April 1, 2013

Immigration and cuisine

When I first started writing about immigration, I noticed that the single most influential argument in favor of massive immigration was the Restaurant Rationale: powerful people go out to restaurants a lot more than most people do, and they viewed immigration as good for cuisine. 

Traditionally, Americans weren't very good at cooking. The main ethnic stocks were English, Scottish, Irish, and German. The Germans were mediocre cooks and the English, Scottish, and Irish were awful. After the War in Italy, Americans fell in love with Italian restaurants. 

The lesson I've drawn is that you need a few immigrants to get a cuisine launched in the U.S., but not many. There have been very few immigrants from Italy, yet Italian food in America keeps getting better and better. After awhile, cooking really good Italian food turns into one of those jobs Americans just will do.

Here's my question: what has been the course of cuisine been like in recent decades in those handful of affluent countries that have resisted mass immigration, such as Finland and Japan?

53 comments:

Careerist said...

Get this. To bring the cuisine of other nations to Japan, the folks there send out chefs to other countries to learn skills and recipes which they bring back to Japan.

That's just sooooooo inauthentic! And think of all the vibrant diversity they miss out on! It's just not the same eating in a healthy, well-inspected restaurant when you could be keeping it real in a run down Mexishack eating mysterious meat.

Anonymous said...

I lot of crap is written about ethnic cuisine.
Basically, British cuisine (and that of other north European nations) was so bland (I don't like to say 'bad'), because it reflected the type of produce that actaully could be grown in that cold and frosty clime. So you had your turnips, your what and barley, bacon, lamb chops and the rest, course potatoes didn't come in till later. As for fruits all you really had was apples and pears.
So British cuisine is really a reflection of what was traditionally grown for centuries in the British climate. (As Dr. Johnson said 'in England we feed oats to horses' - he was having a pop at the Scots).
In the sunny Med., however, a wider variety of fragrant herbs, plants etc could be grown. (Strangely enough, that staple of Italy, the tomato was, of course, an American import).

Despite all the crap written about 'curry being the English national dish', most Brits still prefer their early morning fry-ups (bacon, eggs, baked beans, fried bread etc) and their 'meat and two veg' (so to speak) in the evening.
Tea of course, is a Chinese import, but in mitigation a tea bush wouldn't survive for five minutes in an English frost.

Anonymous said...

I can only speak to South Korea. Koreans are slowly catching on, thanks mostly to the expats over the past couple of decades who have opened restaurants. However, it is generally grim:

http://imgur.com/g9SAJTB

Many Korean-owned joints can now do a passable burger or pizza. There are even a few Korean-made tacos out there (and a notable fusion taco place started by a few Korean-Americans from Austin, TX).

However, for 95% of decent pub grub, middle eastern, european and even african cuisine, there is a foreigner behind it.

I hear stories of expat friends who refuse to hire Korean men as kitchen staff, much less managers, because they learn how to do a few things and run off to start a competing store.


Anonymous said...

The country that has the most Michelin 5 star restaurants is Japan.

Obviously it is because they allow the most immigrants out of all the other nations.

Anonymous said...

International cuisine in Japan is absolutely fantastic. Tokyo has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin 'stars' of any major city in the world, and in the larger metropolitan areas one can get virtually any ethnic cuisine, both authentic or adapted (and usually better for it) to suit the Japanese palate. There is also quite a bit of variety in the suburbs and more rural areas, and I have never yet had a visitor who failed to be surprised at the quality of both the Japanese and foreign food.

Anonymous said...

Tokyo has an astounding variety of restaurants, from French to Ethiopian:

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/tokyo/restaurants

Anonymous said...

Finland has damn many kebab & pizza-places by middle-eastern folks, and a ton of Asian restaurants, Vietnamese, Chinese & Thai. Some of them have been under human-trafficking charges :)
Haven't noticed any African restaurants..

Anononymous said...

"Here's my question: what has been the course of cuisine been like in recent decades in those handful of affluent countries that have resisted mass immigration, such as Finland and Japan?"


Japanese food would be less wierd. On the other hand, they might Japanify the foreign foods. Like tacos made with octopus tentacles.


