Those Friendly, Friendly Drive Throughs and “Food Houses”

December 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

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It’s that holiday time of the year, which means lots of traveling and probably some quick meals along the way. If you’re wanting to up your grabbing-a-bite-to-eat game, take a look at Business Insider‘s list of the top 25 US limited-service restaurant chains, published earlier this year. Below are the ten restaurants with the highest customer-satisfaction scores. (By the way, if you’re wondering, “limited service” means pay before you eat and includes fast food and fast casual.)

  1. Firehouse Subs
  2. Chick-fil-A
  3. Papa Murphy’s Pizza
  4. Ben & Jerry’s
  5. In-N-Out Burger
  6. Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers
  7. Krespy Kreme
  8. Fuddruckers
  9. Jersey Mike’s Subs
  10. The Habit Burger Grill

I guess you could say this is a pretty congenial group of eateries—offering good food at a good price with good service—but if you want to know just how friendly the American food-distribution scene is, you need to look at it from an outsider’s point of view. In his book End of the Spear, Steve Saint tells about his friend Mincaye’s first trip to the States. Mincaye is from Ecuador, a member of the isolated Waodani (Waorani, Huaorani) tribe.

After he and Steve return to Ecuador, Mincaye describes grocery stores to members of his village. To him, “food houses” are wondrous places with endless amounts of food (people take it out but no one brings it in), and taking it out is oh so easy:

The only thing you have to do is when you are leaving, you have to go by the place where the young foreigner girls stand. They look at you very seriously. But if you just stand there and smile, when they smile back, you can take all your food and go eat it happily.

At this point, Steve corrects Mincaye’s story by explaining that the food needs to be paid for and shows the group a credit card.

“Don’t worry,” Mincaye explains. ” They just give that thing right back to you, and then you can go and eat all your food!”

But someone wants to know how food can be gotten when you’re out driving and not close to a food house. Mincaye knows the answer. That’s not a problem for Babae, as he calls Steve:

Babae has friends everywhere. Whenever we are away from the big, big food house and my stomach hurts, telling Babae, he just stops at one of his friend’s houses. They open the little windows in their walls and hand us food. Those people really like Babae, just like we do.

I really feel special now. I guess those people really like me, too!

(I’ve written about Steve and Mincaye before, but if you’d like to know their full stories, read Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor and Saint’s End of the Spear, or watch the movie of the same name.)

(Emmie Martin, Tanza Loudenback, and Alexa Pipia, “The 25 Best Fast-Food Chains in America,” Business Insider, May 9, 2016; Steve Saint, End of the Spear, Tyndale, 2005)

[photo: “Service with a Smile,” by Broken Piggy Bank, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Go Eat a Bug! Seriously

December 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

WEBSITEento_cubes2_1259“Most of the world already eats insects,” says Arnold van Huis, entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and collaborator with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. “It is only in the western world that we don’t. Psychologically we have a problem with it. I don’t know why. . . .”

These comments from van Huis appeared in The Observer, in 2010. Two years later, it seems that we westerners are not much closer to wide-scale acceptance of edible bugs. In a post last month, I had fun writing about entomophagy, but for people like van Huis, the eating of insects is a very serious topic.

It’s a serious topic for the folks behind the Ento project, too. If they have their way, insects will be an accepted part of our menus and shopping lists in the next ten years. Seriously.

The team behind Ento is made up of four postgraduate students at London’s Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. They are Aran Dasan, Jacky Chung, Jonathan Fraser, and Julene Aguirre-Bielschowsky, working with Kim Insu, a chef-in-training at Le Cordon Bleu.

They’ve put together a video, explaining their goals and methods, embedded below. In it, they lay out reasons for why we should all be eating insects, including the following:

  • The rapid growth in the world’s population requires us to look into alternatives for meeting the increasing demand for sustainable foods.
  • Compared to cattle, edible insects can provide nine times the amount of protein for the same amount of feed.
  • Insects are also lower in fat than beef.
  • Raising insects uses much less energy and space than traditional livestock and produces far less greenhouse gases.

