Author Archives: bostongastronaut

Boston Speed Dog in Roxbury (and MICE!)

The Restaurant

Boston Speed Dog
42 Newmarket Sq
Boston, MA 02228
Website
Yelp

Boston Speed Dog is located in a really dour industrial park in Roxbury, and they make some of the best, if not the best, hot dogs in the United States.

Andrew’s Take

Last week Ché revealed to me one of the true gems of the Boston area. It’s taken a while for us to do it but we finally got out to try the notorious Boston Speed Dogs. Located in a food truck in the middle of some lonely industrial park they still manage to draw quite the crowd. We sat and ate right outside the truck as droves of people came by to pick up to go orders or eat there with us. As strong as their reputation is, it’s not hard to see how some people still haven’t heard of these heavenly hot dogs.

I’ve only encountered hot dogs this big on a couple other occasions. Once at a ball park and another time at an amusement park, where giant hot dogs somehow seem fitting. Comparatively these foot long half pound bad boys look really intimidating. Size isn’t necessarily the issue here, though. For me it’s the toppings. You can get it any way you like but you haven’t had one unless it’s “loaded”. Topped with Speed’s very own mustard, relish, barbecue sauce, chilli and onions you might think it looks like a mess, but all these things combine to create a truly unique wiener. The fact that these dogs are also marinated in apple cider and brown sugar enhance the flavor to a degree that makes it obvious upon the first bite that your just not eating any hot dog. You’re eating a Speed Dog.

Make sure you stock up on your napkins cause if you dive in with none your probably going to be sticky for the rest of the day, but it will have been worth it. Make sure to also come with an appetite. I was even surprised I managed to finish mine. I’m sitting here writing this and going through the photos I took some of which have a very concerned looking Ché. One picture in particular Ché is holding the hotdog out in front of him and you can clearly see that it is as long as he is wide. Now Ché isn’t a big fella like myself but he’s still a grown damn man and that makes it sort of terrifying. Terrifyingly delicious!

So if you like hot dogs and you think you got what it takes to tackle a Speed dog I’d highly recommend getting out there sometime soon. The most ironic thing about Speed dogs is definitely the name. I know it was named after the guy who originally opened the stand thirty-so years ago but really theres no way to speedily eat theses things. I’d like to see Koboyashi tackle a pyramid of these and live to talk about it. The only really speedy thing about it is the service. So I definitely recommend going to check out Boston Speed Dogs if you get the chance cause you won’t regret it. Unless I mean if you’re like a vegetarian. Then you should probably stay far far away.

MICE!

No, we’re not eating MICE, at least not yet.  Andrew and Ché are going to be at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo this weekend, selling their new comic book about the Boston Gastronauts.  Ché will also be giving a presentation on the Underground Comics at 2:00 PM.  Not food exactly, but some sustenance for your mind.

Leave a comment

Filed under Processed Meat, Roxbury

All in a Day’s Work : A Review of Chew

By Ché

A human can bite down with 170 pounds of force. That’s more than about every dog other than the pit bull and the rottweiler. Eating is a violent act, a time when tissue and bodily fluids meet in physical trauma. This is something that artist Rob Guillory and writer John Layman constantly remind you of while you’re reading their comic Chew, whose second trade paper back, International Flavor, was released in April. Chew has received consistent praise, unusual for a comic from the genre market, getting play on MTV.com and reaching the New York Times bestseller list. Guillory and Layman deserve the accolades. They’re nimble storytellers, but the ghoulish concept is probably some of the attraction. The story isn’t like much else in fiction. Chew’s world is an alternate history, where 23 million people died as a result of what the government says is bird flu, which leads to a prohibition on chicken. (The pork industry must love this. Now they’re the ONLY white meat.) The FDA becomes the world’s most powerful law enforcement agency to make sure these new regulations get followed. The main character, Tony Chu, is a cibopath, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. As an agent of the FDA in a hyper-violent setting, that usually means taking a bite out of corpses. Chew, obviously, is a comic obsessed with food. It asks a basic question about the simplest animal activity; Why do we eat what we eat? It gives a lot of answers, but it suggests that the best reason for eating is something surprisingly Puritan, given how visceral the setting is. Like the roots of America’s mirror diseases anorexia and obesity, the book tells you to hate what you love.

See?  You never knew how good you had it.  At least your grandma didn't have to buy the chicken for your soup from dealers.

The world of Chew, if you forget about all the weird psychic powers revolving around food, is an alternate history with one key difference, the bird flu outbreak. Everything else diverges from there. Regular readers of the Boston Gastronauts, or people who simply pay attention to the news, know that mass food poisoning or disease is not that unlikely. Whether or not stricter restrictions on chicken and eggs are justified, making it illegal turns the food into a drug. In Chew, you can walk down certain streets and hustlers will promise, “Got all kinds of good shit. The farm fresh. The grade A. The hard-boiled.” Like with the war on drugs, getting people to stop eating chicken is impossible. Tony Chu’s partner, the hopelessly corrupt John Colby, chows down on chicken and eggs whenever he can. The theme of abuse of power seeps through the whole comic, governmental power especially. The main villain in international flavor is Nami Haupui. Haupai governs the small Pacific island of Yampalu. Haupai has discovered a fruit, the Gallsaberry, that tastes, of course, just like chicken and only grows on his island. His evil scheme is to hold chefs and food writers hostage in order to introduce the Gallsaberry to the world. Guillory usually frames Haupui in extreme close up, making him appear as tall or taller than the other characters, emphasizing his outsized influence. One page describes Haupui’s reaction after a prisoner escapes, and Guillory uses this extreme close up in the three bottom panels, and in the last one, he busts out of the panel itself, like a menacing, miniature Hulk. To really emphasize the theme of governmental abuse, Guillory and Layman follow this scene with two pages detailing four crime scenes. Three of these involve decaying bodies, and one, a dirty diaper. Guillory illustrates the crime scenes in large detailed panels that each take up half a page. Set into the lower left hand corner of each of these panels is a miniature inset of Tony’s boss, Mike Applebee, who hates his underling, and is overjoyed to send Chu to taste these horrible things. The repetitive design of these pages emphasizes the constant abuse of power that Applebee exercises and the consequences for our man, Tony Chu. Not to be left out, shortly after these pages Yampalu’s police chief dupes Tony Chu into helping him steal a prize cock-fighting rooster.

All of this is to say that Chew imagines government as inept and corrupt, and should not decide what people eat. There are even hints that nobody died of bird flu, and that the US government is using the prohibition of chicken to hide some sinister secret. Readers of my Gastronauts posts know that I think governmental policy towards food should be improved, not thrown out. The artists behind Chew don’t offer any alternatives to governmental policies, but hey, to be fair, the point of a satire is to point out what’s wrong, not how to fix it. Guillory and Layman definitely are not libertarian in their outlook. The former chicken industry is just as shady as the government, and orders a hit on Agent Chu. Ultimately Chew leaves the choice on what to eat to the individual, and the book offers two competing reasons for that decision.