Top 10 Weirdest Japanese Snacks and Drinks

Candy Squid, Cheese Drink, Curry Lemonade, Cucumber Pepsi, eel Soda, Horse flavoured ice cream

Anononymous said...

"Americans fell in love with Italian restaurants.
Italian food in America keeps getting better and better."

Because we aren't actually eating the same recipes the peasants in the Old Country ate. Their diets are pretty bland. What we eat are recipes we created using theirs as a base.

Anonymous said...

Get this. To bring the cuisine of other nations to Japan, the folks there send out chefs to other countries to learn skills and recipes which they bring back to Japan.

Rick Bayless studied in Mexico and is arguably the best Mexican chef in America.

Dave Pinsen said...

Tokyo has more 3 Michelin-starred restaurants than New York or Paris: Michelin cuts Tokyo's three-star restaurants, though still most in world.

Anonymous said...

We should invent a medium that would enable people to share, say, recipes and cooking skills, without requiring them to move from one country to another. That way the rich could get their globalist cuisine without having to flood their home countries of the West with immigrants.

I propose we use telephone lines and a plastic box with a sort of math "processor" inside that would take electric signals and translate them into letters and numbers and send them across vast distances. Maybe then hook this gadget up to a television monitor-type thingy so you could read what was sent from the other side.

Who knows, the whole plastic box/math processor thingy might become a whole industry in itself, useful for all kinds of activities. If you used it to transmit images, maybe people could even stop having sex and get their jollies from just the image son the monitor.

Anononymous said...

"Traditionally, Americans weren't very good at cooking.
English, Scottish, and Irish were awful."

What we see in an ethnic restauraunt isn't really what the natives historically ate. The natives had miserable, monotonous diets. A 'Mexican' restaurant doesn't serve anything a 1950s Mexican would have eaten. It's all made up by us.

why is it called a "burrito"
Authentic Mexican burritos generally only have two ingredients

Burrito
"Authentic Mexican burritos ... containing only one or two ingredients"

Burrito History
"Burritos in Chihuahua are still usually simple affairs with a big flour tortilla wrapped around meat, a little sauce, and perhaps some onions and chopped chillies."

Anonymous said...

The choice of restaurants has definitely gotten better in Finland due to immigration from the poor world, Asia generally. I don't think ethnic restaurants are easily replaced by natives in Finland because many are profitable at their price level only because they shirk taxes and exploit compliant co-ethnic employees/family members for little pay. There must be continuous immigration of fresh labor for these businesses to stay afloat.

I second anon's observation above that there are almost no African restaurants in Finland. For example, there are something like 10,000 Somalis in Helsinki, but not a single Somali restaurant. In contrast, there are at most a few thousand Chinese in Helsinki, but they run 50 or more restaurants. The difference is of course that Chinese come to Finland in order to work -- they must do so to be allowed to stay -- whereas Somalis come as refugees and get free everything for life.

Anonymous said...

Few immigrants from Italy? Italians were a huge immigration problem until the laws were changed to keep them out in the 1920s. They are still the largest ethnic group in a couple of Eastern states. Just goes to show how long lasting immigration law mistakes can be even when you have a vibrant culture willing to correct these mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Does the restaurant argument even merit a reply? What tiny percentage of migrants are working here in restaurants cooking and serving their native cuisine?

Anononymous said...

"English ... were awful"


English cuisine is pretty vibrant. Just imagine little jellied eel stands popping up all over. Have a night out at the eel & pie house.

Handle said...

For all this talk about cuisine diversification, I find that in the "hippest", "most diverse" big city university area shopping districts, the selection has become oddly homogenous. Lots of Thai + Indian + a few trying-too-hard hip places.

But some restaurants, especially outside kitchy franchise chains, have all but disappeared. Authentic Jewish delis, for one. I can't get a decent stew or shepherd's pie anywhere. I have to go remarkably upscale to get something like a leg of lamb or a traditional roast with potatoes and greens.

Maybe as with ethnicity and intellectual opinion, "diversity" in cuisine doesn't really mean "genuine variety" but just certain favored non-traditional offerings, gradually becoming monolithic and repetitive across the country. Hipster McDonalds.

el supremo said...

