I pause here to note that I’m not that American who goes abroad and complains that nothing is as good as it is at home. This meal was, in fact, delicious, at least an 8 out of 10 in the category of bar food. The Maroilles was marvelous, and, I have sadly learned, is not readily available in the U.S. In any case, my hope upon finding an American-themed bar was not that I would find good food, but that — after a lifetime of experiencing American renditions of other cultures’ cuisines — I would see how the French do American food.
Volumes are written about the terrible things that Americans do to other cuisines, whether it be the teeth-aching sweetness of General Tso’s chicken, or the Godzilla-like growth of the American burrito. In most of the conversations I’ve had about this, the assumption is that there must be something wrong with Americans, that we cannot enjoy foreign dishes the way they were intended to be eaten. Or even worse, that we are culinary imperialists, plundering the recipes of other nations, and then screwing them up. What the heck is an “Asian salad,” anyway?
But every cuisine gets lost in translation, and always for the same reasons. The source’s ingredients are hard to get in a foreign land; the original skills are hard to teach to foreigners; local palates are hard to please with food that seems entirely strange. And local knowledge — like “bagels are a breakfast food” — doesn’t necessarily get transferred along with the recipes. I hardly need to point out that France has a formidable food culture, full of good chefs and great restaurants. But it’s no better than we are at replicating someone else’s tradition. The result is the culinary equivalent of Franglais.
Answering the question that wasn’t really meant to be answered, “Asian Salads” are “look, healthy crunchy lettuce, now with flavors you love when they are on stuff you really shouldn’t be eating right now.” Like Italian Dressing has more to do with the flavors than the recipe.
That said, please, go read the whole thing. It’s a really enjoyable article!