Category Archives: food

Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Tips and Rules: An Economist’s Take on Eating Out

When it comes to find­ing, order­ing, and eat­ing at eth­nic res­taur­ants there’s only one place to look for advice: eco­nom­ist Tyler Cowen’s Eth­nic Din­ing Guide. I’ve men­tioned Cowen’s guide before (if only in passing), but it’s time I ded­ic­ated a post to this treas­ure trove of din­ing advice and, espe­cially, the tips from Cowen’s Gen­er­al Remarks.

From an art­icle in The Wash­ing­ton Post, four strategies for find­ing good res­taur­ants and order­ing well (click through for details):

  1. For good value, avoid high-rent areas (those will be expens­ive or chains).
  2. Look for com­pet­i­tion (pos­sibly a sign of a large immig­rant pop­u­la­tion, provid­ing expert­ise).
  3. Know how to order ‘stra­tegic­ally’  from waiters.
  4. Be aware of the res­taur­ant cycle (from open­ing, to accol­ades, to mass pro­duc­tion).

Four rules-of-thumb for choos­ing from the menu (be aware of the excep­tions):

  1. Avoid “ingredi­ents-intens­ive” dishes, opt for “com­pos­i­tion-intens­ive” instead (i.e. con­tains sauces or com­plex ingredi­ent mixes).
  2. Appet­izers are super­i­or to main courses in some cuisines; be will­ing to have a ‘side-dishes-only’ meal.
  3. Avoid desserts, espe­cially Asi­an ones.
  4. Order for vari­ety, not quant­ity (order more than you think neces­sary).

And finally, from a recent art­icle by Cowen in The Atlantic, six rules for din­ing out:

  1. In the fan­ci­est res­taur­ants, order what sounds least appet­ising.
  2. Beware the beau­ti­ful, laugh­ing women (you’re there for food, not the scene/drinks).
  3. Get out of the city.
  4. Admit what you don’t know, and search/ask intel­li­gently.
  5. Exploit res­taur­ant work­ers (if you see expens­ive labour, think about what your return is… fam­ily-run res­taur­ants may offer the best return).
  6. Prefer Viet­namese to Thai, Pakistani to Indi­an.

Cowen can be a bit out­spoken on the top­ic of food, so bear in mind this com­ment:

It all makes per­fect sense if you like what Cowen likes, which is inter­est­ing food for a reas­on­able price without much ambi­ance. Which is not what every­one likes.

Wheth­er that’s what you like or not, you’ll still def­in­itely like Cowen’s book on the sub­ject, An Eco­nom­ist Gets Lunch.

Misunderstood Salt: The Facts About Limiting Intake

For dec­ades we have been told, with cer­tainty, to lim­it our salt intake or risk heart dis­ease and high blood pressure—but is this advice based on sound sci­entif­ic find­ings? The short answer is No.

The evid­ence is incon­sist­ent, incon­clus­ive and con­tra­dict­ory, says prom­in­ent car­di­olo­gist Jeremi­ah Stamler (who used to be an advoc­ate for the eat-less-salt cam­paign back in the 60s and 80s), and there­fore the “eat-less-salt” mes­sage is pre­ma­ture and may even be harm­ful.

Last year, two [meta-ana­lyses] were pub­lished by the Cochrane Col­lab­or­a­tion, an inter­na­tion­al non­profit organ­iz­a­tion foun­ded to con­duct unbiased reviews of med­ic­al evid­ence. The first of the two reviews con­cluded that cut­ting back “the amount of salt eaten reduces blood pres­sure, but there is insuf­fi­cient evid­ence to con­firm the pre­dicted reduc­tions in people dying pre­ma­turely or suf­fer­ing car­di­ovas­cu­lar disease.” The second con­cluded that “we do not know if low salt diets improve or worsen health outcomes.”The idea that eat­ing less salt can worsen health out­comes may sound bizarre, but it also has bio­lo­gic­al plaus­ib­il­ity and is cel­eb­rat­ing its 40th anniversary this year, too. A 1972 paper in The New Eng­land Journ­al of Medi­cine repor­ted that the less salt people ate, the high­er their levels of a sub­stance secreted by the kid­neys, called ren­in, which set off a physiolo­gic­al cas­cade of events that seemed to end with an increased risk of heart dis­ease. In this scen­ario: eat less salt, secrete more ren­in, get heart dis­ease, die pre­ma­turely. […]

[Four stud­ies] involving Type 1 dia­bet­ics, Type 2 dia­bet­ics, healthy Europeans and patients with chron­ic heart fail­ure — repor­ted that the people eat­ing salt at the lower lim­it of nor­mal were more likely to have heart dis­ease than those eat­ing smack in the middle of the nor­mal range.

via The Browser

The Licensing Effect and the Unhealthy Habit of Vitamin Supplements

The licens­ing effect is the phe­nomen­on whereby pos­it­ive actions or decisions taken now increase neg­at­ive or uneth­ic­al decisions taken later. I’ve writ­ten about this pre­vi­ously, before I was aware of a gen­er­al effect:

A Taiwanese study has provided us with a new instance of the licens­ing effect in action, this time with vit­am­in sup­ple­ments. The study found that tak­ing vit­am­in pills or diet­ary sup­ple­ments for health pro­tec­tion increases unhealthy and risky beha­viour.