But even with this information, and even though over 1000 different insects are already being eaten in 80% of the world’s countries, we in the West have a general disgust at the thought of eating bugs. Van Huis, a westerner himself, understands this. “It is very important how you prepare them,” he says. “You have to do it very nicely, to overcome the yuk factor.”

That’s where Ento comes in. They have developed a “roadmap,” consisting of 6 steps for introducing edible insects into the mainstream, culminating in the year 2020:

2012: Travel to festivals and markets WEBSITEento_entobox-closeup_1259to grab the attention of “adventurous eaters”
2013: Create the first Ento restaurant, serving insects in the form of innovative “entocubes”
2015: After opening more restaurants, market entocubes in “takeaway entoboxes” for lunch
2017: Sell a line of “ready meals” in supermarkets
2018: Introduce Ento ingredients for use in cooking
2020: Sell fresh insects as an accepted staple in the supermarket meat aisle

This seems like a rather aggressive plan, so I asked Fraser how things are going so far. He tells me that they are in the process of developing the roadmap above into a business plan. “Festivals and markets will still be a major goal for us in 2013, but we have also added event catering and pop-up restaurants to our plans.” All this to create a buzz about Ento. “Primarily we want as many people as possible to experience our food in a fun and social context,” he says.

So when will the first Ento restaurant be open for business? “As we improve our recipes and refine the Ento brand, a London restaurant will be our next major milestone,” says Fraser. And at this point in the progress, the restaurant opening is still on schedule: “We can’t reveal much about it at this stage, but it is in the works for later next year.”

And even though the group sees overcoming westerners’ aversion to entomophagy as a major obstacle, Fraser believes that once eating insects becomes more popular, then will come the biggest challenge: keeping up with demand. “At the moment we use external suppliers to source our insects, and currently the infrastructure base is quite small,” Fraser says. “This is why we proposed the creation of an adaptable network of urban farms that could meet the growing demand requirements as insects become accepted by more and more western eaters.”

The Ento team’s 10-year plan seems rather aggressive, but in an article in the design magazine Core77, they point out that something similar has happened before: Just three decades ago, they write, “tourist guides warned British tourists about the strange and off-putting Japanese habit of eating raw fish.” But now, sushi has become a global phenomenon.

Maybe, with the help of these creative students, it won’t take quite so long to get us eating bugs.

(Damian Carrington, “Insects Could Be the Key to Meeting Food Needs of Growing Global Population,” The Observer, July 31, 2010; “Case Study: Ento, the Art of Eating Insects,” February 27, 2012)

[photos from Ento, used with permission]

Starbucks: Designing a Global Concept

October 26, 2012 § 6 Comments

Last week, after a particularly long day, I bought a bag of Chips Ahoy! chocolate-chip cookies and had myself some cookies and milk. Nabisco is an American company, and chocolate-chip cookies are an American original, but eating them made me feel as if I were . . . back in Taiwan. That’s because one evening in Taipei, after a particularly long day, I needed some comfort food. So I grabbed a (very small) box of Chips Ahoy! cookies from the supermarket. It wasn’t that they were a staple of mine in the States. In fact, I don’t remember eating them before moving overseas. That’s why, now that I’m back in Missouri, Chips Ahoy! reminds me of Taiwan. Funny how the mind works.

Something else that reminds me of Taiwan is Starbucks. I’d never been inside one before moving to Taipei, but when we moved to Yong He (now part of New Taipei City), the cafe in our neighborhood became the default location for our weekly team meetings. So now, whenever I see a Starbucks, I think of some I’ve visited in Taiwan: the one underneath Taipei Main Station, the one with the huge second story in downtown Taipei, the one overlooking the harbor in Keelung, the one in the Xi Men Ding night market, and, of course, the one on the corner of an extremely busy intersection in Yong He, just a few blocks from our apartment.

