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Old 02-20-2018, 10:18 AM
Jackmannii Jackmannii is offline
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Is U.S. restaurant food getting blander?

Case in point: Mrs. J. and I had dinner at a pretty good Italian place we've enjoyed in past years, and both entrees were bland to the point of needing emergency infusions from the pepper shaker.

With rare exceptions (hats off to the salsa at Chuy's), this has been a noticeable problem in recent years. Either kitchens are catering to overcautious, hypersensitive patrons, or our aging tastebuds are becoming more immune to spicy inputs (I think there's possibly a degree of truth to the latter, but not to the extent that would explain blah dinners out).

Anyone noticed this phenomenon? I'm almost to the point of carrying an emergency stash of basil and other spices with me when I go out to eat.
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Old 02-20-2018, 11:14 AM
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Some small places seem to be dialing back on the salt for health reasons. And that does, unfortunately, make me not want to eat there, because the food just isn't enjoyable. I dislike over salted food, but I still want to eat it. This is, for health reasons, a bad state of affairs, but I can't rally fight it, as a personal sensibility.
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Old 02-20-2018, 11:16 AM
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Could it be that the places you frequent are in decline? I've noticed that some restaurants start out strong, but the quality starts to slip. Maybe a chef left or the owner is focusing his attention on a new place, but if it's a trend you've observed in a lot of places than maybe it is a trend I hadn't picked up on yet.
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Old 02-20-2018, 01:56 PM
Qadgop the Mercotan Qadgop the Mercotan is offline
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I've observed that phenomenon from time to time, but blamed my senescing taste buds.

However now that I ponder, I've not noted the change at my favorite top of the line restaurants.

Last edited by Qadgop the Mercotan; 02-20-2018 at 01:57 PM.
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Old 02-20-2018, 02:00 PM
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It seems to me restaurants offer more dishes with cayenne, jalapeno, and habenero all the time. Maybe some older dishes are becoming blander (I haven't noticed that), but the number of new spicy things seems to be on the rise.

Or maybe I'm just not eating at the same places you all are.
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Old 02-20-2018, 02:05 PM
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It makes more sense to let diners add salt/pepper/etc. to suit their own tastes than risk overdoing it in the kitchen. After all, you can add it, but you can't remove it once it's there.
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Old 02-20-2018, 02:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Arkcon View Post
Some small places seem to be dialing back on the salt for health reasons. And that does, unfortunately, make me not want to eat there, because the food just isn't enjoyable. I dislike over salted food, but I still want to eat it. This is, for health reasons, a bad state of affairs, but I can't rally fight it, as a personal sensibility.
yeah, this is part of it. some places take it way too far, though. One time I hit up the cafeteria at work and got a cup of lentil & spinach soup.

It tasted of absolutely nothing.

the other thing is that a lot of places (chains, mostly) vastly over-sell their "spicy" dishes. when they magnify such things as their habanero seasoning or ghost pepper sauce, I just assume it means they showed the food a picture of a hot pepper before serving.
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Old 02-20-2018, 03:03 PM
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I'm seeing the opposite: placed adding hot peppers to dishes. Admittedly, it's only a slight flavor of it, but too many hot pepper enthusiasts are in it to brag about how macho they are and not how it fits in a meal.

I'm always happy when they reduce salt from their entrees. The best chain french fries in the universe -- Nathan's -- have next to no added salt. That way you taste fries, not salt.
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Old 02-20-2018, 03:16 PM
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I don't know about salty or seasoning. My tastebuds are rubbish. But I totally agree that it's a much better idea - especially for the aging and fattening population (myself included) - that salt be limited and added later at the diner's discretion. I have friends my age (just around 40) who are being told to lay off the salt, and are looking for lower sodium content in all foods.

