Mt. Rushmore of Food

March has been a low-producing month for my blog (ok, zero-producing), thanks to an insanely busy schedule at work. But I’m finally back! (Thanks for hanging in there with me!)

While waiting for AK to come home on Friday, I watched an hour-long episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. For those of you unfamiliar with Tony, he’s the writer of the behind-the-scenes exposé “Kitchen Confidential” – an absorbing and fascinating read for anyone interested in the restaurant industry, written with great humor and flair. This particular episode highlighted his travel to Rajasthan, a remote province of India with a long lineage of maharajans and maharanans (kings and princes) and, of course, incredible food. In addition to attending an extravagant feast at a palace, Tony also spent many hours trolling truck stops and street markets for local specialties. Although I don’t normally crave Indian food, enjoying only the occasional venture into the sub-continent, the episode left me hungry for a good Indian meal. A quick search on Yelp (my favorite community review site, by the way) resulted in a strong 4-star recommendation for Tabla, right in the neighboring town of Foster City.

This place was literally a hole-in-the-wall. Due to faulty Google Maps directions, we could not find this mythical spot. After driving around aimless for what seemed like hours (it was probably around 20-30 minutes), turning around and reversing our tracks repeatedly (during which time I repeatedly expressed my annoyance and exasperation), we finally found it, no doubt to AK’s great relief. I knew we had the right place immediately. First of all, the front door is hidden inside of a deserted plaza, not even visible from the street. So this restaurant has no interest in attracting foot traffic. Secondly, it was packed with only Indian people. Thirdly, as soon as we walked in the door, we were enveloped by the warm aroma of exotic spices. And last but not least, the overhead TV was playing a Bollywood movie, a sure sign that it caters to a local clientele (and by local I mean Bombay and Calcutta).

We loved the food. We started with some tasty, crispy-shelled samosas covered in a tangy sauce with chickpeas. Then we delved into the main dishes of butter chicken and “bhuna ghosht” (a spicy lamb curry), both of which were flavorful and tender. Happily chomping away the food with basmati rice and naan, AK and I started discussing whether Indian food should be in the “Mt. Rushmore” of food, i.e., one of the top 4 cuisines of the world. After some discussion, we came to the consensus that from an “objective” standpoint, it would be Chinese, Italian, French and perhaps Indian (we just could not agree on the fourth one).

The topic then turned to our personal favorites. What would be our respective top 4s? To make the question even more difficult, the question became “If you could only eat 4 types of cuisine for the rest of your life, what would they be?”

Here are our responses:

AK’s Mt. Rushmore of Food

(1) Chinese: There was no hesitation.

(2) American: We had some lively debate about whether “American” counts as a type of cuisine. To me, this should encompass only burgers, fried chicken and steak. However, AK insisted that this should also include pizza (American-style, such as Chicago deep-dish), Hawaiian BBQ (spam musubi, etc.) and California cuisine (Chez Panisse/Alice Waters, local ingredients, fusion influences).

(3) French: Initial reluctance until I mentioned croissants, macaroons, pain du chocolat and other delicious desserts.

(4) Korean: There was some struggle here. Deep down, I think AK may love Mexican more (he has a weakness for tamales and burritos), but to not pick Korean was to “lose his heritage,” so I suppose that was a good choice.

My Mt. Rushmore of Food

(1) Chinese: There is so much variety under this category that I almost felt like cheating picking this.

(2) Japanese: I love sushi and cannot imagine life without it.

(3) French: Since I’m a Francophile too, this was a no-brainer.

(4) Ethiopian: I was very tempted to choose Korean as well, since I do love bibimbap, soodubu (tofu soup) and Korean BBQ (who can resist a good kalbi cooked over charcoal?). However, since that would be 3 East Asian cuisines out of 4, I just thought I’d like more variety. Ethiopian is delicious and different, and closely eked out Korean.

What is in your Mt. Rushmore of food?

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5 thoughts on “Mt. Rushmore of Food

  1. Ha ha, before I read yours I was already thinking Chinese, Japanese, French but then I was pretty sure my fourth would be Mediterranean which in my mind includes shish kabobs, Greek food (I know it’s a little cheating), gyros, hummus, yummy lamb, baklava…..yum!

  2. don’t forget formosan! which in its own charmning way includes taiwanese chinese, taiwanese japanese, etc. =) Japanese is definitely good….

  3. Hui – yes, Mediterranean was very tempting as well, but other than hummus and gyros I couldn’t really name another dish that I love, so had to let it go.

    JL – Hmmm, my friend actually asked me that very question – is Taiwanese food considered part of Chinese food? I was thinking that Chinese cuisine would be all-inclusive (ok, let’s not read too much into this since this is not a political blog). But obviously if Formosan is considered its own category it would immediately kick out Ethiopian or any other contender!

  4. I don’t know if I agree with your “objective” view that top 4 cuisines of the world would be Chinese, Italian, French, and Indian. I’m sure everyone will have their favorites and there really is no objective way of looking at it. I mean, if say you based it on lists like the best restaurants of the world or Micheline Guide, most of the time it’ll come out to be French or New American, but those lists and guides are so biased. It certainly makes for interesting discussion though. 🙂 I know my top 3 are Chinese, Japanese, and French. I still can’t quite decide on the 4th one though… even though I think it’s nice to have variety, but I actually think it might have to be another Asian cuisine for me (Korean might be a strong contender 🙂

  5. Sorry for the delayed response. It’s been back-to-back busy weekends.

    I agree that Indian is a questionable pick for top 4, but if we put this to a vote with their huge population they will probably be voted in. Haha. Glad you’re strongly considering Korean – AK will be very happy to hear.

    I’m beginning to re-think my #4 – maybe I should just switch to “American” since I do love places like Town Hall…

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