For Japan, as others have noted, the model is to send out talented native cooks and have them apprentice with foreign chefs for several years, and then come back. Its like what Julia Child and Rick Bayless did in this country.

Japanese chefs are also increasingly going to 2nd tier French or Italian cities with their own distinctive cuisine, so you can find restaurants specialized in Dijon or Naples style cooking.

Of course, the craft mentality and attention to detail of Japanese chefs means that their foreign experience gets refined and then diffused through their apprentices, resulting in a higher standard of cooking generally.

For countries that no Japanese wants to live in (India), there are a few foreign head cooks, but there is no chain migration and when the cook is done, he leaves the country.

Korean and Chinese food is provided by the long term minority residents who have been in the country since before WWII.

Anonymous said...

Not too many Vietnamese in Chicago but Ba Mihn sandwiches rock my world. However these are run by Chinese Vietnamese boat people...

John Derbyshire said...

Steve, Steve.

"We are not lousy cooks; we are merely lousy restaurateurs."

el supremo said...

Interestingly, in New York, the trendiest Asian restaurants are no longer run by Asian immigrants, but by Americans who either went and studied in Asia or by US born Asian Americans who trained as Western chefs and then applied those skills to their ancestral foods.

http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2012/07/asian_hipster_cuisine.html

Their restaurants have a better market position than those run by Asian immigrants - the chefs can build up their brands with local media in a way that immigrants can't and they have decor and soundtracks that better match the taste of the SWPL crowd.

Anonymous said...

"Irish were awful."

Don't badmouth coney stew,bro.

Elli said...

Here's my different question: When should the government issue a visa for a foreign national cook, because a suitable American cannot be found for the position, Americans not having grown up with the cuisine, not speaking the language of the restaurant or the household?

Suppose a well-to-do Indian family wants a domestic worker who speaks three particular dialects, and cooks according to a particular regional style and religious observance? (I've seen this ad.) Are they entitled to bring over a B-1 worker, or should they be stuck with the age old problem of good help being so hard to find?

Anonymous said...

I'd trade Tokyo's selection of restaurants over my hometown L.A.'s any day. Easily.

Anthony said...

Handle - my girlfriend commented that you just can't find decent Russian or Polish restauarants anymore (a couple of ones we liked had closed recently), and she suggested that there aren't enough immigrants from those places desperate enough to try to run a restaurant.

There are several Russian/Persian restuarants around, because some Iranians *are* desperate enough to try to run a restaurant.

Hail said...

Anonymous wrote:
"...doesn't really mean "genuine variety" but just...gradually becoming monolithic and repetitive across the country. Hipster McDonalds."

Promoting diversity tends to undermine true diversity, you mean.

That's as true for racial stocks as for cuisine. I submit the following for your review:
_________________________________
"The racial interbreeding that is an unavoidable consequence of a multiracial society (without which the different races would have to be classified as different species) does add a new element to social racial diversity in the form of the racially-mixed or hybrid offspring of different parent racial stocks. But this hybrid element does not add to biological racial diversity, as it is created by intermixture rather than by the creation of new genetic characteristics by divergent evolution. It takes existing genetic characteristics from the different parent racial stocks and either mixes them into a new combination, blends them together into an intermediate form or, if they are recessive, diminishes or negates their occurrence. These hybridized recombinations of racial-genetic traits actually reduce, and are destructive of, biological racial diversity to the extent that they replace or deplete the parent racial stocks and genetic combinations created and refined by evolution." / [From the essay Racial Diversity, by R. McCullough]
_________________________________

candid_observer said...

One of the things that has struck me is that, for all the happy talk about the wonders of globalization, the one thing we really haven't seen is a really first rate global cuisine.

Virtually all cuisines we know and love really are based on a particular country and culture, with the limits imposed historically by the available spices, vegetables, fruits, and livestock of the area of origin.

But plainly those limits are entirely accidental. Where's the cuisine that brings together these components into something more interesting and delicious than the localized cuisines we are accustomed to? Surely from more we should be able to get more.

Or is it that one simply must develop a taste for any given cuisine, and we just haven't been able to get over that hump for any attempts so far at a more, well, inclusive cuisine?

I mean, if we have to swallow globalization, can't we at least make it a little tasty?