I do know, like others have said, that the "spicy" spices are being added to meals at an alarming and exhausting rate. As someone who just has not developed the ability to tolerate much spice at all, it's really hard to find something on a menu anymore that doesn't require me to be "that lady" and ask for ingredients to be left off. If it's even possible. A good chunk of restaurant offerings I am just avoiding.
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Old 02-20-2018, 03:24 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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Originally Posted by Saltire View Post
It seems to me restaurants offer more dishes with cayenne, jalapeno, and habenero all the time. Maybe some older dishes are becoming blander (I haven't noticed that), but the number of new spicy things seems to be on the rise.

Or maybe I'm just not eating at the same places you all are.
Yes, over the years, I find restaurant food has become far less bland than it used to be.
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Old 02-20-2018, 05:07 PM
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No, not blander, I'm not seeing that at all. And there are far more spicier things available today than in the used to be.

Salt, yeah, maybe less salt. Soups definitely seem to be less salty than they were.

However, as someone who likes salty food, I have to say that leaving out the salt for the customer to add is not a welcome feature to me. I like my salt cooked in, not just sprinkled on top.

But blander as a whole? No, I think either the restaurant or the tastebuds in question may have declined.
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Old 02-20-2018, 05:51 PM
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I don't know from bland but today's tomatoes blow big time.
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Old 02-20-2018, 06:49 PM
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I have not had that experience at all. In fact I wish restaurants would lay off the salt. I have no specific medical reason to avoid sodium, but just about every time I eat out, I feel like I do nothing but drink water and pee for the next 24 hours.
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Old 02-20-2018, 07:24 PM
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I suppose it depends where you live.

Part of our Deep State Conspiracy is adding fat and subtracting seasoning from restaurant food in the Red States, to kill you all with heart disease. Here in Brooklyn everything tastes just fine, thanks.
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Old 02-20-2018, 07:42 PM
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It's not something I've noticed, as far as changes to restaurants I frequent. I have noticed it really depends on where you are. I'm in a pretty poor neighborhood at the moment that's chock full of old rundown restaurants that are bland (or weirdly sweet, for the Asian food), but they seem to have a steady enough stream of aging regulars to keep them afloat for several more decades without needing to change a thing. The restaurants that are newer tend to have a better variety of well-prepared food, and generally you'd only see a decline if they changed chefs and/or owners. The same held true when we lived in a city where there was a higher number of restaurants to choose from and competition was pretty fierce.
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Old 02-20-2018, 08:21 PM
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At any fine dining establishment, I don't even want to SEE a salt or pepper shaker on the table. I'm supposedly trusting the chef, and for most good places, that usually works and it's all good. I think part of the phenomenon that the OP may be describing (which probably isn't prevalent in Italian food) is the replacement of sodium for hot, HOT HOT. I'm not on board with that trend either. While I certainly like spicy food, at some point HOT just eclipses flavor to me, and I admit being a bit of a pussy when it comes to insanely hot foods. I don't enjoy "nuclear" wings, or chili that tastes like nothing but habaneros. But I can appreciate the intoxication of real Sichuan Chinese, as painful as it may be, or even a small dose of Southern "hot chicken" from say, Nashville. But beyond that, count me out on the "needs to be hot just because" movement.

I don't like over-salted food, either, but typically this has never been an issue in any high end restaurant I've attended, only from my own stupid over seasoning experiments.
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Old 02-20-2018, 08:53 PM
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It makes more sense to let diners add salt/pepper/etc. to suit their own tastes than risk overdoing it in the kitchen. After all, you can add it, but you can't remove it once it's there.
It's a nice thought, but a lot of foods really don't taste the same if you salt after cooking rather than during cooking. I have a good friend who grew up in a family that felt the way you do, and she didn't really understand what a difference it makes until we started cooking for her, especially once we got her to help us cook more often. It's such a stark difference for me that if it's a dish that can't easily be adjusted during cooking (roasted potatoes being the most frequent screwup of mine) I'd rather just eat the underseasoned food.

The best way I can describe the after-cooking salting result for me is that I don't taste the dish. I taste salt and then taste the other ingredients, but it never really mingles together right.
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Old 02-20-2018, 09:31 PM
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Kind of.

