Particle Board and Seasoned Ground Meat
Recently, I was telling a friend that I write for a food blog and they asked if I had any ambition to be a food critic. I’ve been asked this on a couple of occasions, and my typical answer is that I don’t harbor such aspirations because I don’t have any culinary training or possess a particularly exceptional knowledge of food.
I’ve been thinking about the conversation and I think I discovered the real reason I don’t feel qualified to be a food critic. It’s not that I’m not professionally trained and it’s not that I don’t possess an encyclopedic knowledge of food. Despite these factors, I think I have a pretty good palate and I like to believe I know a thing or two about a reasonably wide variety of cuisines. Rather, it’s the fact that I don’t have a sufficiently robust dining history to be able to knowledgeably and consistently spot an outstanding example of a traditional dish.
How did I come to this epiphany? There were two triggers, one mundane and one out of the ordinary. The first was reading a review of a local restaurant. The second was a result of my quest to turn a couple of torchier floor lamps into speaker stands.
The restaurant review part is really simple. I don’t even remember what the cuisine was, but the critic mentioned some shortcoming of one of the dishes by comparing it to the way it “usually tastes.” The fact that I had never heard of the dish, let alone know what it’s supposed to taste like, made me feel inexperienced. I shrugged it off because, frankly, how many people are that conversant in Laotian, Uruguayan and Finnish cooking? I was still feeling pretty good about myself.
Then I went to IKEA. See, I’ve got this nice surround-sound system with these insanely small speakers which (thanks SONY!) don’t mount properly on generic speaker stands. Of course, the stands that they do mount on cost about $125 a pair…and I need four stands. So after seeing some ideas online and convincing myself that I’m handy around the house, I headed out to IKEA to buy four NOT lamps, which I intend to hack up and turn into $14/pair speaker stands.
Of course, no trip to IKEA is official until I load up my shopping cart with a bag of frozen meatballs, two packets of sauce and a jar of lingonberry preserve. That’s when it really hit me.
I have absolutely no idea what Swedish meatballs are supposed to taste like. I know what the ones they sell at IKEA taste like. I know that I’m compelled to buy them every time I’m there despite the fact that I can buy frozen Swedish meatballs just about anywhere these days. On second thought, I’m thinking this whole “furniture” thing is a clever ruse to hide their true ambition to get us hooked on their spiced beef and pork products.
Authentic? Who knows!?
Good by Swedish meatball standards? I have no clue!
That’s fine. As long as I get to go home, bake those delicious little morsels in the oven while I mix up the sauce (complete with idiot-proof illustrated instructions…just like my end table!) and spoon a dollop of that jam on the side of the plate, I’m happy.
I’m just going to revel in my ignorance and enjoy my IKEA meatballs, and don’t try to convince me to order them next time I’m out at a restaurant. That would only shatter the illusion.
Authenticity is a myth. Embrace what you know, be honest about what you don’t. That’s all that matters.
Take “swedish” meatballs, for instance. What would make them “authentic”? The fact that they were made by a real Swedish person with a recipe handed down across generations? Even those recipes will get updated, and will change by family.
People keep talking about IKEA and their food. I don’t have one of those around here. I’m a bit jealous.
Are you supposed to pair the lingenberry w/ the meatballs?? I’ve never heard of that before! Then again, my only experience with lingenberry was on one visit to Ikea with H Diddy and I had it with my “Swedish pancakes”.
How does the lingenberry “add” or augment the meatball taste?
I’ve always thought the lingonberry does for the meatballs what a fruit compote or something like that does for duck. Plus, the sauce is somewhat rich (at least the powdered one that comes from IKEA), so it’s nice to cut it with the acidity of the fruit. I kind of dunk the meatball in the jam or get some jam on my fork and then stab the meatball.
I always end up with leftover lingoberry jam, though, because I don’t slather it on too much. Maybe I’ll try a peanut butter and lingonberry sandwich.
OH…another thing…has anyone tried the lingonberry soda available from the fountain at IKEA’s dine in area? I’m addicted to it.
tvff, I was under the impression that Swedish meatballs aren’t even actually Swedish when I saw a Good Eats episode where Alton claims they’re a food just made popular in the 70s with parties or something. But I have been to several Swedish restaurants that offer them much like Ikea does. So… I don’t know.
As for authenticity and the like, I always emphasize on my site that my tastes are MY tastes and not everyone will agree with them. Today’s review, for example, discusses banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich that before the experiences described within that post, I had never had the pleasure to sample. My opinion is skewed because I’ve never had them before, so are they authentic? Are they the best in the city? I don’t know. But I do know they were tasty and I liked them. Does that count for something? 🙂
Yvo…good points, and a very enjoyable post on banh mi. Amazing that we’re both hitting the same themes on the same day.
I try not to overly fetishize authenticity, although the availability of ingredients these days does mean that there really aren’t many excuses for not being authentic. Reading in Lidia Bastianich’s cookbook that she used to make puttanesca in her restaurants with canned black olives in the 70s makes me appreciate the ability to adapt classic recipes to the situation.
And yes, you’re 100% right…the important thing is that you like it!
I think everyone comes to food writing by different means. Food critics are always characters and none of them are chefs. I think a good palate is all you need:)
when i first started food writing i was absolutely terrified about trusting my knowledge of taste. actually, i still am. okay, no wisdom from me.