The first is enjoyment. The comic holds this reason in suspicion. Actually liking what you eat is usually depicted as a character flaw. The other antagonist in International Flavor, a Cibopath pretending to be a vampire (it makes his job of being evil easier), enjoys eating people. John Colby shakes down chicken suppliers for their product. Chow Chu, Tony’s brother and a famous chef before the chicken prohibition, loves poultry so much that he’d risk his life or willingly be taken prisoner by a megalomaniac governor in order to serve it. The comic always associates the joy of food with vice or weakness. Chew takes every opportunity to lampoon America’s overconsumption, and in a country where 1 in 4 people is obese, that might as well be a public service. The only character that doesn’t like eating is Tony Chu. His cibopathy makes every bite an adventure, but not a very fun one. Eat a steak and find out how the cow died. The only thing that doesn’t trigger his cibopathy is beets, which, I guess, is how Tony gets most of his calories.

Why does Tony Chu eat then? When we see Tony eating, he’s usually doing his job as a cibopath. He takes bites out of corpses, but he hates it, which is what makes him a good guy, as opposed to the vampire, or his deranged ex-partner, Mason Savoy. The onomatopoeia that accompanies Tony’s bites into corpses is a monolithic chomp. There is nothing really bodily or organic about it. It’s mechanical, just part of a man doing his dirty job. Tony hates tasting dead people, but it helps him to be a good cop, and so he puts up with it. His love interest, Amelia Mintz, like Tony, eats to work. She’s Philadelphia’s most popular food writer. Also like Tony, her work comes with an unusual power. She’s a saboscrivner, meaning that whenever she writes about food people can actually taste what she’s writing about. That’s one of the reasons that Tony falls in love with her. For him, reading her work means eating without having to find out all the gory details of the food’s past. As a food critic, she doesn’t just eat because it’s fun, but to make a living. What makes her different from Tony’ brother Chow is that she gives people both the good parts and the bad parts of food. Chew introduces her writing about a restaurant that’s so disgusting that people puke when they read her review. To write this review, she had to eat the food herself. She’s not just down for the enjoyment. She’s a muck-raking, muck-eating journalist.

With all this in mind, Chew’s view of food comes across as strangely uptight. Its message is to eat because it allows you to keep living, and that any pleasure can lead to your own moral destruction. While Chu does love Amelia Mintz, this comes across as a desexualized kindergartener’s view of love. It’s like a Disney movie. Whenever he sees Amelia, the background of the panel becomes pink, and he’s surrounded by red hearts. Tony Chu is the hero of the story because he’s uncorrupted by any kind of enjoyment of life, from eating to f***ing, except for the satisfaction of a job well done. He might be naïve sometimes, in that he doesn’t suspect the government of having anything to do with the avian flu scare, but as the hero, he’ll be the one to figure this out. What makes this all the more strange is that the pleasures of Chew don’t come out of moral teaching, but out of the detailed sight-gag heavy art, slap-stick action, clever dialogue, and great, if unusual, pacing. Tony Chu wouldn’t waste his time reading Chew. A perceptive reader can see Chew as a sign of America unsure about how it should eat. People know roughly how to eat right, but because of the power of the processed food industry and a real lack of choice, they can’t. By the same token, America has become fascinated with unhealthy food, because it is understood that this food will taste better than “health food.” Like a chocolate cake ad that describes its product as decadent or indulgent, part of the fun in reading Chew is that it warns you against liking it.

All images in this post are the intellectual property of John Layman and Rob Guillory.  They are reproduced here for review purposes, and so follow fair use standards.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

…And we’re back

Sorry for the long delay, folks.  We have two new articles in the works for this week, one on the comic Chew, the other on Boston Speed Dog.   We’re also coming out with a mini-comic.  We’ve been busy in these last couple of weeks off.

-Ché

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Boston Food Truck Festival

Ché’s Take

Gentrification takes many forms. On August 7th, I stood in-line for about 45 minutes to get my taste of Fillbelly’s at Boston’s first ever Food Truck Festival (That was the the problem with this festival. Who waits for a food truck?) During that time, I had plenty of time to check out the variety of trucks around me. On the one hand, Fillbelly’s and Boston Speed Dogs were what you’d expect to see; cheap, good food with working class appeal. On the other hand, sharing the space were fancier food trucks that required much more of a capital investment, such as the Lincoln Street Coffee and the Cupcakory. This one event illustrates a class war being fought on American Streets, really more of a skirmish, when we think about the larger forces at work.

The reason that the food truck festival happened without much conflict and the reason that the Boston Gastronauts went to the food truck festival in the first place are one in the same. Food trucks are relatively rare in Boston. The Boston Globe cites “a difficult inspection process, often eight months or more.” These outdated laws probably share space with the statutes that allow you to duel on the Common if it’s Sunday and the Governor is present. Either way, the trucks that have persevered give a miniaturized view of the people who are really trying to start one of these businesses. Even if there’s time and red tape involved, it’s still cheaper than opening a restaurant. In practice this means that the Sausage Guy shares space with an “$85,000” (according to the same article) Espresso truck, at the same event, without any jockeying, because space is not yet an issue.

In New York, a place with many more mobile eateries, the relationship has not been so friendly. A New York Times article last year described the “Turf War” between the new upscale food trucks and the older, more established ones. This piece calls the newer vendors “culinary entrepreneurs, most of them with English as their first language and little fear of police or immigration authorities, [who] are on a mission to bring better street food to New Yorkers, and ready to bring dark corners of the business to light.” This sentence of course, says much more about the older vendors than the newer ones. The established food trucks don’t have the money to make the legal system work for them. The newer food trucks do not support the old way of doing things because going through government channels will favor those with more money and those who are part of middle-class culture. True, most of the food truck laws are based around corruption and exploiting a broken system, but this consideration is secondary for the boogie newcomers. Many of them admit to using the corrupt methods to get their business started, presumably because it’s much faster than the more legal methods. If the newer food trucks succeed and the cities of the United States start strictly policing food trucks, the older working class food trucks will be run out of business by the competition.

Like most class conflicts in the United States, the roots of this situation are not found in the thing itself. It is a cliché to say that the upper and middle classes control the country, and in this case, I find no reasons to argue with common knowledge. Two examples from the world of food trucks can illustrate this point. The first comes from the planet of Brooklyn. For years in Red Hook Park, impromptu food festivals have accompanied the weekend soccer games. At these, people from around the neighborhood would serve all kinds of cuisine from the Spanish-speaking Americas, usually out of the back of vans and from under tarps. The city tried to shut down the vendors because of health code violations, but, because of support from local officials and the newer middle class residents of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the food vendors were allowed to return after they updated their set-up to meet health codes. Usually this meant buying food trucks to replace the tent and portable stove layout. How this is cleaner, with all of a sudden diesel exhaust being spewed into the air, is anybody’s guess. The real end result was that by requiring these vendors to refurbish their setups, the middle-class newcomers and the city government forced their preconceived notions of the food festivals on the people that had created the events.

