on Showtime.
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Samprimary
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If you look up 'american chinese' you probably will come across quotes of me unequivocally stating that I love 'merkin faux-chinese fare better than its authentic counterpart.
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TomDavidson
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Oh, no kidding. Authentic Chinese food is often revolting.
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Orincoro
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Once you get over the initial shocks, Czech Chinese food is actually quite good.
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Noemon
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How does it differ from American Chinese food?
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MyrddinFyre
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Neat link. Funny, too, because I always thought of American Chinese food kind of like McDonalds... satisfying, disgusting, something you crave and then immediately regret eating, etc.

But I do love me some dim sum and shabu shabu and pan fried noodles. It's amazing how some people really think American Chinese restaurants are actually serving "Chinese food".

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Orincoro
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Hard to say exactly. It's far gooier and pastier than the American versions. Plus, I can't read the Czech menu items, so I have to choose from Chinese-Czech-English translations like: "Three Strange Meats," and "Interesting Chicken." It's more pork and chicken based menu items, and things are generally spicier and not as salty as the American equivalents. Plus, mostly all the food comes mixed in with rice, so it's not like an American style place where you get a couple of items plus rice- you just get a big bowl of rice and meet and vegetables.
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Noemon
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Interesting.
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Eaquae Legit
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I actually love a lot of Chinese-style Chinese food. Proper dumplings, taro and sago seed soup, things with "black fungus" in the title... It helps that I'm vegetarian and don't need to worry about suspicious "interesting chicken" and "three strange meats," which is not exclusively a Czech thing. They show up often on the menus in Chinatown and I've learned to always ask for clarification ("What is the stuffed tofu stuffed with? Ah, pork. I see.").

Mmmm. Just this week I found a Chinese cookbook in my parents' basement. I have no idea where it came from, but it has recipes for things I love. So happy!

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
Oh, no kidding. Authentic Chinese food is often revolting.

Not a big fan of broiled chicken feet, huh
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Noemon
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There's a Chinese restaurant in Dayton that I've taken a number of forum members to over the years that, in addition to a very good American Chinese menu has a menu of Chinese Chinese food. They don't generally mention its existence to their non-Chinese patrons, but they'll bring it to you if you ask for it, and will serve you items from it without argument*. It's a bit of a crap shoot, since most of the menu is in either Chinese or is simply a transliteration of the Chinese, but when I go there with a group we'll often get a couple of things off of the Chinese menu, and more often than not what I've been happy with what we've gotten.

*I've been to Vietnamese restaurants where I've had to argue with the server in order to get them to bring me something that I've ordered if it wasn't the standard fare that most white people who ate there ordered.

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Mucus
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I may point out that most of the examples of Chinese Chinese food that have been brought up are actually just Cantonese food with the exception of shabu shabu, which is actually the Japanese type of hot pot.

There is just as much variation between Cantonese food and Heilongjiang food, and between those and Shanghai food or Sichuan food as there are between English food and French food or Polish food.

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scifibum
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I've heard that what we experience as Indian food here in North America is mostly Americanized Punjabi cuisine, and doesn't reflect the many regional cuisines in India. It doesn't surprise me to hear that there are a lot of various cuisines within China as well.
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Tante Shvester
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In the part of New Jersey where I live, there is a large Indian population, and the restaurants they patronize tend to be authentic (with emphasis on a particular regional cuisine). Or so they tell me; I've never actually been to India.
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Reshpeckobiggle
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Best Chinese food I ever ate was in Guadalajara.
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Sterling
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I like to imagine there's various levels of "authenticity" in American Chinese food, from unidentifiable fried meat in sweet pink sauce to jellyfish (tried at a wedding banquet, don't think much of.) My personal tastes run somewhere in the middle. Undoubtedly some of it is colored by the meats and vegetables available in different countries.
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Mucus
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Alright, I have a bit of time to elaborate. It is actually kind of amazing, not only have Cantonese immigrants managed to convince many Americans that Chinese food done badly (American Chinese food) is Chinese food, but they have also convinced the few that penetrate this illusion that Cantonese food is the entirety of Chinese food.

This is due to the fact that the majority of older Chinese immigration to America is from Guangdong via Hong Kong. But this is merely one Chinese province in the grand scheme of things.