Spicy food is now more widely available in Canada than ever before. Lots of places have available Tabasco, Franks, jalapeŮo or sriracha if the food is too bland. Pepper doesnít save everything; I like the chef to properly season food but de gustibus Yada ó I like to see table side salt and pepper too.

Older Canadians (and many others) sometimes have spice racks with only three bottles and prefer bland food. This is inevitably the excuse made when bland food is served (Our clients donít like spicy food). I do travel with spices, there is a very small and portable Tajin which sometimes saves the day.

Overall, though, I think more people prefer a little punch and spicy food is becoming more popular. Italian places here usually have a bottle of dried red chilies, which is a start.
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Old 02-20-2018, 11:00 PM
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I suppose it depends where you live.

Part of our Deep State Conspiracy is adding fat and subtracting seasoning from restaurant food in the Red States, to kill you all with heart disease. Here in Brooklyn everything tastes just fine, thanks.
we're not impressed at where you live, thanks.
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Old 02-21-2018, 12:37 AM
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How about where I live?

Since returning, I have noticed food in the US tastes blander than before.
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Old 02-21-2018, 04:07 AM
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Could this be due to the trans fat ban?

Not that I'm against the ban.
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Old 02-21-2018, 06:48 AM
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How about where I live?

Since returning, I have noticed food in the US tastes blander than before.
Could it be because you just spent many years in Thailand, quite the opposite of a bland food culture, and your tastes have been recalibrated?

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Old 02-21-2018, 07:14 AM
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We eat out frequently, tending to patronize the same handful of local places. Everything tastes great as far as I can tell.

One local Chinese restaurant makes a great Ma Po Tofu. I asked the chef/owner if he could amp up the heat a tad, and he did. It was awesome, for a while. Last weekend he took it up several more notches. My gf was unable to eat it. I liked it, but it was a bit overboard. I'll have to tell him next time.
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Old 02-21-2018, 07:35 AM
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It's a nice thought, but a lot of foods really don't taste the same if you salt after cooking rather than during cooking. I have a good friend who grew up in a family that felt the way you do, and she didn't really understand what a difference it makes until we started cooking for her, especially once we got her to help us cook more often. It's such a stark difference for me that if it's a dish that can't easily be adjusted during cooking (roasted potatoes being the most frequent screwup of mine) I'd rather just eat the underseasoned food.

The best way I can describe the after-cooking salting result for me is that I don't taste the dish. I taste salt and then taste the other ingredients, but it never really mingles together right.
Also, adding salt AFTER cooking requires adding a greater amount of salt to get the same level of saltiness that would have been achieved with less salt added WHILE cooking.
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Old 02-21-2018, 08:38 AM
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we're not impressed at where you live, thanks.
You donít seem to care for me. This isnít the first rude comment youíve made.

Why is that exactly? Just mild curiosity.
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Old 02-21-2018, 08:56 AM
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I was wondering about this recently.

My town has had a really wonderful uptick in small restaurants and those menus tend to be much more daring. I had some family in town last week and ended up taking a relative to IHOP one morning (rather than my preferred place) because it was close and convenient.

I was shocked at how bland it was (and also the high prices, but that's not relevant). It's been a long time since I ate there because I know have a couple locally owned breakfast options which are cheaper and tastier, but I've never turned my nose up at an IHOP omelette before.

So I figure there might be two factors at play here, which could overlap.

