We’ve Changed it for American Tastes


“We’ve changed it for American tastes.”

It’s something I’ve heard a lot while reporting on food in this country. When I was interviewing Fikru “Chu Chu” Bekele about his Italian restaurant, La Carbonara in DC’s U St. area, he continually told me about how he changed his recipes to accommodate American tastes. He added more cream than necessary.  In Ethiopia, where he is from and once owned an Italian restaurant, he needed to adjust recipes for our taste here, not there.

Last night, at a press dinner at Taberna Del Alabardero, our host explained the make up of the gifts we’d be receiving that night. It was olive oil. In Spain its citizens are used to a more bitter oil, here, a sweet oil. Instead of adhering to its home county for inspiration, the restaurant uses a sweeter oil to cook with. Guests were given a 250ML bottle of extra virgin olive oil packaged in Sevilla, Spain, but given the American taste treatment.

Kushi, a Japanese restaurant in DC, at times creates presentations so authentic it literally made my heart ache for  the real thing.  But it doesn’t serve the cuts of meat so familiar in Japan: heart, cheek, liver….instead, it serves chunks of American-favorite pork belly on a stick.

I was discussing this “dumbing down for Americans” concept with DC food expert David Hagedorn. He reminded me that restaurants are businesses and need to make money. They need to sell food that we will buy and enjoy.

I told him I wished restaurants weren’t always businesses. That they could be institutions for learning, places for people to explore authentic flavors of the world, without the requisite dumbing down for American tastes.

And then I remembered that our national past time is eating Doritos.

Photo Credit: Flick User Mattieb

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  • Borracho September 30, 2010  

    Could not agree more with this post. I do think that even in the past 20 yrs the availability of multi-ethnic foods and various culinary points of view has grown exponentially in the US. This is part of the process and while restaurants are in the business of making money, they should also accommodate our palate’s in some ways while making gradual efforts to enhance our frame of reference.

  • BS September 30, 2010  

    totally agree – although to be fair, they change our flavors, too. See masala doritos in India.

  • Borracho September 30, 2010  

    and do not overlook some of our great culinary adaptation in other countries: http://foodnetworkhumor.com/2009/07/mcdonalds-menu-items-from-around-the-world-40-pics/

  • erica September 30, 2010  

    well, since even we dumb down our own media, it’s not surprising. i really want to try masala doritos now. dang.

  • 80PMom September 30, 2010  

    Great post.

  • Tim October 4, 2010  

    I have very mixed feelings on this. While I have no patience for fast food type imitations of foods which originated beyond our borders, I’m hardly embarrassed about preferring sweeter olive oil (I do). I guess my point is that, yes, I agree with you and I’ve been frustrated with inauthentic dishes before, but at the same time, every culture and people has its own preferences for food and tastes and we shouldn’t write ourselves off as dumb Americans. Right?

  • dad gansie October 4, 2010  

    hey…. that’s why we need to beat to our own drummer….or fork…..whether they like it or not

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