Regional Fun

A recent episode of How It’s Made featured a segment about the production of vinobrew, a relatively new alcoholic beverage that is a blend of beer and wine. My first impression? “Eww. Why would you ever want to put those two together?” I’m not a foodie. While I might travel a certain distance for quality food, I don’t catalog anything about food myself, and most of what I do know tends to be tidbits from watching far too many cooking shows on PBS. Yet, the concept of vinobrew struck me as a particularly West Coast invention.

There certainly isn’t anything wrong with inventing new dishes or flavor combinations, but when it comes to signature regional foods, I feel like the East Coast traditionally tends to focus on simple balancing of a few key flavors. I’m biased, of course, because I’m a native New Yorker who, frankly, hasn’t lived in any part of the country continent planet outside of the tri-state area. Hear me out, though.

When New Yorkers evaluate a slice of pizza, it’s a plain (cheese) slice that gets the scrutiny. Pizza with other toppings can and has won awards, but if you manage to perfect a cheese slice, you’ve done a worthy thing indeed. Same thing goes with hot dogs: nothing wrong with mustard, onions, and relish on a hot dog, but you get a really good hot dog and you won’t need anything but a bun. Sure, a New-York style cheesecake tastes great with berries or chocolate, but a perfect plain slice is magnificent. The Carnegie Deli’s pastrami sandwiches were massive, but they were essentially a single-filling sandwich. Philly cheesesteaks are relatively simple, as are hot Maine lobster rolls and Southern whole-hog barbecue.

Obviously, I’m ignoring a lot of dishes here. I just want to contrast that approach with that of, say, a Chicago-style hot dog loaded with vegetables and pickles; or a San Francisco Mission-style burrito, crammed with whatever fits. This isn’t to say that those dishes are bad, or even that those dishes are made with inferior quality ingredients, but that their excellence originates from the medley of flavors, rather than the perfection of a few ingredients. It’s just a different standard of what is considered “good.”

This has been far from an exhaustive analysis, for sure. I just find it interesting how much regional tastes still seem to vary, even when it’s possible to get ingredients shipped around the world in a matter of hours.

(Finally, personal research uncovered that the makers featured on How It’s Made were indeed from California. Their concoction blended port wine, stout beer, and coffee.)

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