Saturday, 5 June 2010
#16 Welcome to the stock pot.
Brits find it easy to mock (or 'take the piss out of', if you feel like bemusing our Transatlantic cousins) American food. Almost as easy as the rest of the world finds it to mock ours. The jokes are all already written. Great - herein lies an easy blog post.
The first thing to note is that my dining experience in New York is unquestionably esoteric. I eat as much Chinese, Italian, etc - made by actual sons of those countries, of course - as I do 'American'. The second point, to contradict myself, is that this is American food. It might be cheating, but America can lay justifiable claim to all kinds of variations on foreign foods - pizza pie, New York bagels, Tex-Mex, New York-style cheesecake, California rolls, and so on. Apple pie is no more American than deep dish pizza. Both are as American as tikka masala is British. Welcome to the stock pot.
Fast food? You betcha. But since 'Super Size Me' things have changed. McDonald's advertises mostly at the morning coffee crowd these days - 99¢ lattes are the new Big Macs. Their competitors are Dunkin' Donuts' same-price offering, and Starbucks' premium product. In New York, Starbucks' weird fetish-seamonster girl feels like a much more oppressive presence than the Golden Arches.
Supermarkets are plain weird. On the one hand there is the unquestionable brilliance of Whole Foods - sort of like Waitrose, but earthier: expensive enough to keep out the riff-raff, locally-sourced enough to keep the greens happy. They still sell Chiquita bananas, for shame. Being British, I thought I'd tell you how bloody brilliant the queueing system is. The Manhattan locations are horrifically busy, so queues are subdivided into colour-coded streams that feed to many different tills - one from the red line, one from the blue line, one from the yellow line - balancing fairness with throughput. You also get told that 'you are now entering the green line' in a quietly thrilling Twilight Zone homage.
Next up is Trader Joe's, complete with irritating nautical/Victorian/farmgirl theming, cheaper prices and a Queuing Disaster. The queue snakes around the entire store, so you have to plan out all of the things you want from where the queue runs and remember to get them as you queue. Indecision is not an option.
Finally you have the Waitroses and Targets - carbon copies of the larger outlets of our Tescos and Asdas.
I touched upon the weirdest thing about American supermarkets in an earlier post. They don't sell wine. They don't sell rum. Hell, they don't even sell strong ciders: a store must possess a 'liquor licence' to sell beverages with an ABV topping around 8%. A supermarket cannot possess such a licence. So if you want a bottle of wine with supper you have to go elsewhere. It's tedious, backwards and irritating.
One more thing: everything has corn in it. Everything. The average American gets 10% of his daily calories from corn syrup. But we'll touch upon that some other day.