Anonymous said...

Just took my wife to an expensive French restaurant. Turned out the wait staff, the chefs, the bus boys, and the bottle washers were ALL Mexican. The food was sort of French, but tasted more like the catered box lunches you get at academic and business conferences these days. When I got the check, I wondered what was the point of Mexican immigration if it doesn't bring down the prices of gourmet meals?

Oh, I get it. To privatize profits (for the restaurant owner) and socialize the costs (of the poorly paid staff who couldn't support their families in San Francisco without federal social welfare programs).

Anonymous said...

During my last vacation, I visited both Germany and Poland. The major cities of both countries are full of kebab shops. However, the difference between the two countries is that Poland has just enough Turks to run the kebab shops, whereas Germany has far more Turks than the number required to run the kebab shops. I've also been to Finland during a prior trip, and they also had just enough Turks to run the kebab and pizza shops, but not many beyond that.

Anonymous said...

Your article misses the important point, illegal immigrants provide the food prep and cleaning services of all restaurants and provide cheap food processing services as ag labor and meat packing. Meat packing was actually considered a good job at one time. Who picked Alice Walkers local organic food?

Here in Brooklyn NY there are many Pakistani restaurants. Much of the staff is Mexican. Not the people in front, but in back. You can see them occasionally pop out of the sidewalk basement access, and popping out of the kitchen wearing a Mexican sports team jersey carrying a tray of food.

High end restaurants need cheap labor but not cheap proprietors so Americans trained abroad are fine. But lower down in order to give the middle class a curry experience you need an actual Pakistani.

High end dining also requires celebrity chefs which means they must speak English to Americans expertly which means Americans and Wolfgang Puck.

Discard said...

My father, a meat and potatoes White working man, took a liking to Chinese food, and learned to make sweet and sour sauce. You don't need foreigners to invade just so we can vary our diet. The food excuse for diversity reminds me of nothing so much as Essau, selling his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Noah Nehm said...

Deutsche Welle has a series on restaurants in Europe, available in English called "Euromaxx a la carte".

The trend seems to be locally sourced organic.

Anonymous said...

Most ethnic cuisine is stir fry requiring fewer cooking skills than a backyard barbecue. All the ingredients are at Whole Foods. All the recipes are on the internet. So why spend a weeks grocery bill on one meal prepared and handled by some little fellow named Manuel, whose hands have been god knows where. How stupid is that?

Anonymous said...

Basically, British cuisine (and that of other north European nations) was so bland (I don't like to say 'bad'), because it reflected the type of produce that actaully could be grown in that cold and frosty clime.

I do like foreigners (I presume?) speaking up for us, but, I have to admit this only goes so far. The climate of Northern France is not *that* different from Southern England. It's not Iceland.

It is just the case that fine food (as opposed to fine drink, fine cigarettes, fine teas, fine clothes, etc) has never been a cultural value with us. Plain and simple and "honest" is generally the watchword. The traditional recipes are quite good when cooked well, if limited in breadth (ingredients etc do have a role to play there) and there a few innovations (Worcester Sauce, cheddar cheese, etc.), but British people don't have that much enthusiasm for cooking and prioritize pretty much everything over pure flavor to some degree or another (volume and bulk, comfort, health, "chicken on the bone makes me think of dead animals", etc.).

I think the cultural divergence comes to some degree from a degree for national identity against the French (who probably do have the best traditional food culture, allowing for climate and what they can grow and its high level of animal products making it unpopular in modernity).

What Derb says has some truth in it (pub culture not restaurant culture = different outcomes) but it is not the whole story.

Rick Bayless studied in Mexico and is arguably the best Mexican chef in America.

David Thompson's Thai food is supposed to be good.

Anonymous said...

Japan managed to "just get the recipe".

x said...

the restaurant rationale is hilarious. its like the only argument immigrationists have.

x said...

i also think american cuisine is pretty damn good. bbq ribs, pulled pork- american bbq is so good, so much better than australian bbq. burgers, hotdogs, fries (i know, technically belgian, but whatever), pizza which is essentially italian american, not italian. all amazing foods beloved by everybody in the world. what's with food snobs who diss on american food?

Ex Submarine Officer said...