1) A wider availability of good non-chain restaurants are refining the palates of American diners, making chain restaurants seem blander by comparison.
2) American chain restaurants are doubling down on their blandness to provide maximal "sameness" of experience as a way of competing with all these new, scary restaurants for aging demographics.
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Old 02-21-2018, 12:35 PM
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If there's a general trend I think it's to a wider gamut of flavor. Spicier dishes are more easily available, and so are more subtle dishes. There's no point having a dish with local varietals if their flavors are going to be bombed out with salt or capsaicin. Per always, there's no accounting for taste: try different restaurants, talk to the regulars, talk to the waitstaff, talk to the cookstaff, and find what you like.
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Old 02-21-2018, 12:50 PM
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If anything, it seems spicier than it used to be.
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Old 02-21-2018, 01:00 PM
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I agree with Johnny Bravo. Smaller chains and independent restaurants are trending spicier and more flavorful, especially if they are aiming at any sort of younger foodie demographic. National chains seem to be getting blander.
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Old 02-21-2018, 01:46 PM
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1) A wider availability of good non-chain restaurants are refining the palates of American diners, making chain restaurants seem blander by comparison.
This. I don't see chain restaurants getting blander - in fact trying the opposite with spicer entrees, but compared to the non-chain restaurants with tons of flavor, they just taste like nothing.
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Old 02-21-2018, 01:48 PM
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Could this be due to the trans fat ban?

Not that I'm against the ban.
I don't think so as transfat was a sub for the taster animal fat when people wanted a healthier alternative. Fine restaurants would still use animal fat for the taste, if they went to transfats they already lost the taste race. The veg fats that are used now is about the same as transfats in terms of taste.

Now lots of taste went away when we went to transfat, though that was quite some time ago.

Last edited by kanicbird; 02-21-2018 at 01:49 PM.
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Old 02-21-2018, 03:21 PM
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For clarification purposes: I was referring to blandness of entrees from non-chain restaurants (specifically thinking of a couple of highly rated Italian places in my area).

There are certainly a lot of fast-food chain options for supposedly spicy food (i.e. "hot wings" and the tendency to offer sriracha sauce on all sorts of things, which is starting to approach the ubiquitousness of "Tuscan"-style promotions).

Low or no salt is easy to fix if necessary. I miss actual spices (basil, oregano and their kinfolk).
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Old 02-21-2018, 03:26 PM
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Over the past few decades, ethnic restaurants from a much wider array of nationalities have become present further from the big cities. And we're generally talking about the spicier cuisines.

And ISTM that over the past several years, the more mainstream American restaurants have been catching up. Red Lobster comes to mind as an example: last time my wife and I went there, I had some dish that was, by my standards, pleasantly but far from overwhelmingly spicy - but way more spicy than I would have expected to find in any major American chain in, say, 2005.
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Old 02-21-2018, 03:29 PM
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For clarification purposes: I was referring to blandness of entrees from non-chain restaurants (specifically thinking of a couple of highly rated Italian places in my area).
That's really going to depend on your particular choice of restaurants, or maybe your general location.
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Old 02-21-2018, 05:05 PM
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That's really going to depend on your particular choice of restaurants, or maybe your general location.
Yeah, if anything, the non-chains have gotten much more funky with their food and spicing (that is, less catering to what once was middle-of-the-road American tastes) as interest in ethnic foods has increased tremendously over the last couple of decades. Now, with Italian food, I don't know. If you're used to Southern and Sicilian style Italian food and encounter a Northern Italian joint (which are becoming a bit more popular, though southern Italian and "red sauce" places dominate Italian food in the US), then maybe you'll find it bland in comparison. (For example, I make a traditional bolognese, and it has no oregano or basil or anything like that in it. Just a slight grating of nutmeg and black pepper. But it's plenty delicious.) But, overall, food has become far more adventurous and more heavily spiced (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse), around here.

Of course, I also live in a big city with a cosmopolitan population, so tastes here may not be reflective of your area.