In the suburbs of New Orleans, the story was much different. After Hurricane Katrina, Mexican immigrants started to move into the city, heavily changing the demographics. Mexican food trucks soon followed. Jefferson Parish responded by amending health codes in such a way that they banned the trucks but left other mobile vendors intact. City officials claimed the move wasn’t racially based, instead saying that the aim was “strengthening zoning standards that have deteriorated since the storm.” And really, there’s nothing more trustworthy than zoning laws. They have never been used to promote segregation and discrimination.

While the first story has a happy ending, and the second story a sad one, the people who actually relied on the trucks to make a living had little say in what happened. Only the most cynical observer would call this democratic. Food trucks have always been seen as somehow equalizing because they’re cheap. That’s not an equation works. If food trucks actually become increasingly successful, which, with the downturn in the economy, they might they will not only attract small money, middle class people that are suddenly out of the job, but big money, franchised food. There’s nothing to stop McDonalds, or, at the higher end, Chipotle and T.G.I. Friday’s, from recreating their foods in a truck, especially when “Fast food…is an impulse buy” as Eric Schlosser writes in Fast Food Nation. Of course I would love to see food trucks come to Boston in a free and equitable way. But until all society can be organized more fairly, promoting fair food truck laws and practices will just be delaying the inevitability of corporate control.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Grasshoppers, Corn Smut, and Cactus in Somerville: Part 1

The Restaurant

Tu y Yo
858 Broadway
Somerville, MA 02144
(617) 623-5411
Yelp
Website

Tu Y Yo is probably the fanciest restaurant that we’ve been to, so it’s also the most expensive.  However, everything we had was delicious, and if you love Mexican food, this is some of the best that you will find in Massachusetts.  If you’re hungry and have some money weighing you down, this place should be one of your first destinations.

Andrew’s Take

Our adventure this week took us out to Powderhouse Square. When Ché and I met, we found that Tu y Yo has very wide weekend brunch hours which is awesome, but unfortunately we had to leave and wander around for an hour since most of what we were looking for was only served on the dinner menu. So when we returned later we were psyched to see that they indeed had the insects we were looking for! That’s right ladies and gentlemen we’ve finally reached the inevitable. BUGS! In fact bugs were technically the only meat we had in this weeks meal. Chapulines are just like your everyday grasshoppers they’re just the eatin’ kind. Our options for these grasshoppers were to have them in mini tacos or empanadas. We opted for the empanadas, which were quite delicious. Just like the last few Latin restaurants we’ve visited most of what we ate was also accompanied by delicious sauces. The rest of our meal included a green cactus mole and a crepe with cuitlacoche or corn smut.

The crepe showed up first. Now my experience with crepes is very limited for I am a pancake man myself, but I must admit it was quite tasty. The skinnier crepe isn’t afraid to go where the pancake is rarely taken, to the savory side of things. No sir there wasn’t any syrup in sight. The crepe was served smothered in cheese and a really tasty poblano based sauce. Inside was what we were after though. Cuitlacoche is a fungus that develops on corn. It might not be much to look at but gastronauticaly it presented us with a truly unique experience. Reading the wikipedia entry on corn smut wouldn’t be the best idea before trying it. I luckily decided to do this afterwards. They don’t exactly sugar coat their descriptions of what it is or how it forms, but trust me that didn’t really matter in a meal where we were also eating grasshoppers. The fact that there is apparently such debate over what cuitlacoche translates to amazes me when the only thing they seem to agree on is the part that describes it was “excrement”. I could also go on to point out that we apparently ate corn tumors but again that doesn’t really matter. When I heard fungus I assumed it was going to be like eating a mushroom, and it kind of was. So if you don’t really like mushrooms this might not be for you. The texture is a lot like eating diced mushrooms, but with a certain corny-ness to it. It’s got a familiar vegetable consistency that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The corn smut definitely worked well to fill the crepe, and was extra delicious with the poblano sauce.

Next up was the Nopales en Mole Verde. Cactus served in a green mole sauce with a poblano base. Neither of us has noticed cactus on the menu before so it was a nice surprise when we got there and we just went with it. Now I didn’t say anything at the time but every once in a while I got nervous I was going to get a cactus needle in my mouth. That didn’t happen though, thank god. The cactus was actually quite delicious. A lot of the reviews said it was like green beans or asparagus, but Ché and I felt it was more like okra. Okra sans the seeds that is. I’ve had other “cactus flavored” things before but never managed to actually encounter cactus served as a dish. I feel like cactus flavor is handled a lot like cucumber flavor. It mainly serves as a strongly refreshing taste while the cactus is a little bit “spicier” than the cucumber. When you’re actually eating it though it’s a lot like eating any other green veggie. I didn’t think about it too much but it did give me flashbacks to the bitter melon, but only in the way it looked. The taste was much more satisfying and I didn’t regret eating it at all. This was also, I think, my first encounter with a mole sauce. Ché had me very excited with his description of the ingredients which sometimes include chocolate. I thought that was neat though I don’t think the green mole we had included anything that unusual, although it was very tasty.

The grasshopper empanadas showed up a little later. Which I can only assume is because those little guys aren’t very easy to catch. We kinda sat on those for a little bit. I feel like we were both excited to try them but also a little reserved about the whole bug thing. We eventually dug in. There was the tell tale crunch and you could definitely see what you were eating. The only thing that really bothered me were the legs. If I didn’t chew them right and just swallowed they would get stuck in my throat. It wasn’t as gross as it sounds just slightly annoying. Putting the grasshoppers in empanadas definitely makes it easier to eat, but after the initial bite you realize it’s not as bad as you thought. Of course Ché and I got curious so we dissected the empanadas to get to the goods. The fact was the fried dough was a little heavy and you could tell there was something in there but you couldn’t get a really get a good taste for the little guys. We snagged a couple of the whole grasshoppers out of the empanadas and tried them. They definitely have a distinct flavor. If someone asked me what a grasshopper tastes like I’d say it tastes like a grasshopper. They did have hints of flavor here or there, the kind of flavor that reminds you of something else but your not quite sure what. They were pretty earthy and kind of nutty. As soon as I bit into them, I got this shot of flavor I can’t really describe. I can only assume bugs are like one of those things that tastes like whatever they eat. They’re so small they just absorb the flavor or something. I would definitely try these guys again. In fact the experience gave me flashbacks to what I now believe could technically be considered the secret origins of the Boston Gastronauts.