I like Starbucks. I know their drinks are too expensive. And I don’t fit in with the true Starbucks aficionados. But it feels good to me. It feels international to me.

Since its humble origins in Seattle in 1971, Starbucks truly has become an international chain. The Starbuck’s company, which already has over 7,000 cafes outside the US, is making a move to beef up its international presence and plans to open 1,200 stores in the current fiscal year, which started this month. More than half of these openings will be outside the US, with about 500 in Asia. Over half of these 500 will be in China.

Wherever Starbucks opens a cafe, they alter their interiors and menus to fit the country. Take for instance in India, where the country’s first Starbucks just opened in Mumbai this month, serving Indian-grown coffee, murg tikka panini, and tandoori paneer rolls in a cafe that features furniture made from Indian teakwood. And then there’s Taiwan, where the Asian-inspired creations on the menu have given the world green-tea lattes and Frappuccinos.

Take a look at the following video to see how the company’s store designers work to connect each store to its community. Sounds like a cool job to have.

Click here to see a map from The Seattle Times showing Starbucks’ expansion around the world. Or go here for an interactive map from Loxcel that gives statistics for each country and store markers that show addresses and hours of operation. Load the Loxcel map on your smartphone and you can even search for stores that are currently open and click the phone icon to call them directly.

(Melissa Allison, “Starbucks Opens Its First Cafe in India,” The Seattle Times, Oct. 19, 2012; Melissa Allison, “Starbucks Maps Future of Venti-Sized Global Expansion,” The Seattle Times, Aug. 4, 2012)

[photo: “Starbucks Green Tea Cream,” by awee_19, used under a Creative Commons license]

Red Bean Paste, by Any Other Name, Would Taste as Sweet

April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

As a followup to making Beijing more foreigner-friendly for the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has published a book to provide restaurants with standardized English translations for over 2,000 dishes. While the publication, titled Enjoy Culinary Delights: A Chinese Menu in English, should clear up some confusion, it will diminish the entertainment value of menus in China. Gone will be “red burned lion head,” which becomes “braised pork ball in brown sauce,” and “chicken without sex life” gives way to “spring chicken.” Other substitutions include “shrimp cooked in rice wine” for “drunken shrimp,” “ground pork with green soya noodles” for “ants climbing the tree,” and “stir fried prawns and chicken” for “gambolling dragon and praying phoenix.” These last two aren’t mistranslations, just examples of poetic Chinese names whose meanings aren’t immediately obvious to foreign readers. (Maybe restaurants should just keep these literal translations and follow up with an explanation.) But others, maybe the best ones, come from a less-than-stellar grasp of English, such as the menu item from the photo in this article, which translates what could be called “sesame seaweed” as “dish of sesame oil connected through one’s female relatives.” Of course, if “seaweed” doesn’t sound good to you, the second name might be more appealing.

I don’t remember any specific examples of funny menu items from our time in Taiwan, but this topic reminds me of a couple of canned drinks that were commonly available in convenience and grocery stores. Both were labeled with unfortunate English names. The first is a sports drink from Japan, called “Pocari Sweat,” and the other is a yellow citrus soda, simply named “P.”

(“No More ‘Chicken without Sex Life’ at Beijing Restaurants,” Xinhua, March 13, 2012; “‘Chicken without Sex’ Becomes ‘Spring Chicken’—State Meddling in China’s Menus,” Worldcrunch, from The Economic Observer, March 29, 2012)

For anyone who’d like to learn more about the unique names of traditional Chinese dishes—and the history and makeup of Chinese characters—I highly recommend Swallowing Clouds: A Playful Journey through Chinese Culture, Language, and Cuisine, by A. Zee. Using the names of foods, the stories behind them, and the stories behind the individual characters, Zee shows how the paths of culture, language, and cuisine intertwine. It will make your mouth water, and it will make menus come to life.

[top photo: “Pocari Sweat” by Dwaasuy, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Eight Treasure Vegetables,” by Yoko Nekonomania, used under a Creative Commons license]

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