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Old 02-21-2018, 06:02 PM
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For clarification purposes: I was referring to blandness of entrees from non-chain restaurants (specifically thinking of a couple of highly rated Italian places in my area).

there's the possibility that- if they're sticking to traditional preparations- the dishes may simply just be bland. I think some (i.e. "foodie") Americans have this notion that any dish from any other country other than this one simply must be bursting with intense flavors, and any replication we can find here is watered down. You mention Italian; guy I work with is northern Italian (Genova) and the stuff he makes would be unrecognizable to the average American who equates "Italian=tomato, garlic, lots of herbs." instead it's a lot of seafood, beans, pasta, etc. in light sauces.
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Old 02-21-2018, 07:21 PM
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For clarification purposes: I was referring to blandness of entrees from non-chain restaurants (specifically thinking of a couple of highly rated Italian places in my area).
As I suppose I already intimated, I definitely haven't experienced this.
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Old 02-21-2018, 07:25 PM
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there's the possibility that- if they're sticking to traditional preparations- the dishes may simply just be bland. I think some (i.e. "foodie") Americans have this notion that any dish from any other country other than this one simply must be bursting with intense flavors, and any replication we can find here is watered down. You mention Italian; guy I work with is northern Italian (Genova) and the stuff he makes would be unrecognizable to the average American who equates "Italian=tomato, garlic, lots of herbs." instead it's a lot of seafood, beans, pasta, etc. in light sauces.
I was thinking the same thing about Siam Sam's post. Many years ago I traveled in Thailand, and found Thai food in Thailand to be completely unlike what I had here in Thai restaurants.
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Old 02-21-2018, 10:20 PM
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How about where I live?

Since returning, I have noticed food in the US tastes blander than before.
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Originally Posted by davidm View Post
Could this be due to the trans fat ban?

Not that I'm against the ban.
I don't think so. I think there was an SD column on trans fats where Cecil pointed out there was no difference in taste between them and their substitutes and so that could not be a valid argument.


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Could it be because you just spent many years in Thailand, quite the opposite of a bland food culture, and your tastes have been recalibrated?
Possibly. I'm not into spicy food, but then it's a myth that all Thai food is spicy. A lot of it is not. But it is more flavorful.
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Old 02-21-2018, 10:23 PM
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] I think some (i.e. "foodie") Americans have this notion that any dish from any other country other than this one simply must be bursting with intense flavors, and any replication we can find here is watered down.
I would say quite the opposite. I think foodies (at least the ones I know) know very well that heavily spiced does not mean its necessarily indicative of the way it is prepared in its native land. For example, Neapolitan pizza is quite respected among foodies, and often people who are not familiar with the style are perplexed by the lack of spicing in the sauce (often, just crushed tomatoes, nothing else) and paucity of toppings (mozzarella and basil, that's it.) \
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Old 02-21-2018, 10:27 PM
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Possibly. I'm not into spicy food, but then it's a myth that all Thai food is spicy. A lot of it is not. But it is more flavorful.
I actually wasn't remarking at all about spiciness, but, rather, its flavorfulness. Even something as simple as pork or chicken I've discovered tastes better pretty much everywhere else in the world. It is completely bland here, and has always been in my lifetime (mid-70s onward). ETA: I should say commercial mass-market pork and chicken

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Old 02-21-2018, 10:30 PM
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I actually wasn't remarking at all about spiciness, but, rather, its flavorfulness.
I was just throwing that out, because many people automatically think Thai = spicy. There are people who won't even try it because they "don't like spicy." But yes, it is very flavorful, and that could be part of why I find food here blander, much blander, than I remember.
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Old 02-22-2018, 12:15 AM
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I don't know from bland but today's tomatoes blow big time.
Not from my garden they don't. From the supermarket (yech) I agree.
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Old 02-22-2018, 12:19 AM
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Maybe we are regressing back to the good old days. I made a recipe from a 50-year-old cookbook tonight, which was bland indeed and which called for 2 teaspoons of salt on 1 pound of ground beef, which is crazy.