A few years back when Ché and I were still in school he came by to hang out and he brought with him some chocolate covered ants. If I remember correctly he and I were the only ones willing to try them. Of course these were a piece of cake considering they were covered in chocolate but you could definitely still taste the crunchy little ants. With something like that you just tell yourself it’s a crunch bar. Looking back on that makes me think that the Boston Gastronauts were destined to be, and who knows how many more bugs we’ll encounter!!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Freeze Dried Potatoes, Ceviche, and Yuca

All images by Andrew Abbott unless otherwise noted.

The Restaurant

307 Somerville Ave
Somerville, MA 02143
(617) 628-7070
Website
Yelp!

This is the sister restaurant to the other Machu Picchu, which we’ve already posted about.  In fact, it’s right across the street!  This is much more of a sit down restaurant, and the price reflects it, but the food is definitely worth it.  Everything we had is delicious.

Andrew’s Take

So heading into another restaurant called Machu Picchu only steps from the restaurant of the same name we visited a few months back had me a bit confused. Was there some ancient rivalry between the two eatery brewing in Union square unbeknownst to me? A rivalry so old it could rival the rivalry of the Hatfields and McCoys! No, it’s just a sister restaurant plain and simple. They serve the food not served at the other joint with only a few overlapping offerings. I realized this as soon as they handed us the familiar leather bound menus imprinted with their logo. These menus had made an impression on me the first time we were at the other Machu Picchu so seeing them again instantly clued me into what the deal here was.

The Machu Picchu we went to before was a char-grilling joint where you can get your hands on some delicious chicken, beef, gizzards, or what have you while this one serves more traditional South American homestyle cuisine. The one thing they do have in common though is their delicious sauces served with pretty much anything you order. I don’t know what any of them were but they’re always bright in color and bold in flavor. Mostly they serve to spice up an already spicy dish. For example, at this restaurant instead of serving bread before the meal they brought out a bowl of toasted corn or cancha served with this delicious spicy sauce. The toasted corn by itself reminded me a lot of corn nuts or really dry unsweetened POPs, but when you get em all sauced up the combination of flavors takes something otherwise dry and bland and turns it into something flavorful and filling. They bring you just enough of the toasted corn to keep you occupied before your food arrives.

We ordered a lot of food for just the two of us, but we were both might hungry. We started with some of the tasty fried yuca or cassava. Again this is served with a very delectable sauce that accompanies the yuca very nicely. It works to both compliment and improve upon both the taste and texture of the yuca. It was so lightly fried that the yuca itself did not lose anything consistency wise. The sauce was a bright yellow color and could be mistaken for mustard but trust me it’s not anything like mustard. The edible part of the yuca, for those not familiar with it, is a root. I had heard of yuca and cassava before but wasn’t really sure what it was. It’s a good thing I had Ché there to fill me in. For me it was a lot like eating a potato. It was starchy and grainy but the consistency wasn’t distracting. The experience was a lot like eating one of the most satisfying french fries I’ve ever eaten. After years of near depressingly bad french fries in my college cafeteria this redeemed the french fry for me. I had almost made the jump to onion rings exclusively (not really though). So all you fans of really good fried potatoes out there should jump on the chance to try this fried yuca, for it is wicked tasty!

Next up we got our Carapulca. It had chuño, the ancient Incan freeze dried potatoes we were in search of. Though when it was brought to us we could barely tell what was potato and what was something else. It was a lot like a chicken stew with a lot of potato in it. Don’t get me wrong it was really delicious, but when your looking for unusual food such as freeze dried potatoes it’s always weird to find that its only a small part of a greater dish. We assumed it might be something like a stew served over one of these whole potatoes but the potato itself was very finely diced into the stew itself and kind of held it all together. For being in a stew the potatoes still held their firmness. Unlike when you stew regular potatoes they usually get all mushy. I think they use these freeze dried potatoes rather than any other kind in an effort to thicken the stew since they don’t go all soft. The serving of carapulca was very generous in fact there was plenty for both Ché and I to share. They even serve it with a side of rice. So if your a stew fan go for it and don’t forget to bring your appetite.

Lastly we finally got a traditional form of Peruvian mixed ceviche. I’ve encountered it at other places but I’ve never seen it anywhere else served in such a heaping helping. Served in a lettuce leaf over some chopped onion we got shrimp, scallops, octopus, squid, clams, and some white fish. In ceviche the seafood is presented raw then marinated in citrus juice usually consisting of lemon and lime juices. The acids serve to cook the sea food until it is edible while still technically being raw. The combination of the cold seafood and the citrus juices presents you with an extremely fresh tasting dish. Obviously this is a dish for seafood lovers. This isn’t something you’d try if you were looking to get into eating seafood. I have friends who have a hard enough time with sushi. One look at this and they would probably walk out of the restaurant Again don’t get me wrong ceviche is amazingly delicious. They serve it here with some of their freakishly giant corn and wedges of both yam and potato. The plate is simply packed with many tasty options there to fill you up and totally satisfy your craving for super fresh seafood. There’s also the Leche de Tigre for those so inclined. If you love the fresh taste of the civiche so much you can order an entire glass of the lemon/lime fish/shellfish marinade juice to drink. Even if you don’t it’s just badass to tell someone your drinking tiger milk.

Ché’s Take

“Pre-packaged Meat Department” by Anthony Albright.  It is protected by the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Americans don’t know how people ate two hundred years ago, not really. We can imagine it, prepare little historical reenactments, but, in this country, it’s usual a dim taste-alike to what actually was. Agro-business and meat preservation has changed food as radically as the invention of farming. Before these, food could not be molded into the usual forms of commodification. After, it became just another product, with people just as separated from the source of their food as they are from the source of the electricity running through their computers.

Ceviche, is not a food that can be branded. It must be fresh. For a self-serve food to be associated with a company, or at least appear in a supermarket, it must be able to sit inert for long periods of time. Meat products were the last hold-outs to this phenomenon. As Roger Horowitz describes it in Putting Meat on the American Table, the reason that meat presented such a problem was because of “the perishable nature of meat products and the dilemma of organizing mass production around an item that came in irregular sizes.” Horowitz goes on to describe how American industry rose to the challenge, first by packaging and branding easily cured pork products, such as bacon and ham. What followed was changing beef from sides to individual cuts, something allowed by packaging, and moving chicken from a small farmer’s product to a completely industrially owned monstrosity.

The United States became known to immigrants as that place where you could eat meat every day, something I’ve talked about in other posts. This has created an insatiable market for meat. Meat preservation has allowed for product to endlessly fall into this bottomless pit. Without it, meat would spoil too quickly to make sense as a shelf-ready product. After preservation, every other type of adulteration, from growth hormones, to antibiotics, to cow cannibalism, becomes not only possible but profitable. Of course, in doing so, meat processing gives no thought to the harmful environmental or personal effects.