Cantonese food is typified by rice, dim sum, seafood, and a great variety of animals. Very little spice is used and freshness is emphasized. As for exotic food, some Cantonese also enjoy horrifying Westerners with the more exotic food, which may only add to the problem. I'm not mentioning names. [Wink]
But it is true that the North American palate of food seems very limiting to us, Cantonese are known even within China as being proud of eating everything.

Hong Kong is a good example of Cantonese food and is the *international* melting pot of Chinese food, combining Cantonese food, Chinese Western food, and so forth.

Cantonese food is trending downward with the new wave of immigration. The new trend is towards Sichuan food. Sichuan food is largely incompatible with Cantonese food since it is very spicy. From central China, it has less seafood, and lots and lots of spice.

Moving quickly, another great melting pot of Chinese food is Beijing, but while Hong Kong is international, Beijing is the national melting pot bringing together many varied culinary traditions from across China. Food usually includes more wheat and beans versus rice which is more southern. More lamb due to the northern influences and Chinese Muslims and less seafood.

There are many other types of food I'm leaving out, but just to lend perspective, I recently watched a Hong Kong documentary on Hangzhou food which is merely a few provinces north of Hong Kong. They covered it like a North American documentary would cover Mexican food.

To end, let it be known I am far from a cook. And that this post contains many stereotypes, but I'll be satisfied if I can only bring the stereotypes down from a national stereotype of Chinese food to provincial stereotypes. Consider this an invitation for those that can correct or expand.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
Oh, no kidding. Authentic Chinese food is often revolting.

Depends on what region of the country you are getting your food from. Taiwan = Win.
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Mucus
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Good example, I love Cantonese food, dislike Taiwanese food, love Hangzhou food, tolerate Beijing food, and I'm borderline allergic to Sichuan food.

But 'chacun son gout' and all that.

(Also, while I dislike Beijing food in general, there are a great number of specific dishes I like a lot. Obviously I'm speaking in generalities)

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BlackBlade
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In generalist terms.

I'm crazy about Taiwanese food, tolerate Beijing food, dislike most Cantonese food, enjoy Sichuan food, unsure about Hangzhou food.

But yeah generalities, I'm a huge fan of Beijing Kao Ya, but again as a general rule Beijing food is just boring. I blame the cultural revolution both for Beijing's blandness, and Taiwan's transcendent excellence.

BTW thanks for the link Mucus, I knew about all those dishes, but it was nice to have specific information about all of them. I until now, believed fortune cookies were an American Chinese invention not Japanese.

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Teshi
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I love Britishfied Indian food.

This was an excellent lecture. Probably one of the most intelligent informative speeches I've ever seen on the internet.

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Fusiachi
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I'm sitting in Shanghai right now--I think I still prefer "American" Chinese food. We'll see, though. Mongolian hot pots were good. Dog, though, was not spectacular. Man's best friend just doesn't make for a very good treat. I'm here for 2.5 more weeks, though, so I'm sure there'll be something delightful enough to change my mind.
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MyrddinFyre
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quote:
Originally posted by Mucus:
There is just as much variation between Cantonese food and Heilongjiang food, and between those and Shanghai food or Sichuan food as there are between English food and French food or Polish food.

Honestly, I couldn't tell you the difference between any of those food-styles *laugh*
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Mucus
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Fusiachi: Be careful though, while American Chinese food exists in America, it also exists in China. I had the distinct non-privilege of being served the stuff a couple years ago in Shanghai.

That said, I'm mostly providing the information in the thread simply to inform people about the differences between each variety of food, not to change people's taste. As the presentation notes American Chinese food IS uniquely adapted to North American tastes and that is a critical part of its success.

On a related note, I've tasted some much more modest attempts in the opposite direction by American food to Asianify itself in China/Hong Kong and I must say I rather enjoyed some of it.

MyrddinFyre: Seriously? All of them? I must say you are in for some major culinary delight when you do (if you do?) start finding out [Smile]

[ December 31, 2008, 06:20 PM: Message edited by: Mucus ]

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scholarette
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I was very annoyed by my tour in China- every meal they included sweet and sour something. My husband and I were like, um, this is NOT Chinese food. The tour guide replied "We get a lot less complaints this way." Our tour group rather disgusted us though. They even balked at dumplings.

