Five Dishes to Order at Ethnic Restaurants that Prove to Owners You Want the Authentic Stuff
"You won't like."
"Too spicy for you!"
"Are you sure?"
Such is life as a regular American trying to get the great food from the ethnic restaurants with which Orange County teems. Let's just say it: most white people are afraid of authentic food. Too spicy, too sour, too pungent, what's this little squiggle? It's far easier, as a restaurateur, to dumb it down.
So, assuming you're channeling Andrew Zimmern, how do you get the good stuff? How do you prove you can handle it? By ordering and eating dishes that fall outside the American norm. Obviously, these aren't magic passwords, but at the very least you'll be expanding your culinary horizons by ordering this stuff.
Almost any cuisine: Whole fish
Americans are well-known abroad for having a fear of any piece of meat with little tiny bones. From the Filipinos to the French, ordering whole fish in a restaurant and not making a production out of its beady little eyes or ugly skin is a sign of a serious eater. Remember, though, that in some cultures, turning the fish over to eat the other side is a bad omen; lift the skeleton of simple fish out with your forks or chopsticks and set it to the side.
Vietnamese: Pork Blood
Gone are the days when people thought Chinese meant stir-fried beef or chicken and vegetables tossed with gloppy, sweet brown sauce. Regional Chinese is growing in the consciousness of Americann. You may have trouble getting truly Chinese dishes unless you show that you mean business. Order something with suancai--cabbage fermented with lactic acid, like the most powerful sauerkraut that ever existed--and suddenly you'll find your water-boiled fish has the correct number of chiles floating atop it.
You walk up to a flat top griddle out on the street in the evening and you want to be taken seriously; what do you order? Chorizo? Not really. Suadero? Closer, but no. Ordering tripe tacos is the hallmark of the hardened taco eater. If there's no tripas, go for buche (stomach), cabeza (head) or sesos (brains) instead. If the funk offends you, well, you can also show your machismo by adding some of whatever the hottest salsa is.
Korean restaurants may be the hardest to crack for non-Koreans. Koreans eat their food very spicy, and either ice cold (literally) or burning hot, with slippery metal chopsticks that pretty much guarantee you'll wreck your clothes. Still, it's a cuisine worth the effort, and ordering soondae--blood sausage--will cause eyebrows to be raised. Your reward? Usually more and better panchan (side dishes), and as often as not, an admiring gaze.
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