The independent ethnic restaurants I go to aren't bland at all, but perhaps the chains are cutting down the spiciness even for dishes which are claimed to be spicy. I think lots of people think they like spicy food more than they actually do.
I've never had anything remotely spicy in a chain restaurant, even during the height of "Cajun" food.
  #45  
Old 02-22-2018, 12:56 AM
guizot guizot is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jz78817 View Post
I think some (i.e. "foodie") Americans have this notion that any dish from any other country other than this one simply must be bursting with intense flavors, and any replication we can find here is watered down.
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
. . . heavily spiced does not mean its necessarily indicative of the way it is prepared in its native land. For example, Neapolitan pizza is quite respected among foodies, and often people who are not familiar with the style are perplexed by the lack of spicing in the sauce (often, just crushed tomatoes, nothing else) and paucity of toppings (mozzarella and basil, that's it.) \
Yes, it's not even about the recipes, necessarily. If the basic ingredients have real flavor, a simple dish with only a few flavors can be really great, (such as a real Neapolitan pizza, in Italy). But American food production sacrifices basic flavor even, for the sake of appearances and preservation for transport, efficiency, etc. I had an Italian girlfriend once who would lament the preponderance of "fake" mozzarella in American food, and she had to get regular fixes of the real thing, imported. She could prepare the most amazing dishes with that, without throwing in a whole lot of flavors.

I don't see anything new about the blandness of food in "traditional" U.S. restaurants. For a long time I've been amazed at the flavorless crap people are willing to pay for and eat. I'm just glad I live in Thai Town and Little Armenia, so that flavorful food is always a short walk away.
  #46  
Old 02-22-2018, 12:58 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
Maybe we are regressing back to the good old days. I made a recipe from a 50-year-old cookbook tonight, which was bland indeed and which called for 2 teaspoons of salt on 1 pound of ground beef, which is crazy.

The independent ethnic restaurants I go to aren't bland at all, but perhaps the chains are cutting down the spiciness even for dishes which are claimed to be spicy. I think lots of people think they like spicy food more than they actually do.
I've never had anything remotely spicy in a chain restaurant, even during the height of "Cajun" food.
I've never found Cajun/Creole to be all that spicy. That said, of course you can find plenty spicy stuff at the wing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Wing Stop. But that's about the only type of chain I can think of off the top of my head that has truly fiery options. Come to think of it, Taco Bell's Ghost Pepper Griller had a surprising amount of kick to it, too. Chik-Fil-A's spicy chicken sandwich also scratches my spicy itch, although it's nowhere near something like the Blazin Wings at BW3 or anything like that.

Last edited by pulykamell; 02-22-2018 at 12:59 AM.
  #47  
Old 02-22-2018, 02:53 AM
nelliebly nelliebly is offline
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To the OP: Alas, the perception that food is blander may indeed be the result of aging tastebuds. According to this article, we're born with over 9,000 tastebuds. Between ages 40 and 50, we lose some tastebuds, and others shrink. After age 60, we're less able to detect the difference between sweet, salty, sour, and bitter foods. At 70, the sense of smell begins to go, and eating may seem less pleasurable..

Have you noticed you're using more salt, herbs, and spices in recipes at home or complaining they seem bland?
  #48  
Old 02-22-2018, 06:58 AM
kanicbird kanicbird is online now
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Originally Posted by Jackmannii View Post
For clarification purposes: I was referring to blandness of entrees from non-chain restaurants (specifically thinking of a couple of highly rated Italian places in my area).

...
Part of this is restaurant supply stores. Around here there is really one local store where most places buy their food, more and more premade stuff, which results in not only blander food, but that there is no new taste experience as it's all prespiced. Around here, it even has a expression that the meal tastes Ginsberry (where Ginsberry is the name of the supplier), meaning that it was really a heat and eat meal or at least spice/sauce from that supply place.
  #49  
Old 02-22-2018, 06:38 PM
TBG TBG is offline
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Do you see a lot of old people eating there? Old people tend to like their food bland, and if they're catering to them as their top demographic....
  #50  
Old 02-22-2018, 06:41 PM
TBG TBG is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
Maybe we are regressing back to the good old days. I made a recipe from a 50-year-old cookbook tonight, which was bland indeed and which called for 2 teaspoons of salt on 1 pound of ground beef, which is crazy.
Not at all. 2 TABLEspoons would be but 2 teensy teaspoons for a whole pound of beef, sounds pretty right, depending on what you're using it for.
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