Of course once we met up with family, we got lots of authentic food. The big problem then was the amount of food, not style. I swear, they must have not eaten for a week to eat as much as they did. They apologized for not providing a meal we liked, since after all we only ate 2 large plates full.

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Blayne Bradley
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I've often seen Chinese families serve fairly large feasts as regular meals.

I love authentic asian food, but in Montreal I often either have to eat it at friends house or in have to travel a maze of buildings to find that "out of the way alley restuarant" to eat it.

Spicey Hmmmmmm [Big Grin]

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ketchupqueen
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Who balks at dumplings???
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scholarette
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Crazy American tourists.
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ketchupqueen
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Dang.

More for you, I guess.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by ketchupqueen:
Who balks at dumplings???

I know right?
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JennaDean
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I don't really like dumplings. I'll eat them, but they're not my favorite. But then I don't like any kind of dumplings - especially those southern things they put in Chicken & dumplings. So it's not an Asian-food thing.

Yeah, more for you.

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Mucus
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We learned how to make dumplings from scratch during the holiday break as a family. It was glorious.

quote:
Originally posted by scholarette:
I was very annoyed by my tour in China- every meal they included sweet and sour something. My husband and I were like, um, this is NOT Chinese food.

Yeah, I was lucky. We only did the tour group thing for about five days after a more independent thing, but that was more than enough. In a way, its the worst of both worlds.

quote:
They apologized for not providing a meal we liked, since after all we only ate 2 large plates full.
Sounds like something out of a stereotypical "cultural differences" book, like maybe a section of Joy Luck Club. I think I read somewhere that while its impolite to leave a plate unfinished in Western culture, its impolite for a Chinese host to not provide enough food so that you can't clear the table.

Like so:
quote:
Beginning with cold dishes, followed by at least 10 to 15 hot dishes, and concluding with fruit, a typical banquet lasts roughly two hours. In contrast to the West, where children are taught to "clean their plates" and leftovers could signal to the host that the meal was unpalatable, in China, an empty plate signals unsatisfied hunger and indicates that the host did not prepare enough food. Moreover, Chinese hosts will keep filling guests' empty plates until the guest leaves some food on the plate.
http://www.chinabusinessreview.com/public/0807/fox.html

In real life, I can't say I ever really noticed either way, but I can be quite oblivious to these things.

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MyrddinFyre
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Mucus - nope, and that statements includes the English/Polish/etc foods. I guess I just love food in general, and don't usually pay too much attention to its cultural significance [Smile]
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Jhai
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quote:
Originally posted by Tante Shvester:
In the part of New Jersey where I live, there is a large Indian population, and the restaurants they patronize tend to be authentic (with emphasis on a particular regional cuisine). Or so they tell me; I've never actually been to India.

If you're in an area of the US with a large (say 20%+) population of Indians you can easily find authentic Indian food from various parts of the country, but it might be a bit less spicy than you'd get in India. A good rule of thumb is that if it's a vegetarian place then it's "South Indian" (very broad, I know). South Indian is typically spicier, and rice-based (you might get breads there, but they're made of rice). If the restaurant isn't vegetarian it's almost certainly a North Indian or mixed-regions place - where North Indian means the area of India that is geographically in the north-west, including Punjab and Jaipur. Food from other parts of India can be difficult to find - I can't even think of a Bengali restaurant in Silicon Valley.

However, almost all the Indian food served in restaurants in the US, if authentic, is the stuff you'd also get in restaurants in India, not the stuff you'd get in an Indian home. For home cooking, you need to import an Indian mother-in-law (highly recommended [Smile] ! ).

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PSI Teleport
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Mucus: do you know which region dan bing come from? My experience is Taiwan, but I'm not sure if they're originally from that area.
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kmbboots
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I love fake American Chinese food. Especially when I have a cold. Garlic chicken and chicken chow mein from the take out place by my apartment, mixed together is often the only thing I want to eat when I feel lousy.
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Kwea
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quote:
Originally posted by ketchupqueen:
Who balks at dumplings???

I do. I hate them. Sorry. [Frown]
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GinaG
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No offense to Chinese people, but I lived with a Chinese roommate and "real Chinese," while interesting, is yucky compared to American Chinese.

