How national cuisines depict economic strength…

Gulzar has a wonderful post on the topic. He points to this article which tries to understand how certain cuisines are perceived in US?

Atlantic has an interesting article that charts the “hierarchy of tastes” or social acceptance trajectories of different national cuisines in the United States. In particular, why does the French and Japanese cuisine get admitted to high-ed, white-tablecloth establishments while the Chinese and Indian recipes are relegated to lower-status eateries as “ethnic” food?
Consider the cases of steak frites and carne asada. They both involve cooking a fairly high-quality cut of meat over high heat, and they’re both dishes whose origins are foreign to America. But they’re often listed on American menus at vastly different prices. Why? “The shortest answer would be cultural prestige, some notion of an evaluation of another culture’s reputation,” says Krishnendu Ray, an associate professor of food studies at New York University. In a book published earlier this year, The Ethnic Restaurateur, Ray expands on this idea, sketching the tiers of what he calls a “global hierarchy of taste.” This hierarchy, which privileges paninis over tortas, is almost completely shaped by a simple rule: The more capital or military power a nation wields and the richer its emigrants are, the more likely its cuisine will command high menu prices.


India is pretty much bottom of the list and falling in the hierarchy of taste since 1986.. Further from the article:

In 1985, the earliest year for which Zagat data is available, Japanese food had the sixth-highest average check price in New York. Last year, it ranked first. During that time, Greek and Korean have also seen their lots improve, while Chinese has remained at the lower end of the check-price spectrum, along with Thai, Indian, and Mexican.

The theory Ray outlines in The Ethnic Restaurateur is more complicated than just loosely extrapolating from a country’s financial and military might. Some more-granular data does support that approach—many cuisines’ Zagat check averages correlate closely with the per-capita income of the corresponding cultural group—but Ray believes that other variables must matter a lot too, considering that nearly all the cuisines with the highest check prices are ones generally associated with whiteness.


Similarly, it is who the American mainstream considers foreign—and when—that can go a long way in explaining why the prestige of a cuisine surges or plunges over time; perhaps the most important variable in determining “foreign-ness” is how large an immigrant group is, and their socioeconomic status upon arrival. “Most of the Japanese we are familiar with are business folks, are executives,” Ray recently told the podcast The Sporkful. “But right now, most Americans associate Chinese food with relatively impoverished Chinese immigrants.” (A cuisine need not even be foreign to experience such bad luck: Poverty probably plays a role in why Native American food, which has all the trappings of a trendy cuisine, has failed to accrue cultural capital.)

The cuisines of France and Italy, Ray argues, have had very different histories in the U.S. precisely because those two countries have sent different volumes of people, of varying levels of wealth, to American shores. The fact that large numbers of poor French immigrants never settled in large portions of the U.S., along with the country’s reputation for sophistication (and fussiness), helped propel French food to becoming the standard against which other cuisines were measured.

The history of Italian food in America, meanwhile, offers a wonderful case study of how a cuisine’s status is dictated by immigration patterns. As Ray details in The Ethnic Restaurateur, Italian food was first popularized in the U.S. in the 19th century. Thomas Jefferson had a high opinion of macaroni (and pasta in general), which at the time was not associated with cardboard boxes and bright orange powder, but rather with more refined cuisines, such as France’s.

“Italian food would be dislodged,” Ray writes in his book, “by the entry of new southern Italian immigrants between 1880 and 1924 who were numerous and mostly poor, hence derided by the taste-making elite.” Italians were scorned as “garlic eaters,” and by 1955, the status of their country’s cuisine had fallen so far that the legendary cookbook author and food columnist James Beard wrote, “My opinion of Italian cookery was not too high.” Technically speaking, Beard did, like those in Jefferson’s time, compare it to French food, but unlike 19th-century gourmands, he compared it (unfavorably, no less) to the food the French servedon trains.

It was only after the descendants of these relatively poor Italian immigrants began rising in American society that the nation’s cuisine started accumulating prestige. “When American Italians climbed out of the ghetto and into sports arenas, corporate offices, governor’s mansions, city halls, and movie studios, Italian food was re-assessed in the American imagination,” Ray writes.

Superb reading.. Never thought on those lines.

One should do a similar experiment in India as well which has so many within India cuisines as well.


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