Going Local.

chickenGoing to KFC for Nashville Hot Chicken is like going to McDonald’s for Japanese sushi. That’s the first thought that came to me when I saw KFC’s new offering and then I wondered if “Japanese sushi” were redundant. Aside from the difference in certain ingredients what differentiates sushi in Japan from the sushi I get here in Nashville?

If the recipe’s the same would it still be Nashville (Tennessee) hot chicken if it were made in Nashville (Indiana)? It’s not like KFC—formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken—is really from Kentucky, at least not anymore.

Nashville hot chicken, by the way, is spicy fried chicken that, I think, really started to come to prominence with the 2007 start of an annual festival, although it also got a mention in 2002 on Dave Attell’s show Insomniac. He stopped and got some of the very hottest chicken at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack–where hot chicken is generally believed to have been invented–and sweated through several bites.

And that got me thinking about the fact that I can stand in my backyard and throw stones and hit restaurants that describe themselves as Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, and Korean. Although I wouldn’t do that. If I’m going to stand in my backyard and throw stones I’m going to throw them at the squirrels and chipmunks that insist on chewing up the wiring under our cars, but that’s another story.

It’s amazing to me that I live in a neighborhood—and that, for that matter—we live in a world—where such a wide variety of cuisines are available. I love being able to go just down the street for some pho, although it frustrates me that they won’t let me order the jellyfish salad. Admittedly I understand. The waiters don’t know I’m an adventurous eater and that even though I’ve never tried jellyfish salad and can’t say whether I’ll like it I’m willing to give it a try. But I’ve been in restaurants and seen somebody of my particular ethnic group order something exotic only to start yelling, “Yuck, I can’t eat this! Take it back!”

I’m sorry to say that’s a true story. And it’s why I don’t blame the waiters when they look at me and tell me, “No, you don’t want the jellyfish salad” and bring me chicken with lemongrass instead.

This also brings to mind another pet obsession of mine: eating locally. I’m not a locavore, but as much as possible I stay away from chain restaurants. When I visit friends in other cities I sometimes drive them nuts. “Let’s go to [GENERIC CHAIN]!” they’ll say, and if you’ve ever heard anyone speak in brackets you know how disconcerting it can be. And I’ll say, “No, no, no, let’s do something local!” When I’m in an unfamiliar place I don’t want familiar food. If I could get the same thing at home what’s the point of traveling?

And yet travel is a luxury that’s not available to everyone, nor is it possible for most of us to go everywhere we’d like to go. As much as I would like to I’ll probably never get to visit Sri Lanka, but a Sri Lankan restaurant is one way to experience the culture. Or is it? Is a Sri Lankan restaurant in the middle of a US city an authentic representation of the culture? And given the increasing interconnectedness of the world and the ease of travel it’s hard to say what authentic culture really is. Going to and from work every day I travel farther than most of our ancestors would in their lifetimes. Being able to share so much with the rest of the world is a wonderful thing but I also wonder what’s being lost. Should some things be kept strictly local?

Alternative title for this post: "This is a local blog for local people! There's nothing for you here!" (Source: BBC)

Alternative title for this post: “This is a local blog for local people! There’s nothing for you here!”
(Source: BBC)

22 Comments

  1. A********h

    All those things that should be kept local, like fried chicken should be kept local all those things that should be cosmopolitan should be cosmopolitan

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Great idea. I think we should toast that with a couple of Cosmopolitans. Except make mine a daiquiri.

      Reply
  2. Margot

    So many good questions. Even if some things should be kept strictly local, would there be any way to enforce that?

    And then there are all those steps to authenticity to consider. Having lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve been pretty spoiled by the variety of “authentic” international cuisine, though I suppose the only ones I can truly vouch for are Mexican and Italian. Now that I live somewhere much smaller and a lot more insulated, the variety of ethnic cuisine I can find locally has diminished by at least 75%. And although I’m not qualified to judge the authenticity of Indian or Thai food, what I can say is that it tastes *very* different here (and not in a good way—vegetables overcooked and unvaried, and way fewer spices).

    OK, now I feel like I’m just rambling here, so to sum up: (1) great post, and (2) thank God Trader Joe’s has come to town!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Good point–there’s just no way to enforce keeping some things strictly local. For some things it’s not so much the recipe that matters as much as the ambiance. Even if the Nashville hot chicken you get at KFC tasted exactly like what you’ll get at Prince’s the atmosphere just wouldn’t be the same.
      I guess what it comes down to for me is that I enjoy the options that are available locally. If I didn’t I’d probably move.

      Reply
      1. Margot

        Yeah, I love lots of things about living here, but the food is definitely not one of them. Before we moved here we’d been living in Napa for ten years. There is spectacular food there, but it’s super expensive, and it’s for either the very wealthy or the tourists expecting to pay a lot. Surprisingly, the restaurants for the locals weren’t very good at all. We’d moved to Napa after living in both San Francisco and Berkeley, and were really missing being able to get awesome cuisine for under ten bucks a plate. When we moved to Napa I was 9 months pregnant with my second baby, but planned to continue with my OB/GYN in Berkeley at least until after the baby was born. My water broke one morning, but I didn’t actually go into labor, and my doctor said to plan to head down to Berkeley (about 90 minutes away) by dinner time if my labor didn’t start because I’d need to be induced. One of my favorite restaurants was only three blocks from the hospital, so we ate there before heading over. That was a really bad idea! The labor was very complicated and I ended up having an emergency C-section. There was a lot of vomiting throughout the whole ordeal, and my doctor kept saying “WHY did you eat a whole meal right before coming here?!” And I kept telling him that all the affordable restaurants in Napa sucked and that La Med was so close I couldn’t help myself. He kind of understood, since he’d forbidden me to have the baby or any other significant medical procedure in Napa, because the hospital there sucked, too. So, I guess that’s my very long winded way of saying that I get why you’d move if you didn’t enjoy the options available locally.