This account does ignore one thing, being that people as individuals preserved their own meat for centuries before. Horowitz gives equal space to these processes. Where it differs is how meat and animals were used. Chickens used to be kept solely for eggs and cows for their milk. Pigs were kept mainly for meat, but they were the animals most suited to preservation. People mainly ate beef in the winter, and only on special occasions, and chicken in the spring, when the mostly useless young roosters would be slaughtered. Other animals, who were much hardier, such as goats and pigeons, shared table space with these now standard meats. The difference in these old forms of preservation and renewal is that they were sustainable. They were also closer to home, meaning the people who raised these animals knew exactly what was going into them.

Although it is tempting, we cannot view these changes as cultural and not systematic. There have been changes to the meat industry caused by public outcry, most famously, after Upton Sinclair’s the Jungle, and the various cancer causing additives and hormones attacked in the fifties and sixties. Still, despite the fears and knowledge of the dangers of meat, consumers demand more of it. The meat industry responds by shrugging its shoulders. They say “See, we’re only giving the public what they want.” However, the public only wants this meat because they have debased it to make it affordable. If they were required to make it more healthy, the public not only would need less, but want less of it. Similarly, if the meat industry had to stop abusing the people who worked for it, as described in grim detail in Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, the prices would go up, and people would once again eat less meat. This has nothing to do with a lack of education (something I discussed a couple of posts ago), but a lack of democracy. The public cannot stop the meat industry, so they do not, and continue to eat meat, because it is affordable and culturally valuable.

The chuño is the perfect example of how production itself is not responsible for abuses of power, but a system that would allow them to continue. The meal that we ate at Machu Picchu included carapulca, one of the most ancient dishes from Peru, whose substance mainly comes from these preserved potatoes. The history of the chuño has a sad history. A way of preserving potatoes to eat year round, it has existed as part of the Peruvian diet for centuries. However, when the Spanish arrived, as described by Elizabeth Johnston, the food was used by these conquerors as a form of starvation ration for the native people who worked their silver mines. Nothing about the fact that this food was democratically produced for centuries stopped the Spanish from using it to oppress the native population. Similarly, health can only be improved in the United States by a systematic change in how food and all culture is produced. Buying organic, buying free trade, or buying itself, cannot change that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fat Sandwiches in Allston

All illustrations and pictures by Andrew Abbott unless otherwise noted.

The Restaurant

First Bite Cafe
76 Brighton Ave
Allston, MA 02134
http://www.firstbiteallston.com/
Yelp!

Unfortunately, the Boston Gastronauts have never visited this restaurant.  However, we did get delivery twice, and we have no complaints about their delivery service.  We’ve only ever ordered the Sub Danger-Zone Subs, which are delicious, and which we talk about in greater detail below.

Andrew’s Take

So this week our return to the gastornautical world brought us full circle back to our first encounter with the Fat Sandwich. No I’m not talking about lard spread thick between two pieces of bread, although we have encountered something similar when we were at Cafe Poloina a while back. Fat sandwiches aren’t any ordinary sandwiches. These sandwiches are generally filled with stuff that isn’t normally seen between two pieces of bread (or garlic bread for that matter). The two things showing up most frequently on these sandwiches are french fries and mozzarella sticks. So if you were that kid at the lunch table in school stuffing potato chips into your peanut butter and jelly sandwich this place is for you. They have a whole section of their menu titled the “sub danger zone” where you feel a whole buyer beware vibe while reading your choices. It’s almost like being on death row and choosing your last meal except that it all comes stuffed in a hoagie roll.

They even have “vegetarian” options though seeing that everything still comes fried on the sub I can’t imagine they’re that much better for you then anything else in the danger zone. This time around I got the Fat Willard sub. I don’t exactly know who it’s named after, but I was hoping it wasn’t a reference to the movie Willard. In that case the chicken on my sandwich wasn’t chicken it was more likely “chicken”… Anyways the sub was loaded with fried chicken, french fries, mozzarella sticks, marinara sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese all on garlic bread. These things are monsterous let me tell you. I made the mistake of ordering a large. The difference between a small and large is only a dollar and size wise its nearly indistinguishable so a word to the wise is not to press your luck and go with a small. I think I’ve run into this problem before.

I did indeed get a little bit sick after eating the entire thing, but I feel it was the overload of fried foods entering my system after not having eaten anything so heavily fried in a while. I have had one of these sandwiches on three separate occasions and this is the only time I really felt it after eating. Each time I had a different sandwich but every time they were absolutely delicious. I’ve also had run ins with the Fat Dog sub being comprised of about six hotdogs , pepperoni, mozzarella sticks, french fries, marinara sauce, and melted cheese and the Fat Bull which had steak, mozzarella sticks, french fries, and melted cheese. The actual problem with these bad Larrys is you can’t really leave any left overs cause they most likely wouldn’t re-heat very well.

The one thing about these subs that bothers me though is everything just tends to blend together by the end into one big cheesy/saucy/fried mass. Sometimes you might not even taste any meat on the sandwich if theres too much of one thing or another. I feel like putting these things together must be somewhere between an art form and an exact science. Then again if your willing to ingest something called a “fat sandwich” I don’t think your necessarily concerned with distinguishing the flavor of everything in the sandwich. These things are built for a purpose and that purpose is to fill an empty stomach, and then some. So if you’re starvin’ like Marvin, and you’re in the area I definitely recommend giving the First Bite Cafe a try, and if you’re gonna’ try for the Sub Danger Zone make sure you fast for a few days before hand!

Ché’s Take :  Gotta Have It


“KFC Double Down ‘Sandwich’” by Mike Saechang.  It uses the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons License

For a second, whenever Andrew and I talk about a fat sandwich, in my head I see lard in between two pieces of bread. That would be gross. Of course, some people react the same way to the fat sandwiches that we actually ate. Why don’t I? Or for that matter, why does the Double Down gross me out more than a sandwich with fries on it? Simply, First Bite’s fat sandwiches are honest, in the way that the Double Down is not. It’s American over-consumption as a celebration, instead of as an addiction.

And let’s be honest here, every person in the United States is either addicted to brutally unhealthy food, or to dieting. Sometimes a person will swing wildly from one to the other. The more important factor affecting the health of the United States is obesity. According to the Weight-control Information Network, an organization run by the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 3 people in the United States is obese. The causes for this are multi-faceted and complicated, but it is possible, in general to point to more processed food. This is how America’s upside down relationship with food has developed. The real wages of the United States have remained at a constant low lull for the past twenty-five years, compared with their meteoric rise in the mid-seventies. Early in his book The Paradox of Plenty, Harvey Levenstein makes research backed point that “the best way to improve the diets of the poor was simply to put more money in their pocket.” Because the subsidized food programs in the United States, from WIC to School Lunch, rely heavily on processed foods, and wages have not improved, the diets of the poor and middle income people of the United States have steadily worsened, which we see in the consistent rise of obesity. No amount of nutrition awareness will change that.

