Getting Your Jollies
Joel Stein is like a less wry Mo Rocca (I can’t help but mention at any mildly opportune moment that he sat directly in front of me en route to Chicago in February) laced with a touch of good ol’ fashioned Dave Berry. In a word, douchie. And apparently Time magazine has deemed him fit to write a food column. I hate voices of my supposed generation on any topic…but food? Really? It’s much better when they stick to two-liners on I Love the ‘80s.
Foreign fast food chains are a topic near and dear to my heart so I couldn’t help but peek at his first foray into culinary commentary, "The Hungry American." Uh, and maybe I’m misinterpreting his interpretation, but he seems to be of the mind that chains set up in America to try to appeal to us and get it all wrong. That might be the case if he were talking about Pret a Manger overdosing the U.S. with mayonnaise. Yet the examples he cites are California-centric, for one, but inaccurate since they are primarily restaurants catering to expatriates.
Minus the Jollibee burgers, this isn’t really “foreign American food.” I don’t think this Filipino chain is trying to entice the general public with gusto, and if they are then spaghetti topped with ketchup and sliced wieners is a charming yet off kilter business plan. I don’t know that the businesses in his commentary are trying to resell our culture back to us as much as that they’ve interpreted fast food for local audiences and are reaching out to immigrants who’ve settled in the U.S.
I don’t think Guatemalan Pollo Campero, at least in NYC, had made an effort to attract non-Central American customers. In fact, the one in Sunset Park went out of business for that very reason, the neighborhood was more Mexican and Puerto Rican and didn’t identify with the brand. Practically all cultures like fried chicken, we don’t own the concept.
And for Stein to posit that Beard Papa is interpreting donuts for Americans is insane. They’re not mimicking our fried dough, they’re making cream puffs. Japanese (and Asians in general) love French shit. I had great pastry in Hong Kong and Singapore.
And his conclusion is frighteningly self-revealing: “To them, it seems, we're a happy, efficient, fun bunch of guys, even if we act like total jerks when it suits us. They've figured it out: we're frat boys. And we like to eat like them.” Yikes. I wonder how those crazy Filipinos might re-create the beer bong, don’t you? And Nicaraguan jello shots? Just a matter of time.