        Reply
  3. Chuck Baudelaire

    Tex-Mex, Italian, and donuts should never, ever be eaten at a chain restaurant. Especially not in the same sitting.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s excellent advice–and a mistake I won’t make twice. I think the list can be expanded to include Thai, Vietnamese, and, well, pretty much other ethnic cuisine. None should be eaten at a chain restaurant. And I just know sooner or later there’s going to be a chain called “Pho Better Or Worse” or something equally awful.
      Although I do admit to occasionally having a Krispy Kreme doughnut. I felt better about that back when it was strictly a southern thing, but you can find Krispy Kremes in New York City now. Why anyone in New York would go to Krispy Kreme is beyond me.

      Reply
  4. Cassandra

    I spent 7 years living in North Carolina. Now I live in New England. There IS NO fried chicken here. Sure, there is food they call “fried chicken”. Even “buttermilk fried chicken”. Usually it’s a chicken breast smashed flat, breaded, and pan fried.

    Not. The. Same. Thing.

    Can you tell I miss fried chicken?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Not only can I tell you miss fried chicken but I sympathize. My mother-in-law makes the best fried chicken. Sometimes I’ll go out for KFC as a quick option–I’m really not a food snob–but if I had another option I’d take it.
      I’ll bet they don’t even have decent iced tea up there either. Damn Yankees.

      Reply
  5. Gina W.

    Regarding the KFC portion of your post, years ago we ate at the Claudia Sanders Dinner House, which is where the Colonel and his wife starting selling their famous chicken. I don’t eat meat, but my husband said that the chicken tasted like KFC. The rest of the meal was pretty uninspiring. We kind of regretted driving and paying twice or three times the typical KFC price to basically eat what we could have gotten locally. Oh well. And agreed that it’s awesome to have access to foreign cuisine. Though you won’t find me ordering jellyfish anytime soon… or ever.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I guess technically jellyfish is meat so I’m not surprised you wouldn’t order it. And I’ve heard it described as being like eating rubber bands, but maybe that was from someone who got a poorly prepared batch.
      Anyway it’s sad to me that the Claudia Sanders Dinner House was so uninspiring but also not surprising. It’s what I assume most of the tourists would want: something just like what they can get at home but at three times the price.

      Reply
  6. Gilly Maddison

    Hello, I have been gone and am now back. The League of Gentlemen! Sorry, I am not ignoring your post – I am in shock that you clearly know it. How naive am I? I didn’t know it made it outside of the UK. Did it? I don’t even know many Brits that watched/liked it. It was GENIUS! KFC? My friend Joe always calls it Unlucky Fried Kitten. Access to foreign food is brilliant since all the UK had in that line in the 70s was Vesta Chow Mein, a horrible box containing dried Chinese ‘food’ that we used to reconstitute with water.

    I was blown away when I went to Toronto to live at 19 and saw all the foreign restaurants on Yonge Street. Then the Eton Centre was built and it had a food court with food from all different nations.Fish/n chips representing the UK of course. Impressed little me it did!

    And yes, we should keep things local. We have a local restaurant for local people near us, it’s called Bombay Nite.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Welcome back! And…League of Gentlemen. It was on a comedy channel here several years ago and I think it has a very small US cult following because, yes, it was GENIUS. It frustrates me that I’ll say “Hello Dave!” to someone and they have no clue what I’m talking about.
      I absolutely loved the wide variety of foreign food I found when I was in the UK–but then being an American even fish’n’chips from a local British shop was, for me, foreign food. There are places here that do fish’n’chips but it’s just not the same. Neither is the shepherd’s pie.
      Bombay Nite sounds fantastic. Now I’m craving a good curry, or, if I’m feeling particularly brave, vindaloo.

      Reply
  7. M. Firpi

    For me, food is food, although it is fascinating eating Greek, Italian, or Veggie cuisine, locally or not. The problem for me is that once I get hooked on a certain dish, I have to have it every day for at least a month. I have been hooked on eating bean burritos for at least two months every day. Now I’m eating the veggie burgers every day. It’s like I have to have a routine. Breaking up the familiarity of something is really annoying for me. I think I’m more of a universal food type of eater, so ethnic groups cannot do anything for me. ?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      There’s nothing wrong with being an omnivore. Interestingly I’ve heard of other people who operate on a routine like yours. The film director Stanley Kubrick was one, and so was Oliver Sacks. So you’re in good company.

      Reply
  8. Tripping

    I love to try local fare. When I was in Verona I ate donkey. Last week I was in Quebec City and had lots of fantastic local cheeses and a truly delicious trout pie (tourtière à la truite.) One of my favourite things about living in Toronto is access to so many cuisines. We have more than one great Ethiopian restaurant.
    Oh my God, I’m hungry now.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yeah, I just ate and reading your comment is making me hungry all over again. Trying local cheeses is a wonderful thing–I love cheese. But the trout pie sounds fascinating and delicious too. I think I’d even be willing to try stargazer pie.

      Reply
  9. Ann Koplow

    I’m just glad we’ve connected, Chris. Thanks for all the local and global connections in this post.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you, Ann, for continuing to connect. I thought of you in Boston, famous for its baked beans, one of many local cuisines.

      Reply
      1. Ann Koplow

        I wish Boston was famous for something besides beans!

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          Well, there’s also that deservedly famous cream pie, the Red Sox, Cheers, the Big Dig, and a ton of American history.

          Reply
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