Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Stupidity of Culinary Nationalism

After my negative experience with Texas BBQ I delivered my views of Texas BBQ to some associates of mine from Texas. Both of them live in California now, and both are critical of the Texas culture. One was a vegetarian for many years. The other, after spending a period of his youth in China, loves Chinese regional cuisine.

Both reacted VERY negatively to my criticism of Texas BBQ.

Their reactions kept making me think about that episode where the Texas delegation challenged the Israelis to a cookoff -- bbq vs shawarma. It also hit home the contradictions involved with Culinary Nationalism. When I speak of Culinary Nationalism I mean the tendency of people from particular regions/countries to claim their cuisine is the best in the world, all others are crap, and they have nothing to learn from other food cultures. Texas BBQ lovers picking fights with Israeli shawarma eaters, and emphasizing the superiority of the Texas BBQ over the other schools of BBQ (Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas City, etc.) embody this.

One of my associates/Texas BBQ partisans explained that the best Texas BBQ was actually from the Hill Country. This BBQ was a cultural fusion of cuts of meat that the German immigrants popularized and the spice mixtures that Mexican immigrants brought with them.

Ironic. Texas BBQ exists today because the Germans, Mexicans, and Anglos, who interacted with each other in the Hill Country were not so proud and rigid in their ideas about food that they couldn't experiment with new flavors and techniques. Yet modern Texans, with their chest thumping love of Texas BBQ, remain willfully ignorant of the broader world of grilled and roasted meats. Their dismissal of the other great meats of the world is like Hugh Hefner only allowing blonds into the Playboy mansion.

Hefner -- wisely -- never engaged in such ignorance.

On that note, from now till the day I die I will eat every grilled meat on the planet, and I will choose no favorites. Equal opportunity!

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