Cross Cultural Cuisine

September 5, 2008

Usually when I see two (or more) countries cuisines merged under a single restaurant roof, it’s a sure sign to steer clear. I mean, as a chef shouldn’t you focus on one type of cuisine instead of creating your own United Nations food court? The results are never pretty. Here’s some real world examples I’ve run across:

  • Chinese and Hamburgers
  • Chinese and Donuts (seriously)
  • Chinese and Creole (is a pattern emerging?)
  • Chinese and Sushi

Now, beyond the culinary aspects of attempting to prepare and serve two distinct types of food (not to mention the restaurant decor), that last one on my list raises a whole other issue: political. The Chinese and Japanese have repeatedly invaded each other committing horrible atrocities and even today barely tolerate each other’s existence. Maybe I’m thinking too much but if see “Chinese and Sushi” on the same menu, I’m not thinking it’s some Kumbaya hugfest in the kitchen. I mean, the chefs are armed with very sharp knives. If I see that sign, I’m thinking that one chef — either Chinese or Japanese — is being forced to commit treason to his homeland by preparing the cuisine of the other and mostly importantly, it’s probably to ward off the scent of imminent restaurant failure. And even if that’s not the case, you just know his heart’s not in it.

Recently, though, I had to good fortune to experience some delicious cross culinary cuisine and it was due to the fact that I never saw the sign. I just ordered take out from the menu (or I should say, my wife ordered for me without telling me what she was getting). To be fair, it wasn’t that far of a cultural stretch either. We ordered from a new pizza joint. Now pizza, despite it’s American origin, has traditionally been associated with Italian cuisine although the strength of that culinary relationship varies widely from place to place.

This particular place seemed fall somewhere in the middle between American and Italian — at least at first glance. Beyond pizza, they offer several Italian dishes such as pasta and veal. But upon further inspection of the menu on subsequent orders (yes, it was good enough to repeat order), the menu offered some strange and deliicious options.

The dish I’m in love with actually references three cultural cusines which is a nifty trick for a chef of any stature.

Enough with the beating around the bush, here’s the ingredient list:

  • Two fried hot dogs
  • Large order of cheese fries (sometimes thin cut, sometimes steak cut)
  • Wrap it up in a tortilla

Mmmmm….ohhhh, yeah.

Why waste time getting a side of cheese fries? Just slather them on top of your hot dogs (plural) and roll ’em up in a tortilla. My loving wife — knowing my predilection for anything hot dog related — ordered this by chance. And I’ve forced her to order it again several times since (thanks, babe!).

The one problem is they don’t have a good name for this dish. It’s so bad of a name that I can never remember it. Not even now. And a dish as magnificent as this one deserves a good title. Maybe “Cheese-Fry-Dog-Wrap”. I don’t know……….it doesn’t really compete with a great name like “hoagie”. Let’s work on it.

And for those of you keeping score at home, technically, it’s probably only two cultural cuisines crammed together — American and Mexican. But since it’s being offered from a pizza joint, I’m counting Italian too. It’s not too far of a stretch. I could have referenced Irish cuisine due to it’s inclusion of the potato. That would have gone too far.

Of course, long time readers of this blog will notice one other reason I love this dish. The meat log factor. Yup, just wrap a bunch of meat and goodies in a handy delivery device such as a tortilla and I’m in love.

Apparently, I’m going to have to re-evaluate my skepticism toward these cross culinary ventures and be a little more adventurous in my restaurant choices. (Within reason, if history backs me up, I ain’t going in the front door.)