Yet there has been an increase in nutritional information. Nutrition facts labels are the one way that this new consciousness actually helps a consumer. In a perfect world, somebody would walk into a store, compare the labels of similar products, and then walk out, beaming with capitalist joy at their healthful purchase. In the corporate-controlled, semi-dystopian world we live in, this kind of thing would only happen in the commercial for a health food store. Instead, the ideas of nutritional eating are instead used by food companies to sell you their products, no matter how unhealthy they might be.

This is my beef (chicken?) with the Double Down. Other than the fact that it made me feel like I wanted to die, the (sort-of) sandwich attempts to make apologies for its obvious heart-attack causing properties. It comes in a “healthier” grilled chicken version, which while lower in fat, is higher in sodium. What really takes the F***ed-Up Award, though, is that a lot of the debate around this sandwich is whether or not its low carb, something KFC plays up in their “So much chicken, there wasn’t room for a bun” tag line. When somebody asks “Can the Double Down be considered a low carb food?” what they’re really asking is “Can there exist a universe where two pieces of fried chicken cemented together with cheese and bacon be healthy for you?” The reason they don’t ask the second question is because any thinking person nearby would slap them.

The reason that the Fat Sandwiches from First Bite don’t offend me is because you know exactly what you’re getting. There’s no low carb debate. There’s no lip service to healthier options. The part of the menu that the Fat Sandwiches appear on is called the Sub Danger Zone. The reason you eat these sandwiches is that you want to eat them, with no apologies for how healthy they are. It also ensures that you know that they’re an occasional food. KFC does not want to make the Double Down an occasional food, because that would cut into the enormous profits that the sandwich is making.  Remember, this sandwich was only supposed to be around until May 23rd.  After it sold over 10 million, KFC decided to extend its run.  This is fast food reduced to its most destructive form. Not only does it make sure that the people that work there have poor health because of the wages they pay, but it also makes sure other people making poor wages have equally poor health. That’s what I mean when I talk about fast food as an addiction. It’s having a pusher, for their own benefit, tell you every reason to do something that’s unhealthy for you,  and doing it, because you do not have any other choice. One situation is biological and one is economic. The net result is the same.

3 Comments

Filed under Allston, KFC

Stinky Tofu, 100 Year Old Eggs, Pig’s Blood, and Pig Intestine in China Town Part 2

The Restaurant

Taiwan Cafe
34 Oxford Pl
Boston, MA 02111
Yelp

The Taiwan Café offers delicious, traditional Taiwanese food at a great price.  Service is great, but it’s cash only, so remember to hit up the ATM before heading to Chinatown.

Ché’s Take

“Stinky Tofu” originally by Katrina Thorne.  “Lutefisk” originally by Karl Baron.  This picture follows the Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons License.

My contributions to this blog, so far, have looked at why foods that we think of as unusual are actually the opposite. From cow’s feet to blood, I’ve argued that all of these foods are part of our shared past, if not as individuals, then as Americans. Stinky Tofu puts a kink in the whole thing. Taken as only a food, it’s true that stinky tofu is not a part of the more inclusive American tapestry. However, the fact that stinky tofu can be found in the United States at all, describes something much more important about why and how our country eats.

Stinky Tofu also has the distinction of being the only food that we’ve eaten that I really hate. I couldn’t finish it. Andrew is right. It tastes like s***, literally. I mean, I’ve never eaten s***, but if I had to guess, it would be my first and best guess. Another point that my blog deals with is the idea that strange foods are usually delicious. I now have found one that if I could avoid eating again, I would.

These two points, stinky tofu’s obscurity and its gross taste, are related. However, while the food contradicts the basic idea behind my blog posts, it points to a much greater cultural trend found throughout American eating. In We are What We Eat: ethnic food and the making of Americans, Donna Gabaccia points out that many people hold onto their family’s eating habits, even while other cultural traditions fade away. She calls this tendency “culinary conservatism.” For me, this is a daily fact. Russia and Mexico are four generations away, but they’re never closer than in the taste of kugel or pozole.

“Culinary conservatism” is the best way to look at stinky tofu. While Gabaccia doesn’t analyze this particular food, she does discuss an equally notorious delicacy, lutefisk. Lutefisk is a Scandinavian lye soaked preparation of fish, which has an unusual consistency and smell. Throughout the middle United States, Scandinavian churches host lutefisk dinners to raise money. By now, however, people of Scandinavian descent are not “the largest group of eaters at lutefisk suppers.” At these dinners lutefisk becomes a cultural calling card, but not because it tastes good. In fact, Gabaccia says that people are expected not to like lutefisk the first time they try it. Instead, it has been absorbed into American regional culture because of its culinary conservatism. As part of the process of the creation of American culture, culinary conservatism kept lutefisk preserved long enough to become part of the midwest’s cuisine.

The fact, then, that I can buy Stinky Tofu anywhere in the United States is very similar to lutefisk being sold throughout the Midwest. It is part of a very American tradition of culinary conservatism moving towards culinary integration. For example, twenty to thirty years ago, sushi was part of the world of gastronomy, eaten only by the few who could let go of the American taboo against eating raw meat. Now you can by it in nearly every supermarket. Even if stinky tofu now tastes like poo to me, a milder version may one day available in some shape or form to the average citizen. Stinky tofu, and my ability to try it, simply reinforces Gabaccia’s point that “What unites American eaters culturally is how we eat, not what eat.”  The “how” here is a love of the new as an integration of the old.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Stinky Tofu, 100 Year Old Eggs, Pig’s Blood, and Pig Intestine in China Town Part 1

The Restaurant

Taiwan Cafe
34 Oxford Pl
Boston, MA 02111
Yelp

The Taiwan Café offers delicious, traditional Taiwanese food at a great price.  Service is great, but it’s cash only, so remember to hit up the ATM before heading to Chinatown.

Andrew’s Take

This weeks gastronaut adventure was a rousing success! Although we did get delayed a bit this weekend due to memorial day we’re back on track. This week we ventured back into Chinatown once again to tackle Sticky Tofu and the 1000 Year Egg! That kind of sounds like the name of a really awesome jam band or a childrens’ book, but it’s not. Anyway both of these amazing gastro-oddities are served at the Taiwan Cafe along with many other incredible items. Among the notable menu choices were also soup with pork intestine and blood, sauteed escargot with soy and basil, beer braised pigs feet, pork livers, sauteed duck tongues with basil, and fish heads. As you can imagine Ché and I were overcome with joy seeing all the possibilities on the menu. I had been to this restaurant once before and managed not to notice all this awesomeness on the menu. In fact, I had the soft shelled crab dinner which was also incredibly tasty. As far as I’m concerned you can’t go wrong ordering anything at this restaurant it’s just that awesome!