So is "real Mexican." I went into a little restaurant once determined to get authentic Mexican food- I was served a "pork taco" which was a tasteless stiff tortilla filled with chunks of fat. Bleccchhh. Give me Tex Mex any day.

I'm happy they brought us their food, but happier that they adapted it. [Smile]

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Tatiana
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Now I'm hungry.

That was fun and informative. I absolutely adore American Chinese food. I could eat it for every single meal.

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Mucus
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Hmmm, I'd appreciate it if people stayed away from direct adjectives like "revolting" or "yucky." There's no technical reason you have to, but I'd note that there are those of us (loved ones too) that literally cook Chinese food at home on pretty much a daily basis. Hearing that food/effort described as such can be a bit hurtful and this is really meant to be a light-hearted thread.

You don't have to go to the extreme of "if you can't say anything good ..." but I'd appreciate some effort to at least put it more diplomatically or more ambiguously.

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ketchupqueen
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There are good and bad "real Mexican" and "real Chinese" places just as much as there are good and bad Americanized Mexican and Chinese places.

We have a few "real Mexican" places around here that would blow your mind, and would never serve dry tortillas or greasy pork.

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Mucus
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MyrddinFyre: Cool. That works too.

PSI Teleport: I don't know. I'm not personally familiar with that specific dish, but pictures of it seem to show something which is not entirely unlike a couple of southern or northern Chinese dishes that I have tried.

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Jhai
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The idea of real Chinese food being "revolting" or "yucky" reminds me of the best dining advice I've ever read. (Side note: based on the home-cooked meals of my Chinese & Taiwanese friends and certain restaurants in the States that I am assured are authentic, I think real Chinese food can be amazing, as can American-Chinese food.) The writer, Tyler Cowen, is an economist who specializes in the economics of culture, especially art and food. He said that if you know you're in a top-notch restaurant then you should always order the thing that sounds least appetizing or most odd from the menu. I've found the most amazing dishes following that rule.
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dkw
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quote:
Originally posted by GinaG:
No offense to Chinese people, but I lived with a Chinese roommate and "real Chinese," while interesting, is yucky compared to American Chinese.

So is "real Mexican." I went into a little restaurant once determined to get authentic Mexican food- I was served a "pork taco" which was a tasteless stiff tortilla filled with chunks of fat. Bleccchhh. Give me Tex Mex any day.

I'm happy they brought us their food, but happier that they adapted it. [Smile]

Perhaps your roomate was just a lousy cook. I'd hate to see American cooking judged by some of the slop I've seen cooked in student apartments.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by Jhai:
quote:
Originally posted by Tante Shvester:
In the part of New Jersey where I live, there is a large Indian population, and the restaurants they patronize tend to be authentic (with emphasis on a particular regional cuisine). Or so they tell me; I've never actually been to India.

If you're in an area of the US with a large (say 20%+) population of Indians you can easily find authentic Indian food from various parts of the country, but it might be a bit less spicy than you'd get in India. A good rule of thumb is that if it's a vegetarian place then it's "South Indian" (very broad, I know). South Indian is typically spicier, and rice-based (you might get breads there, but they're made of rice). If the restaurant isn't vegetarian it's almost certainly a North Indian or mixed-regions place - where North Indian means the area of India that is geographically in the north-west, including Punjab and Jaipur. Food from other parts of India can be difficult to find - I can't even think of a Bengali restaurant in Silicon Valley.

Slightly off topic, but if you are in Silicon Valley, have you ever been to Kabul, the Afghan Restaurant on El Camino in, I think, Belmont? If so, check that place out! Afghan food is quite good.
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Jhai
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I don't live in Silicon Valley anymore, sadly. Not that Belmont is in the valley, anyways... (And no, I've never been to Kabul, although I have had Afghani food before.)
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PSI Teleport
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Gina G, I don't know where you got your Mexican food, but go south of the border sometime and have some Sonoran mexican food. That stuff's awesome. Mexico is a big country, and the cuisine in various areas are different. You gotta find the good stuff. Can you imagine someone coming to America for the first time and sitting down to cajun food, and then remarking that "American food is yucky; it's too spicy and there's too much seafood" or whatever?
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by dkw:
I'd hate to see American cooking judged by some of the slop I've seen cooked in student apartments.

QFT
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