And despite all the wonderful things everyone has written about Tokyo, among Japanese, Osaka/Kansai region is actually the area renowned for its great food.

Osaka has a hugely inordinate amount of Michelin stars, more than your average to largish free trade zone.

Frankly, food is pretty darn good most places in Japan. And when they aren't eating, they are watching shows about it on tv. It is a food obsessed nation.

And rightly so, most everyone in Japan is on or near a diet, they are schizo about gaining weight, esp. the ladies, bless their hearts. So everyone is constantly in a state of low grade hunger.

Hence the national food obsession. It really has to be seen to be believed, especially when it crops up in little tiny rundown hole in the wall joints.

Anonymous said...

"The Germans were mediocre cooks and the English, Scottish, and Irish were awful."

One of the big problems with attempted food relief during the Great Irish Famine was that the destitute peasant women who most needed assistance had no idea how to cook anything that couldn't be boiled in a pot of water. Hard American corn was sent in substantial quantities to try and help alleviate the starvation, but in many cases, all it did was make people sick, being indigestible unless processed correctly (which few people knew how to do). Sadly, the famine took place over a century before the invention of instant ramen noodles.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

This was not an original thought on my part, but, having worked for many years in a high-tech field, in smallish companies that frequently have office potlucks, I can't stop noticing it: Smart people can cook better than stupid people.

Yeah, as with everything, you get better with practice and blah-blah-blah-caveat-this-and-exception-that. But, if you think about it, a modern recipe is not a trivial set of instructions to follow.

Secondo said...

Anybody who's visited more than a few Italian restaurants in any pair of major cities in the U.S. and Italy respectively knows that the American ones serve vastly better prepared food with superior ingredients and you can repeat the experiment with Spain, France, Japan vs. equivalents in Denver or Atlanta or Seattle. The reason for this is drearily simple. However I'm sure of a great WN tiddlywinks theory out there on the Internet explaining how Aldo & Luigi are dishonoring their fatherland by operating overseas. If so I hope somebody posts that cuz I could use a laff.

WhiteGuyInJapan said...

It should be noted that a lot of Japanese people only eat Japanese and have zero interest in eating anything else.

On the other hand, Chinese restaurants are plentiful and generally fantastic. Generally Japanese and/or Chinese staff.

There seems to be rule about one Indian/Nepalese restaurant for every 100,000 people. 4-5 Nepalese per restaurant.

Thai/Mexican/etc.-only in big cities and generally only 2-3 restaurants per city. To be honest, I like being able to eat enchiladas without having to walk through a Mexican neighborhood.

David said...

Swipples are undermining the Restaurant Rationale. With their foodie fetishes, their cooking shows, splendid tables, and the like, they are training (and self-training) Americans to do the jobs Third Worlders ought to do here.

Senescent said...

Tokyo's got a lot of fancy restaurants, but so does Manhattan. Probably more relevant to the average Japanese citizen's experience of foreign cuisine since WWII is the institution of the "family restaurant", which served a kind of populist pan-Euro-fusion cuisine.

(And it's worth noting that since from their emergence from seclusion until the US occupation, Japan's "big brother" was Prussia, Japan still has a fundamentally Germanophone impression of Western Europe)

So in a country not too far from Thailand, you'd see "curries" in an India by way of England by way of Germany tradition that're basically hamburger and rice with spiced mushroom gravy and egg, for example. And this would be served in a restaurant with a Tudorbethan facade, Blackletter sign, waitresses in French lace aprons, and a floor plan that's basically an American chain diner like Denny's. All cooked by Japanese, of course.

I can't say for sure how much this is still dominant in Japan. It was as recently as the '80s, but then '80s asian food in America was mostly Benihana and steam table buffets with gold-painted dragon carvings, so these things can change.

Anonymous said...

Changing cuisine has added diversity and undermined equality. There are so many snobs now who put on airs about what and where they ate.

And the wine thing.

Glassism is the new classism.

Anonymous said...

Japanese put corn on their pizza. Yech.

Svigor said...

My father, a meat and potatoes White working man, took a liking to Chinese food, and learned to make sweet and sour sauce. You don't need foreigners to invade just so we can vary our diet. The food excuse for diversity reminds me of nothing so much as Essau, selling his birthright for a bowl of stew.