The only thing you need to know going in is it’s cash only, which isn’t a bad thing if you’re with a large group. In fact Ché and I managed to cajole three of our closest buddies to join us on this journey into Flavor Country right next to Awkward Consistancy-ville and Funny Smelling Food -opolis (just so you can orient yourselves). Joe, Katrina, and Mina came along this week to see what all the hype was about. Stinky tofu and the 1000 year egg was what we were after but we also got the escargot and the blood soup to round out the meal. The portions served at this place are also excellent and exceeding expectation. Plus they give you free tea when you sit down which is always nice. The restaurant itself is a nice comfy small space that never seems empty, but is also never packed. There always seems to be a seat for you when you arrive.

The food came relatively quickly considering the waitress had given us a forewarning about the stinky tofu. “You sure you want it? You know the tofu, it’s stinky.” waving her hand in front of her face as she told us this I knew it was going to be interesting, and boy was it ever! The soup came first though in a huge bowl. The first thought on everyones mind I’m sure was “Wow I hope someone likes this cause there’s a ton of it!”. None of us knew exactly what to expect of blood soup. Did they just pour the blood in? Was it going to be bright red and taste all irony? Neither actually. The soup came and to our surprise the blood came in cubes. It looked like dark red swiss cheese cubes just floating in the broth with the greens and the rings of pork intestine.

Ché and I dove right in while everyone else hesitantly filled their bowls. It was delicious. The broth was strong with a good hearty pork flavor, the greens weren’t too soggy, and the intestine wasn’t too chewy at all. The intestine itself was just like any other pork you might eat only chewier but not annoyingly so. Now the blood. Che and I seem to have gotten into the habit of trying things in unison. You should see us, it’s cute… So on the count of three we both ate a cube of blood. It had the consistency of a firm tofu, but with a porkier flavor. It was good though it sticks to your teeth in an awkward sort of way while your chewing. It wasn’t irony at all really, but was in fact really quite delicious.

The escargot came out next. Now I’ve had a few chances to try this, but always passed it up for something tastier on the menu. I was pretty psyched to finally get a chance to have it. The amount of snails that came out on this plate was almost terrifying. Seeing this heaping helping on the plate in front of me I’m thinking “Where does one even find this many snails??” They also looked really tasty so we dug right in. Everyone at the table was actually curious to try these guys. They’re unlike any food I’ve had. I’m sure I can consider them a meat, but their consistency reminds me so much of some sort of mushroom it throws me off. They’re also quite spicy the way they’ve prepared them here, which is really nice considering how small they are. I can’t help thinking I’d like to try them a different way though. Katrina tells me that the escargot usually taste a lot like whatever they’re cooked with so I can imagine there’s plenty of different ways to prepare them.

The stinky tofu showed up a little bit after we got the escargot. Labeled the “elephant in the room” by Joe it just kind of sat there for a little while while we enjoyed the other tastier options on the table. We got the fried stinky tofu appetizer. Which is a good thing cause I really feel the fried outer layer really keeps the smell in. They had other variations of stinky tofu on the menu such as sauteed, braised, or boiled. I can’t even imagine having it any other way then fried. Now I’m going to come right out and tell you *SPOILERS* this stuff smells/ tastes like poo! I’m not even being funny here. As soon as you bite into it and the smell hits you and the taste hits your tongue you know exactly what you put in your mouth and you don’t want it in there anymore. Now Ché seemed to have a tougher time with it than I did. I went ahead and ate five or six pieces before I had a piece that was a little too big for me to handle, and I had to give up. Che was mostly done after the first bite although he did give it the good old college try and went in a couple more times just in case, like a true Gastronaut should. Now this isn’t a negative review. We’re just not fans of the stinky tofu. In fact probably the stinkier it is the better quality stinky tofu you’re getting. So we probably got the best. So props to the Taiwan Cafe and its chefs for giving us a truly unique gastronautical experience. To make it even more unique the stinky tofu is served with pickled cabbage making it possibly the worst edible food combination I can think of off the top of my head. Now I don’t have a problem with pickled cabbage I loved pickled veggies, but just thinking of it served with the stinky tofu is a bit much for me. After everything was said and done I’d like to look back on stinky tofu as a learning experience. I learned that anyone who likes stinky tofu it probably crazy.

Lastly we had the 1000 year egg also known as a century egg. Surprisingly it was a single egg served quartered with a giant brick of fresh chilled tofu covered with peanuts and fish flakes. So there wasn’t much to it. The egg itself is obviously not really 1000 years old or otherwise it would be in a museum somewhere rather than resting in my gut right now. The egg is soaked in brine and other chemicals to achieve a chemically hard boiled egg so to speak. The end product it a translucent egg brown or almost black in color with a milky black yolk on the inside. Sounds scrumptious right? It might sound and look a little off putting but really the surprise, like M. Night Shyamalan’s more recent films, is that there’s no surprise It tastes like an ordinary hard boiled egg, but quite possibly the most delicious hard boiled egg you’ve ever eaten.

So there you have it. Another feast survived by the Boston Gastronauts with a delicious outcome. I’m even going to encourage everyone to try the stinky tofu if not only just to say you have. If anything, it gave me a new found appreciation for normal tofu which I used to avoid at all costs. I’m definitely going to recommend the Taiwan Cafe to anyone planning on going out to eat in Chinatown anytime soon for it is amazing! I’m also going to ask anyone with any recommendations to shoot us an e-mail at thebostongastronauts@gmail.com. You know of any places in or around the Boston area with some unusual or just plain crazy edible options shoot us a line with a link and directions and we’ll site you in our entry on that adventure, and maybe you can even take us there yourself!

Che’s Take Coming Soon!

Leave a comment

Filed under Blood, Bugs, Chinatown, Eggs, Organs, Tofu

Goat, Cow Feet, and Ox Tail in Mattapan

Illustration by Andrew Abbott.  All other pictures by Katrina Thorne unless otherwise noted.

The Restaurant

663 Morton St
Mattapan, MA 02126
(617) 296-4972
Yelp

Although you can’t really sit down, the food was great, as were the portions.  Service is quick and easy.

Andrew’s Take

This week looked like a challenge. Genitals! Many jokes were made so there’s not much more to be said before we bit off more than we could chew… Luckily (*phew*) our info was a little off and there were no genitals to be found at the restaurant we ventured to this week. Flames is this neat little deli style Jamaican restaurant out in Mattapan that has plenty of unique options for the adventurous eater along with other tasty options for the less daring. Their prices are good and their helpings are overly generous. As Katrina and I waited for Che and Christina to meet us we saw plenty of people filing in and out of the joint. To be fair it was probably just getting into the dinner rush, but I feel like from what we saw they also do a decent amount of business.

