Tuesday, October 6, 2009

We need more Ethnic Food Writers!!!

I love the Village Voice. But I might have read the worst restaurant review of all time by Robert Sietsema titled "Fly Heads at the Island of Taiwan Restaurant".

The author dances around for paragraphs using flowery language describing things he has no idea about. We're talking about food, I want a review of a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn Taiwanese restaurant, is there really a need to use words like "festooned" or allude to "ancient Spartans"? Stop masturbating on paper and just tell me if they have Taiwanese Dan Dan Mien or Intestine noodle soup (o-a-mi-sua)! He tries to gain credibility by saying he went with two Taiwanese friends, but if they're the ones you're leaning on for input, why don't you just let them write the damn article? Why is it that we continue to read articles about Ethnic food written by rookies? Would you read a review of Monday Night Football from a Kiwi (New Zealand) watching it for the first time?

I'm Taiwanese, ethnically Chinese, grew up in a Taiwanese-American home. I've been eating this all my life. When I read reviews like the one above, it bothers me because our culture and food is misrepresented. So without wasting anymore time talking about Robert Sietsema's johnny come lately to Taiwanese food article, I'll just dispel some fallacies and point you in the right direction.

1) He compares Taiwanese Tianbula to Japanese Tempura - Bozo, just cause the menu says tempura does not mean it has anything to do with Japanese Tempura or is in the least bit inspired by it. Its a homonym because most people can't read pin yin. Taiwanese Tianbula is made by frying fish maw paste seasoned with various ingredients depending on your preferred style. If you don't know about it, just say you don't know. Don't misinform your readers by making false comparisons. This is how all the misinformation about ethnic food gets spread and I have to shoot hipsters at restaurants when they start telling everyone what they know about Taiwanese food because they read your dumbass article. I no longer blame hipsters, I blame Robert Sietsema. Shoot Robert Sietsema shirts coming soon.

2) ô-á-chian - that thing you called "oyster omelet" is o-a-chian. Its NOT from fucking California as Sietsema says. From wiki: Oyster omelette is a Chinese dish of Teochew/Fujian origin. It is also popular in places with Chaozhou and Fujianese influences such as in Guangdong, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Taiwan (where it is often sold in night markets).

3) 3 Cups Chicken Basil - I knew when I read this article that there was no way they were using Thai Basil. Taiwan has its own basil and any Taiwanese cook worth talking to knows you need Taiwanese Basil. I learned this from my mom and even spoke to Taiwanese restaurant owners in Beijing who SMUGGLED Taiwanese basil in with them when they moved to Beijing because they knew they couldn't have 3 cups chicken without it: From google: "Taiwanese cuisine relies on an abundant array of seasonings for flavour: soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, fermented black beans, pickled daikon, pickled mustard greens, peanuts, chili peppers, cilantro (sometimes called Chinese parsley), and a local variety of basil (九層塔, literally "nine storey pagoda").


4) Beef Noodle Soup - the beef noodle soup your people "ooh and ahhed" over doesn't even look like Taiwanese beef noodle soup. The color is off. We use tomato in our beef noodle soup and it is more red in color. Or, if you don't use tomato, its for sure darker. The one you had looked like they put sauteed beef into a stock broth which is what lazy restaurants do. IF you cook the beef for the proper amount of time with enough superior dark soy and use rock candy, it WILL NOT come out light brown. It may be great, but its not Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup. Go to the restaurant in Flushing 3 doors down from Lu's 66 Seafood on Prince St. in Flushing. P.S. best block in the city for Chinese/Taiwanese food. Between Lu's, Nanxiang Xiao Long Bao, and the Beef Noodle Soup joint, you pretty much have everything you need.

5) Fly Heads - We've been calling ground pork "ants" or "fly heads" for years. The fact that your stupid Taiwanese companion played to you and the crowd by calling it out like a mistake or misnomer is retarded. If this person ever hung out with Asians, it wouldn't be funny at all, its just how we do.

This is not something minor. For people who like food or want to learn about other ethnicities, cultures, foods, this is bullshit because he's misleading people and making them look like idiots. When you try to present yourself as a false expert, not only do you set false standards and proliferate false information, but you're insulting the culture.

I'll give you an example. Obviously, I'm not Jamaican. But I love Jamaican food. I'm sure half the articles I read about Jamaican food give me false information just like this fool gave you about Taiwanese food. It needs to stop. If you don't know what your doing, don't write about it or just admit you don't know but say, "that shit was good, try the stinky tofu". Don't go hiding behind big words and stupid allusions to avoid people pulling your card. It is TOTALLY fine for people who don't know about ethnic food to write about it. Anyone can try something new, be excited, and share it with us. That's great! But don't pretend you're an expert, just point us toward the restaurant, give us some photos, and talk about it from YOUR perspective without giving bad info. If you don't know what's in the dish or where it came from, just say it! And dude, if you are going to say something Chinese, Taiwanese, or Korean is "Japanese Inspired" like the "tempura" thing, you better quadruple check....


  1. hey man, the food looks tight. i brought in some ox tail soup for lunch yesterday. any suggestions on how to eat that at the office w/o scaring folk away?

  2. Haha, its tough but worth it. I remember when I worked at a law firm, I would order sichuan braised beef and the smell of chili oil went through the whole floor and I sweat cause it was so hot. Ended up with a napkin bandana on my head. But, most people just laugh, ask about it and I go about my ox tail/funky food business. No matter what you do, you will look like Hannibal Lecter eating individual pieces of a spinal column haha.

  3. Is your Robert Sietsema is related to Tom Sietsema, food writer for the Washington Post? I could eat beef noodle soup every day.

  4. no relation: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53172-2005Apr14.html

    but i think a lot of people wonder about that. my mom has the best beef noodle soup. phil's mom has the best beijing mien (egg, pork, noodle, tomato), and 2nd ayi has the best pork shoulder. my mom still says you have the best thanksgiving turkey and brings it up every year....... although she liked my biscuit stuffing last year better..... either way, I hate you rebecca!!!!!

  5. Brine it, baby! P.S. after this weekend, are you still a virgin?

  6. you must mean herpes virgin? no, not anymore.... the herp is alive and well with me lol

  7. I agree that we need more ethnic food writers, but you also have to consider the audience. Not everyone has been eating Taiwanese food for their entire lives, so they may want to know what it feels like to eat it as a new-bee.

  8. Yo Dude,

    Sorry to break it to you but calling Sietsema a rookie, when it comes to NYC ethnic food is beyond ignorant. The dude has been eating in NYC for at least 30 years and knows more about its different food than probably a single other sole in the city. We are very, very lucky to have him. Check out his Zagat-esque, mind-bogglingly thorough book "Best Ethnic Eating in NYC," which unfortunately hasn't been updated since 2005. His research, knowledge, and experience is utterly unmatched in this city.

    You sound like you have a serious chip on your shoulder. Sietsema was doing it, for real, in the late eighties and early nineties before every jack ass that could had a blog inputting their two cents. Give respect where respect is due.

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