Tag 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.