Mar 30, 2013

Food novelties in America

Having heard all about pizzas, burgers, and finger fries, I thought there was nothing I had left to learn about American food. How wrong I was! Coffee cups with lid on them, bread dipped in eggs supposed to be eaten with sugar instead of the salt that I was used to, everything surprised me (Of course, coming back to Nepal after four years, I realized that all those novelties like coffee cups with lids and French toast had become quite normal in Kathmandu, so I was the one who ended up being weirded out, once again!)
There was the time when, wandering into pastoral backyards of a village, me and my friends ended up in an old fashioned diner, where all food was home cooked. We were served water in glass jars, which, we found out upon asking, were used jam jars. These jars, going by the name of “mason jars” were the traditional rural way of drinking water, which was preserved in some old-fashioned restaurants as a part of the décor.

Another time, a friend baked many varieties of pumpkins and butternut squash in brown sugar and butter. Only used to having a tarkari of pumpkins, the fragrant brown sugar version appealed to me no end. And then there was the time when I was asked by a friend “I love hot milk, do you ever drink hot milk?” I had to explain to her that in Nepal everyone drinks their milk hot, or at least lukewarm, and it had taken me a long time to get used to the western phenomenon of cold-milk-straight-out-of-the-fridge.

Similarly, it had taken me a long time to figure out that in America, when you order just “coffee”, you don’t get the regular instant coffee with milk. Instead, you get a bitter black liquid twice as strong as the instant coffee you are used to. In the land where most people have not heard of instant coffee, and those who have, hate it, I too soon became a coffee butterfly. I tried everything from regular cappuccino to exotic white rabbit flavored mocha. And once I realized that all of these tasted better with whipped cream, I tried to order an espresso with whipped cream, only to have the lady at the counter fix me with a strict stare, and ask “do you know what an espresso is?” I mumbled that I did not, and she went on to explain that it is a very bitter coffee served in a very small cup. Well, that was no reason not to have it with whipped cream, but intimidated by her stare, I backed out and ordered a regular cappuccino with whipped cream.


And then there was the time when I was invited to a barbecue, and saw a whole can of beer being shoved inside a chicken before it was barbecued. Apparently, the beer would give the chicken “moisture” and “flavor”. Being a vegetarian, I did not eat this exotic dish, but everyone who did, labeled it “the best chicken they had ever had.”

The prettiest of American food novelties was certainly Dippin’ Dots, the “ice-cream of the future”. I loved the tiny solid pebbles of ice cream that dissolved in the mouth. 

The weirdest food novelty was certainly American “biscuits”, that came with gravy! At a relaxed luncheon, maybe someone’s birthday, me and my colleagues were sitting around eating cookies. “In Nepal, these would go by the name of biscuits” I had told my colleagues, biting into a walnut cookie. That had thrown everyone in a tizzy. “Biscuits? The thing that you order in restaurants and which comes with a gravy?” I had been confused, and when I tried to explain biscuits to my colleagues, I had suddenly remembered that I had never seen anything labeled biscuits in America. Anything that I would call a biscuit went by a different name, like salted biscuits that were called crackers, sweet ones that were called shortbread, and soft, big ones called cookies. Many biscuits, like Oreos, were branded and known only by the brand name.

biscuits and gravy

My colleagues decided that they would call Nepali biscuits “biscotti.” Finally, I decided to actually order and find out what the elusive American biscuit was. It turned out to be a small, round bread about the size of a small bun. With a firm exterior and a soft interior, this baked dish was salty instead of sweet. The gravy is typically made of meat droppings, flour, and milk. Being a vegetarian, again I had to do with boring vegetarian gravy made of milk and corn flour, but nonetheless, I finally knew that the American biscuit is very different from the British one. Though I never developed a taste for biscuits and gravy (maybe because of the boring vegetarian substitute that was obviously inferior to the regular one), I was glad to find many food novelties that I enjoyed.



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