I make a kick-ass sesame chicken. My fried rice is better than the local Chinese restaurant's. My Mexican food is much better than a Mexican restaurant's.

Most ethnic cuisine is stir fry requiring fewer cooking skills than a backyard barbecue.

Precisely; Chinese like to brag about their food but stir-fry is super-simple. Mexican food tends to be simple peasant food and easy to prepare, too.

what's with food snobs who diss on american food?

What's even better is how "Soul Food" is black and wonderful, but it's just southern cooking with even more grease and worse cuts of meat, while southern cooking is dumb redneck fatbody food.

Hence the national food obsession. It really has to be seen to be believed, especially when it crops up in little tiny rundown hole in the wall joints.

Fussing over cooking is a good way to diet; you have to work for it, no junk food allowed, good ingredients, etc.

Anybody who's visited more than a few Italian restaurants in any pair of major cities in the U.S. and Italy respectively knows that the American ones serve vastly better prepared food with superior ingredients and you can repeat the experiment with Spain, France, Japan vs. equivalents in Denver or Atlanta or Seattle. The reason for this is drearily simple. However I'm sure of a great WN tiddlywinks theory out there on the Internet explaining how Aldo & Luigi are dishonoring their fatherland by operating overseas. If so I hope somebody posts that cuz I could use a laff.

I might be relied upon to disagree with you if I had a clue WTF you were on about.

Reg C├Žsar said...

In her 2002 book How to Sell, Then Write, Your Nonfiction Book, Blythe Camenson offered up as an example of a book proposal one of her own. The subject was English cuisine, and her point was the same as Derb's-- good cooks at home, bad restaurateurs. She was never able to interest a publisher. But the proposal is good reading, if the subject interests you.

I see she now works as a Realtor. How to Build, Then Sell, Your Underwater House?

Anonymous said...

"Most ethnic cuisine is stir fry ..."

Many decades ago I read an article in Scientific American (it was more academic back then) about how modern European cuisine came about. Someone had made a career of studying its historical development.

As I recall it, originally most European cooking was similar to pretty much everywhere else, more or less stir-fry and curry type of things. Then came the Black Death in the 1300s. There must have been many theories as to the cause, many related to food. During the 1400s European cooking changed so that it was much easier to spot spoiled food and tell how well food had been prepared. Trust but verify. Mashups were de-emphasized.

So traditional European cooking reflects a health food for the Black Death era mentality.

Whiskey said...

Steve, German cuisine is delicious. [Disclaimer, I am actually 1/4 German, 1/4 Scots, 1/2 Irish.] The "Pennsylvania Dutch" cooking, actually Low German, is fantastic (though not healthy) cuisine: scrapple, apple dumplings, strudel, chicken and dumplings, no one makes sausage like Germans, German cuisine is as excellent as their cars, airplanes, and cameras. Which is to say first rate.

Scottish and Irish cuisine is pretty rotten, admittedly. But Scandinavian is even worse. Lutefisk?

Japan's native cuisine is so varied, and revered, there are "schools" of cooking and "factions" of chefs on Iron Chef Japan (sadly no longer on reruns on Food Network.) Japanese are intensely connected to seasons through seasonal cuisine, it takes literally decades to master just one regional style of Japanese cuisine -- and for the most part it is both healthy and good.

Difference Maker said...

Countries which have good food are weak countries.

Italy, France, China, Mexico

Compare with:

Britain, Germany, Japan

Men make the best chefs. Cooking is not a trivially time consuming task. A country which has good food has a lot of men spending a lot of time in the kitchen, and a feminized culture

Anonymous said...

" Difference Maker said...
Countries which have good food are weak countries."

The French are weak? I guess that explains why they sent millions of young women to die in the trenches while the menfolk channeled their nationalist fervor into the culinary arts.

Kitchen bound Mexican men? Is your experience with Mexicans confined to the occasional accidental stroll into the employees only section of your favorite local restaurant? Say what you will about crime rates, PISA scores and mortgage defaults, but to claim that Mexican culture is feminized, or that mexican men even give a sh** about cooking is absurd.