During Wednesday’s class, we discussed at the very last minute the “anomaly” of having an unexpected customer in an ethnic restaurant. There was a shared opinion that often when we see a restaurant, especially an ethnic restaurant, that has diverse clientele, then that restaurant must be doing something right and worth trying.
This raises the question of why do we have this mindset? What influences or persuades us to take the leap of faith to try someplace new when we would never have bothered to notice it before solely because others are going there? One of the many answers is social media. When mouth watering images of food plague our feeds and dashboards, it’s difficult to not notice or at least get curious. However, why is there a party heralding this movement to begin with? These “trendsetting” foods would never have been considered as “trends” if they were never “discovered” by a third party. Whomever this third party is, in regards of which racial, age, professional group whom we put our trust in, they undeniably have the omnipotent power to define which stores or restaurants will be successful and which will be left in the dust.
The example I am most concerned with are “food trends” that appear all over social media and as a result, credit and respect for diversity seems to be thrown out the window. For example, rolled ice cream in 2016. The concept at first is indeed inventive and the making process is possibly classified as art. However, what is herald and validated as something “brand new” and “innovative” by whomever received credit as the first store to have it available to the public, completely disregards its cultural history and presence in Eastern Asia where it has been a popularized decades prior to its first appearance in the states.
Simply put, go beyond your favorite dishes and the Instagram posts that decide for you what you should eat, what you should visit, and frankly who you should care about. To solely give social media the benefit of the doubt that this is the “correct” way to “genuinely” seek out “authentic” and “trendy” foods because an unrelated third party decided to take the opportunity to capitalize off something that has been around us the entire time is quite disappointing. There are established communities where locals and other people do enjoy without the approval of anyone else why they should go there instead of here because they live in and know their neighborhood. NYC itself allows us the privilege to do the very same thing as exploring the world with a simple train ride to the multiple ethnic neighborhoods throughout each borough of the city to discover. There will be places worth going and knowing if you simply explore for yourselves what the world really is and not the world only present behind the screen of your phone or computers. With that mindset, one can find themselves grow and learn more and more about themselves and about their world.
During today’s class discussion, I was intrigued by the mention of cases regarding Halal food being brought into U.S. courts. I feel that such a situation is completely justified in the case of a wrongful advertisement of food as “Halal” or when failing to meet the standards of the consumer’s requests for Halal food. If we were to look at this issue from the perspective of a person with allergies, celiac’s disease, or a vegetarian diet, few people would object to bringing the case to court. Failing to provide food that is for example cooked separately from any food that may contain allergens is likely the strongest argument for bringing the law into the industry, but there is still relevance when considering gluten free and meat free diets. Customers with Celiacs disease can expect that their food will be cooked separately from the food that contains gluten if the restaurant advertises its compliance with such dietary restrictions. Similarly, restaurants that feature a vegetarian or vegan menu are expected to comply with the standards of such a diet, even if it may seem extreme to some. In my opinion, these dietary restrictions prove just as relevant when it comes to people who practice their religious values. Those who eat Kosher and Halal have every right to expect their dietary restrictions to be accepted and complied with in the same way that a vegetarian diet may be.
In my opinion, these dietary restrictions prove just as relevant when it comes to people who practice their religious values. Those who eat Kosher and Halal have every right to expect their dietary restrictions to be accepted and complied with in the same way that a vegetarian diet may be, but that’s not to say that all restaurants are expected to be able to do so. In my opinion, restaurants should have the option of serving Kosher and/or Halal food to their customers, but if they choose to do so they need to be held accountable for accommodating all restrictions of those diets or at least giving clear information about what is in the food and how it is prepared. Liability for restaurant owners would lie in the failure of presenting information accurately to consumers, therefore by being upfront about the food that is served, owners can avoid any legal issues. If problems do arise regarding the improper preparation of food according to the regulations of the Halal and/or Kosher diets, I believe it is justifiable to take the case to court and make an argument against the restaurant owners who were negligent in the matter.
I have never ordered at a Halal cart, I don’t even know what Halal carts serve, but I guess I’m about to find out. Because of my Kosher dietary restrictions, I have only ever smelled Halal carts, and been jealous at how conveniently placed they are around the city. I never realized how many different things went into the Halal cart business. I always just assumed that the one or two guys in the cart did everything. On my strolls by Halal carts I have noticed that primarily immigrants are working inside, but it is never really something I thought about.
To be honest, before this semester, immigration was never really something I thought about. After talking about Korean owned groceries today, I realized that I have never really considered what ethnic groups did what jobs or anything of the like. I did not know what the class People of New York City was going to be about when I first walked in, but I find that I’m learning new things and encountering new things that I never knew and have never encountered before. This class has been a great opportunity for me to be able to step outside of my comfort zone and learn about different types of cultures.
While I unfortunately will never be able to eat at a Halal cart, I think it’s important to learn about the immigration aspect of Halal carts and the dietary restrictions of Islam. I have always gotten a little annoyed when someone had no idea what Kosher is and I had to explain it to them, but now I realize that I know nothing about Halal and I probably should never have gotten annoyed. I think this class is really helping me get over some ethnocentrism that I might have felt being raised in a mostly Orthodox Jewish community. While it is great to be part of a community, I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the outside world, and become more acclimated with other cultures.
After our discussion about cultural food in class, Raian and I were pretty hungry and decided to get some Indian buffet food. We choose to eat at a buffet because we were basically starving until that moment and wanted to fill ourselves up. After walking around a few places examining the price, menu and other various factors, we decided to go with Dhaba, a Punjabi Cuisine place that offers both dining, takeout, and delivery. Dhaba is a sort of higher class Indian restaurant that has been recognized for its outstanding Indian cuisine, excellent service, and friendly staff. Additionally, with waiters and chefs from South Asia, it was easy to see that Dhaba tried to portray a more authentic look. In contrast, Raian and I have also gone to places like Haandi, which provide Indian food for a lower price and the waiters and chefs are from a Mexican descent. Additionally, the environment at Dhaba was very different from Haandi. Dhaba was a lot cleaner, customer-friendly, and the food was, in general, more fresh and tasty. On the other hand, Handi was a lot more dirty, noisy and less aesthetically-pleasing. At Haandi, the food was not as authentic in comparison to the food in Dhaba as well. I think the fact that Haandi does not have chefs from India ultimately does hinder it from reaching its full potential. When people typically go to an Indian restaurant, they want a cultural feel in which they eat food that was cooked by someone typically of Indian descent. However, I think at Haandi this criterion is not met and causes it to lose potential customers.