Xenophobic Cuisine: The Food Network

I have issues with the Food Network.

The network aims its shows smack dab at the middle of the American palate and totally misses.  Are we really that bland? I used to think (ok, I still do) the FN was racist.  As a Chinese American, I want to raise my hand and ask, “What about me?”  Oh, they do have a smattering of African American and Latin cooks sprinkled like chopped chives throughout its programming, but still, their recipes are, uhm, a bit ‘regular’… nothing outstanding, nor terribly regional…or, OMG! Too ethnic!

In fact, it would seem to me that the Food Network represents pervasive blandness that defines much of our country.   Once you leave the borders of San Francisco, or New York City, or any other concentrated urban center, you enter a world of malls and big box stores that repeat themselves every few miles.  Tell me, exactly why a community needs a Bed, Bath, and Beyond every two miles? Even scarier, why is there a Chevy’s or Chili’s equidistant from each other?

When DH and I visited his hometown of Houston—I wanted to see Texas, not a facsimile of venues I could see in my home state. We had to look hard to find locally owned anything.   I did learn though, the saying, everything is bigger in Texas, is true. I went grocery shopping with my inlaws…at their neighborhood Target (neighborhood? It took us an hour to drive to it)…the store was the size of 14 airplane hangers. I swear you could land a jet in the dairy aisle. But I dare you, try to find a block of fresh tofu or a tub of crème fresh. But! Wait! They had shelves and shelves of blue box’d mac & cheese.

This homogenization is what irks me when I flip on the food network.  What a shame, their programming could be used as an opportunity to teach us about the many yummy varieties of food out there.

I think the best way to learn about another culture, beside learning the language (which we as Americans seem to have difficulty doing) is to eat its food.  What a cool way to work towards world peace and mutual understanding:  Eating!

So, Food Network, where are the Asian food shows? (Ming Tsai is arguably too cool for you guys…but….)

There is a wealth of culinary worlds categorized as Asian cuisine. Imagine a Japanese cooking show? (There’s more than Sushi!) Or, a Filipino cooking show? Biko anyone? Thai? Malaysian? ooooh, Korean Barbecue?  Move over, Bobby Flay! Or what about the entire world of Middle Eastern cooking?

Heck, I’d be tickled pink and totally amazed if they’d do a vegan cooking show.

Here’s a recipe for one of our favorite soups when DH and I eat at our local Ethiopian restaurants. Sadly, I don’t think you’ll ever see it done on the Food Network—‘too ethnic,’ but it is easy and very good. Enjoy:

Ethiopian Lentil Soup (Yemisir Shorba)

Ingredients 1 1/2 cup lentils

4 tbl Yetenet’tere zeyt (this is just spiced oil: crush 2 teaspoons each:  chopped garlic, onion, and dried basil and 1 teaspoon chopped ginger root to a mash, then stirring it into 2 cups each of water and olive oil, and boiling until all the water evaporates. Cool, strain, and store in the refrigerator in a tightly covered glass jar. (This stuff is great on veggies, all meats, and as a base for salad dressing…I like it hot, so I also add red pepper flakes).

1/2 cup chopped onions

1/4 tsp mashed peeled ginger root

1/4 tsp mashed garlic

Salt to taste

7 cup water


Wash lentils thoroughly and let drain. Heat the oil to low in a large saucepan and add the onion. Saute at a low heat, stirring constantly, so that the onion doesn’t turn color, but rather becomes transparent. This takes some time – 10 minutes or so. Add the mashed garlic and ginger and continue cooking on low for about 5 minutes. Then add the lentils, turn the heat up just a little bit, and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes. Add 7 cups of warm water, bring to a boil, then boil on medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

Serve hot with injera, if you can find it – or with pita bread.

Published in: on December 18, 2009 at 11:25 PM  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Love the recipe! And the commentary, even if I am a Food Network addict.

  2. Sounds awesome! I love lentils. I am so with you. We drove from AR to CA two years ago and wanted to eat at only local places. It was so disheartening to find the EXACT SAME restaurants in almost every town. We had to try hard to find a local place and usually went miles out of our way to do so. What’s up America? Are we really that boring?

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