After­wards, com­pared with placebo par­ti­cipants, the par­ti­cipants who thought they’d taken a vit­am­in pill rated indul­gent but harm­ful activ­it­ies like cas­u­al sex and excess­ive drink­ing as more desir­able; healthy activ­it­ies like yoga as less desir­able; and they were more likely to choose a free coupon for a buf­fet meal, as opposed to a free coupon for a healthy organ­ic meal (these asso­ci­ations held even after con­trolling for par­ti­cipants’ usu­al intake of vit­am­in pills). […]

The vit­am­in-takers also felt more invul­ner­able than the placebo par­ti­cipants, as revealed by their agree­ment with state­ments like “Noth­ing can harm me”. Fur­ther ana­lys­is sug­ges­ted that it was these feel­ings of invul­ner­ab­il­ity that medi­ated the asso­ci­ation between tak­ing a pos­tu­lated vit­am­in pill and the unhealthy atti­tudes and decisions.

Busi­nes­s­Week also points out that this loop of bene­vol­ent and self-indul­gent beha­viour is plainly evid­ent in the shop­ping habits of con­sumers… some­thing that mar­keters know all about.

via @vaughanbell

Common Cooking Mistakes

We all make mis­takes when cook­ing, right? Cook­ing Light says that “the cre­at­ive cook can often cook her way out of a kit­chen error, but the smart cook aims to pre­vent such cre­ativ­ity from being neces­sary”. In order to help you along your way to “smart cook” status, Cook­ing Light com­piled a list of forty-three com­mon cook­ing mis­takes you can learn to avoid.

Such mis­takes include: sli­cing meat with the grain, not ‘shock­ing’ veget­ables once they’ve reached the desired tex­ture, and not let­ting meats get to room tem­per­at­ure before put­ting them in the oven. I need to pay par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to com­mon mis­take num­ber one:

1. You don’t taste as you go.

Res­ult: The fla­vors or tex­tures of an oth­er­wise excel­lent dish are out of bal­ance or unap­peal­ing.

For most cooks, tast­ing is auto­mat­ic, but when it’s not, the price can be high. Recipes don’t always call for the “right” amount of season­ing, cook­ing times are estim­ates, and res­ults vary depend­ing on your ingredi­ents, your stove, altitude…and a mil­lion oth­er factors. Your pal­ate is the con­trol factor.

via b3ta

Bribing and Restaurant Seating

Does brib­ing your way into a busy res­taur­ant work as well as it seems to in movies? Is it even possible? Bruce Feiler decided to find out by vis­it­ing some of New York’s most over­booked res­taur­ants with noth­ing more than a pock­et­ful of money (i.e. no reser­va­tions). His res­ults were not quite as expec­ted, find­ing that brib­ing hosts in order to get seated at upscale res­taur­ants is abso­lutely pos­sible and works more often than you may think.

Feiler­’s adven­tures, detailed in an art­icle for Gour­met, act as a more exhaust­ive guide than the Chow art­icle on res­taur­ant brib­ing, but the con­clu­sion is the same: $15–30 per per­son, passed to the right per­son, can to get you into most res­taur­ants without a reser­va­tion (or help you skip a long wait­ing list) – but be pre­pared to get turned away and even occa­sion­ally get burned.

What else did Feiler learn from his exper­i­ment? Here are his “ten tips on tip­ping” (read: brib­ing):

  1. Go.You’d be sur­prised what you can get just by show­ing up.
  2. Dress appro­pri­ately. Your chances improve con­sid­er­ably if you look like you belong.
  3. Don’t feel ashamed. They don’t. You should­n’t.
  4. Have the money ready. Pre­fol­ded, in thirds or fourths, with the amount show­ing.
  5. Identi­fy the per­son who’s in charge, even if you have to ask.
  6. Isol­ate the per­son in charge. Ask to speak with that per­son, if neces­sary.
  7. Look the per­son in the eye when you slip him the money. Don’t look at the money.
  8. Be spe­cif­ic about what you want. “Do you have a bet­ter table?” “Can you speed up my wait?” A good fall­back: “This is a really import­ant night for me.”
  9. Tip the maître d’ on the way out if he turned down the money but still gave you a table.
  10. Ask for the maître d’s card as you’re leav­ing. You are now one of his best cus­tom­ers.