This week we got curried goat, ox tail, and cow feet! The challenge this week was eating around all the bones included in our meal. Each meat had it’s share of bone left in, which provided for a bone sucking good time for Che and me. All were delicious and interesting in their own ways. The goat was the highlight of the meal for me so we’ll start there. The goat itself was slightly green in color, I’m assuming from the curry, but I’m always excited to see unusual colors in food either way. Each meat we got was served with huge servings of beans and rice and cabbage. The goat went really well with both of these sides. The curry wasn’t especially spicy but gave the goat a nice subtle flavor that for the not so goat inclined would distract you from knowing you’re eating goat. The meat was tender and familiar though I’d never had goat before. I realized it was, for me, a lot like lamb but almost more like turkey or chicken which has light and dark meat. Lamb is the white meat and goat is the dark meat. The goat bones were the most troublesome in that they were also dyed the same curry color and were cut in similar sizes to the cuts of goat meat so be sure to fork through all your goat meat before popping any in your mouth.

Next up was the ox tail, which was really fun. We got some tail and spine in our order so it was kind of a new experience encountering a vertebra with your mouth. They aren’t exactly the easiest bones to eat around, but it was worth it cause the meat was incredible. Just like any other unusual beef we’ve run into before on here it was much more tender and tasty then you’d expect it to be. The sauce it was cooked in was tomato based but a bit sweet which complemented the meat really well, and also went well int the cabbage and rice. Che and I discovered with the tail and vertebra that the marrow was very accessible. Marrow is another one of those things on our list of interesting foods we’re looking for, but I feel we can find better examples of marrow prepared to eat. One vertebra I found in particular created an incredibly unique sound when I tried to suck out the marrow. If only I could’ve kept it!

Finally the cow feet. I liked them. They would definitely present a consistency issue for some. It’s a lot like a meaty jello made in a hoof shaped mold. It’s very fatty and gelatinous in texture, but it’s much firmer. It giggles all over they place when your trying to eat it and then there also the bones. Big round bones that make you realize your sucking meat off the “knuckles and toes” of the cow. While that might not float some people’s boats I was diggin’ it. It has the unique texture accompanied by a unique taste. While it’s not quite beefy it’s more of an anonymous meat like taste. It’s like you know it’s from a cow just by looking at it so possibly your brain plugs in hint of beefy flavor but you don’t really believe it’s there. Basically the foot meat looks like what you trim from a fatty steak. So if you’re the kinda person who eats the whole steak you’d probably be fine with cow feet. I’m not saying I’d go out of my way for cow’s feet but it was a new and interesting thing for me.

Ché’s Take: Goats are Not Your Typical American Food, but That Depends on Your Definition of Typical

“Severed goat head hung from Harry Caray statue at Wrigley Field” originally by Flickr user guano.  It uses the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License. “Amaa Hugging Goat” by Flick user *saipal.  It uses the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Like my grandfather, my grandmother grew up poor, but they always had enough food. Much of the Mexican cooking tradition in my household came directly from her family, the Robles. They were migrant workers, and so they knew how to farm.  One summer, my dad grew to think of one of their goats as a pet.. Later in the year, he was at a barbecue and his grandfather came up to him and asked him if he liked what he was eating. He said “Yeah. It’s good grandpa.”

His abuelo continued, “Do you really like it?”

My dad nodded.

“Sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Well you should. It’s your goat.”

My dad cried, as anybody might, but let’s take a look at this story again and see what it means on a broader scale. People used to be close to the animals they ate. My grandparents were about to become the only Mexicans in a suburban Denver neighborhood, so the story represents the very cusp between being close to the food you ate, from birth to death, and having no idea from where it came. The other important fact, and the focus for this post, is the blank where goat should be in America’s culinary history. The death of a goat was part of my family’s oral tradition. Why isn’t it part of the greater history of American cooking?

American colonial food histories do mention goat, but only in regards to the Carribean. A book mentioned frequently in my posts, A Revolution in Eating by James E. McWilliams, talks about goat as part of the independent subsistence farming culture of the Carribean’s enslaved people. After emancipation, goat continued to be a part of the diet. Of course, Carribean immigrants, like all immigrants in American history, brought their cooking traditions with them, making their food part of the American experience.

And so the Gastronauts could drive about a mile into Mattapan to get goat. (There are a couple of places much closer, but we wanted to try Flames, mainly because we thought we could get Cow Cod soup.  Andrew mentions this at the beginning of his post.) Yet goat products are rarely mentioned in American food histories, except as a cheese. Hasia Diner does mention Italian urban goat farming in his book Hungering for America, but does not talk of eating the meat. Instead, he mentions later how immigrant families shared “homemade goat cheese.” Harvey Levenstein’s book The Paradox of Plenty also makes several references to goat cheese. Histories of American meat, such as Putting Meat on the American Table, and Tied to the Great Packing Machine, make no mention of goat meat (or chevon, if you’re a pretentious a%&-hole) whatsoever.

Goats, like pigeons, are not easy industrialize, but are easy for individuals, like this woman in Oakland, to keep. In fact, Tom Standage reports in An Edible History of Humanity that they possibly were the first animals domesticated as a food source in the West. The reason that they are not industrialized as a meat probably is they are both small, and bony, unlike cows, which are large and fat. Milk is an entirely different issue. All you have to do is strap some pumps to udders, and you can be making goat cheese. It should be noted also that goat cheese is fancy cheese, and so consumed by the rich. It’s a cliché to say that history is written by the winners, but that doesn’t mean the sayings not true.

Goat meat wasn’t fancy until recently. Henry Alford, a recent convert to the stuff, writes how throughout New York fancy restaurants have started to put goat on their menus. In a rare show of self-reflexiveness, he also reports that a frustrated reader of a magazine posted on its website “Here are white people again!!!! Acting like they invented goat meat.” A recent news story in the San Francisco Chronicle by Janet Fletcher reports that “this flavor-packed red meat, long a staple in Bay Area Latino and South Asian markets, may finally be broadening its reach.” What does broadening its reach exactly mean? Let’s take a look at the actual demographics of the Bay Area. According to the 2006-2008 American Community Survey, 57% of the Bay Area is white. Considering that the Survey does not separate out people of “Latino or Hispanic Origin” the number of people that are not both counted as white but not as Latino is 45.6%. Goat is eaten as a major part of cuisines throughout the rest of the world. In fact the Alford article calls it the “most widely consumed meat in the world. If we take that into account, and that there are white Americans who eat goat either as part of their own culinary tradition or just because they like it, then goat is as mainstream as anything else in the Bay Area, or the rest of the United States for that matter.

The reason that newspapers can write about it as a novelty is because it is not middle-class American, and historically, has not been marketable as an industrialized meat. But, as much as the state of Arizona would deny it, the immigrant traditions and peoples are not just invading the United States. They’re already here, and have always been here. Goat is as American as apple pie, perhaps even more so. Where apple pie has a clear, almost unchanged link to the British and European past, and so only one part of the American landscape, goat in the United States, whether it is Jamaican curried goat or grilled Mexican goat, arises out of the complex interactions of various cultures, a phenomenon unique to this continent.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized