Stupid Tuesday questions, lactobacillus edition

I liked Greek yogurt before Greek yogurt was cool.

In the High and Far-off Times when I was a resident, I worked with another resident whose family was Palestinian. She was a lovely young woman, though I don’t recall much about our interactions with each other. What I remember most clearly was the yogurt.

One day, we happened to be having lunch together. At some point she brought out this ingenious little carton of yogurt, with an attached compartment that had honey in it. I’d never seen one before, and the brand “Fage” was unknown to me. However, having spent lots of time in the Levant growing up, she was raised eating it. She peeled off the foil covering, canted the honey container so the contents dispersed on top of the yogurt, and let me have a taste.

Pure, sweet and creamy deliciousness. A mouthful of heaven. It instantly ruined me for the insipid dairy products I had previously enjoyed as “yogurt.”

Did I mention that it was full-fat yogurt? It’s an important detail.

Years later, the Better Half and I took a trip to Greece. Yogurt with honey was on pretty much every menu we saw, and we ate it a lot. Because full-fat Greek yogurt topped with honey is joy in comestible form.

At some point Greek yogurt became a popular food item in the US. I think for a while the stuff I found on the shelves (which I once had to look around for) was still made in Greece, but now everything I see is made in the US. And everybody’s into the Greek yogurt biz, including some companies that I generally like but who strain credulity when trying to tie the product into their brand image.

All of that is fine by me. Except now that it’s Greek yogurt a-go-go here in these United States, all the product I can find is tailored to American tastes. Which means it’s all low- or non-fat, because fat is evil and must be expunged from all we consume. And of course, that means in order to be palatable (plain non-fat Greek yogurt having a taste and mouth feel roughly equivalent to an industrial adhesive) it comes with sweetened fruit jelly admixed or on the bottom.

Whither the full-fat option?! While I will purchase the non-fat Chobani with the blueberry concoction on the bottom for snacks and such, I would also like to buy the good-tasting stuff with the fat in it! Fat is delicious! Why has our country’s perverse inability to eat like sane, moderate healthy eaters robbed me of even the availability of the yummy stuff??!?!? I eat chopped vegetables drizzled with walnut oil for lunch pretty much every day so I can indulge in the consumption of animal fats from time to time without worrying about it!

I want the full-fat Greek yogurt with the honey on it, America! You don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to, but why can I no longer find it on the shelves of my grocery store, you dessert-ruining martinets?!? AAAAIIIIEEEEE!!!

So that’s this week’s Question — what trends in this country have ruined something you like? What was going along perfectly well before American popular culture loused it up? And where the hell can I get some decent Greek yogurt around here?

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110 thoughts on “Stupid Tuesday questions, lactobacillus edition

  1. Dairy fats get a bum rap. Milk from cows that eat what cows would naturally eat is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, it’s delicious, and wonderful.

    There are problems with industrial milk that disturb me, but I’m of the opinion that it’s not just what you eat that matters, it’s what you eat ate, be it the foods supplied by the happy farmer, the fertilizers on the field, or the microbes both good and bad in the system.

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  2. Letterman’s show.

    I was in college when it first came on, and it was pretty far off the mainstream radar. No one really stated up that late to watch TV. Back then Letterman couldn’t get big stars, and more often than not couldn’t get enough minor ones to pad an entire show. So it was almost a parody of a talk show, where they’d bring in guests like NY cab drivers or shoe shine men, or that guy from some crappy lounge that billed himself as The Peruvian Elvis, could barely speak English, and looked and sounded about as unlike Elvis as you could get. Most of the bands that played were indies that had yet to break through, but who a show producer had seen at a club the previous weekend and really liked.

    Then after about two years, America discovered Dave and he became a ratings hit. Suddenly all the stars wanted to be on the show, and in a short time it became The Tonight Show 2 with better occasional gags and a Top 10 list.

    Since then, all of the other “edgy” talk shows have tried in one way or another to be different versions of The Tonight Show just like Letterman became. I wish someone would come along and try to recreate something like the original Letterman.

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    • Yeah Letterman was great in the 80’s. His show was like the slightly naughty clubhouse for college kids. That really was his special niche; odd comedy bits, weird real life type people and subtle mocking the talk show format.

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    • What made the show feel even more subversive in the 80s was Letterman’s own midwestern modesty. He often had sexologist “Doctor Ruth” on his show, but couldn’t bring himself to discuss sexual topics without extreme (and endearing embarassment).

      Beyond his engaging neuroticism, I have always been fond of Letterman’s innate decency. His talk shows (Late Night, and his even earlier morning talk show on NBC) were deconstructions of the increasing vapidity of popular entertainment and emerging celebrity culture. By creating a fanciful and almost surreal version of the existing talk shows, he was actually making biting–and morally incisive–commentary on the rest of media (much as the Daily Show does today).

      I was in college in 1981-82, when Late Night first hit the air (and what an improvement on Tom Snyder that was!). And it was like an extended inside joke that only a few got. It was worth staying up for (a sidenote to those younger OrdinaryTimers: you used to have to watch television when it was broadast!!!).

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  3. Seeking to avoid my deep fondness for the robust flavors from Italian cuisine, I’ll answer instead: ramen. Had some at the local Japanese restaurant one night I didn’t feel like sushi, and I’ve loved it ever since.

    For most Americans, “ramen” conjures up images of low-quality instant noodles, cooked quickly in boiling water, with incredible amounts of salt and bizarrely sweet bits of dried vegetable. It’s what college students sustain their existence upon because each meal costs fifteen cents.

    Not so the good stuff. Tender fresh noodles and large hunks of thin-sliced meat in a pork or fish broth are a marvelous meal.

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  4. I don’t know if this comes under the heading of “trends that ruined something you like’, but a few ago I needed a new pair of glasses and all I could find were those tiny little rectangular ones that would not work for me. I wear bifocals with the bottom lens set for arms distance and that made them so small that I could not see out of them. Plus, I thought the style itself had all the appeal of a green persimmon.
    If you are wondering why I have the bottoms set for arms length, think computer screens and reading tape measures. When I read books I take my glasses off and if I am work and need to see something up close I look over the top of my glasses.
    I have never tried Greek yogurt, but I have been eating plain yogurt with honey for years and love, love, love it.

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  5. One of my biggest pet peeves is the tendency toward “natural” additives in everything, especially cleaning and hygiene products. I’m allergic to a lot of fragrances and worse, I am allergic to aloe. It is ridiculously difficult to buy soap, lotion, dish soap, etc without aloe or some other bullsh*t natural oil that I’m allergic to. Not to mention things like kleenex (I suppose more correctly, facial tissue) with lotion and/or aloe.
    Then companies screw around with the formula of their product, and previously safe products for me become oh-yes-anaphylaxis-is-fun experiences. I have since learned to read ingredients *every* time I buy something, since formula can change without the front labelling changing (i.e. “now with aloe!” or whatever on the front).

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  6. At this point, I don’t notice a difference between most commercially available Greek yogurt and the regular stuff. That is likely the result of the fat-free-ification, a connection I didn’t make until reading this piece.

    Generally speaking, I’m oblivious to trends. Not above trends or beyond trends or ahead of the trend… just oblivious. I am not immune from the impact of trends — I just tend not to consciously make decisions with regards to them, either in favor or in opposition.

    For instance, I got into hummus about 8 years ago. This came about from working with a crunchy vegan who regularly brought it into the classroom. I greatly enjoyed it and would pick it up for myself from time to time. Living in Manhattan, it was readily available. However, it was also becoming more and more popular. This means when I moved to the suburbs of DC, it was still readily available. The trend had hit and I consumed more hummus than I might have had it not. Not because I was riding the trend; but because the trend allowed me to follow in it’s wake. So that is an instance of a trend benefitting me.

    I can’t really think of a trend that killed something I loved. I remember PBR being our cheap beer of choice in college for a while. It was tastier than the more ubiquitous Busch Light and didn’t make you hate yourself like Beast Ice. Once it became the hipster beer du jour, it ceased to be cheap. But I never really loved PBR. It just filled a need.

    I do have some real issues with the trend toward increasingly skinny leg pants for men — a real issue for someone with a narrow waist/hip area but meaty thighs — but I wouldn’t call pants something I love; I merely tolerate them.

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    • They’re nice for cycling – you don’t have to remember to tuck your pants into your sock. With the general trend toward narrower ankles, you can be wearing pants of an appropriate style for whatever you’re doing at your destination, rather than looking like that weirdo at the opera in a cycling costume.

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      • Allow me to clarify. I don’t object to a tailored fit or to others wearing skinny jeans. To each their own. And I think dressier (even casual dressy) slacks look better with a bit more tailoring. But when I walk into JCrew and see “Slim”, “Urban Slim”, “Vintage Slim”, and “Slimmer Still!” but can’t find “Regular”, “Straight”, or “Relaxed”, I grow frustrated. I’m not a huge guy. I range between a 32-inch and 34-inch waist. But because I have thicker thighs (the product of years of working out to rid myself of my chicken legs), lots of these new-fangled pants look like spandex on me.

        No one owes me pants that fit better and I can certainly find them elsewhere. It’s just harder at the stores I tend to shop at nowadays because they’re catering to a different body type than I possess.

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      • I totally get that – popular culture hasn’t wrecked pants, just the kind you like. Totally legit. In a few years, I’m sure I will be the one complaining that I can’t find pants I like.

        I have a different problem – I don’t think of my self as all that skinny, but most clothing stores don’t have pants slim enough for me. Generally the racks go from a 30 to a 40-something waist. In most brands, I fit a 28. In shirts, for whatever reason, I’m not even at the far end of the rack – there’s a whole section of shirts that would be much too small.

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  7. Enough Americans seem allergic to butter, onion, & garlic that I find most American-sourced Italian food to be quite bland. Sure, one can overdo it with those 3, but most places aren’t even trying.

    Lately, in my parents group, a lot of our pediatricians are recommending that the kids start switching to 2% milk instead of whole milk. None of the kids are overweight or even in significant danger of becoming so, yet doctors are pushing for this. I don’t get it. Dairy fat contributes to feeling satisfied. The less fat you have in a dairy product, the more you have to consume to feel satisfied. Bug is still on whole milk and he only goes on milk drinking binges when he’s having a growth spurt. Otherwise it’s maybe a glass a day. Plus whole fat yogurt (Stoneyfield Vanilla is his favorite).

    Fat is good, or at least, it isn’t bad.

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  8. Bottlecap wine.

    I’m told that bottlecaps are perfectly appropriate for wines that are intended to be drunk within a few days or weeks of the time of purchase and they’re really only inappropriate for wines that are purchased with the intention of aging them for more than 10 years.

    I still feel like a hobo.

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    • That’s all correct, though. You wouldn’t believe the amount of effort and technology that’s been put in to screw caps for wine bottles. For an everyday white that you’re going to refrigerate and drink next week, no problem at all.

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      • So let me ask… if I buy a bottle of naturally corked wine… does that have a more-or-less infinite shelf life if it is stored properly (on it’s side in a wide fridge with a translucent window)? Or does it depend on the wine itself? The logic goes that wine gets better with age, but I’ve certainly opened bottles that have taken a turn for vinegar.

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      • If I may speak out of my butt for a moment, I’d guess that most wine that I buy is intended to be imbibed within a month or so of purchase… cork or bottlecap or synthetic cork or whatever.

        This is because most of the wine that I buy is somewhere between $8 and $18.

        I imagine that the wines that cost “Really? That much?” are the ones who would be best kept in a warm, dry place and turned a quarter turn every six months.

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      • Most corked red wines will last 4-5 years before starting to sour; whites 2-3 years. A lot of bottles will last longer, but those numbers I find are generally safe. Really expensive or very old wines I know little to nothing about.

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      • It depends on the wine, and it’s not true that wine always gets better with age ad infinitum – in fact, the majority of wines are best to drink young. Even in the relatively rare instance where you’ve got a bottle worth aging, there’s a point at which further aging doesn’t do much of anything beyond creating the novelty of drinking something that was produced ages ago.

        Regardless of whether and how long it’s worth aging, though, if it’s properly corked and properly stored, it shouldn’t ever turn to vinegar.

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      • Thanks, . The particular bottle I’m thinking of was a white that was at least five years old and had to survive two separate moves. It makes sense if its best days were behind it. My wife received it as a gift from a patient she treated and wanted to save it. We finally cracked it open and were disappointed. We’ve opted to save the bottle as a memento but not before an icy stare I sent her way to communicate that her sentimentality doomed us yet again!

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    • Boxed wine is probably better if you’re going to keep it for a month or two.
      A lot of europeans drink it — because they’re used to alcohol being a beverage that’s “everyday”.

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    • A couple years ago a bike trip in the Czech Republic we stopped at a small winery that was very popular with the locals. They didn’t put any sort of preservatives in the wine, it was all meant to be consumed within weeks of being sold, so it was dispensed into generic, screw top plastic bottles. The bottle only really matters if the wine is going to be kept for a long time.

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    • Corks have a quite high failure rate – something in the 1-5% range. Those are the bottles where the cork just doesn’t seal properly, and the wine ends up all musty.

      Screwcaps have a failure rate of practically zero.

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  9. Light yogurt is quite possibly the greatest health advance of our generation, at least for some of us. The yogurt cultures make a significant difference in my digestion. I try to never miss having yogurt for breakfast or lunch. The benefits are dramatic.

    The fact that it tastes great and is low in calories is frickin awesome. I should have bought stock in Yoplait (and for an occasional treat I eat Liberte brand, especially the coconut flavored, which is almost as good as the stuff sold in France.)

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  10. What trends in this country have ruined something you like?

    Inner Jimmy comes roaring out big time: “All of them have ruined everything!”

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  11. Sugared gum, for Chrissake! The only decent gum I can find without artificial sweeteners is when a store hasn’t eliminated all their Chiclets packets yet. Yes, you can sometimes find sickly-sweet Hubba-Bubba or the like, but why can’t I have regular, sugared Juicy Fruit and Big Red just like I grew up with?

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  12. Car engines.
    With the recent CAFE increases, 6 cylinder engines and greater are rarely available, and if so, are usualy put in very expensive cars.

    After driving a 4 cylinder car and a 6, I’ll opt for the better torque and accelleration any time. In my six, it still have legs cruising at highway speed should I punch it. With my old 4, I’d have to drop it down two gears to get any torque.

    And back up cameras.

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    • I suspect we’ll see more cars offered with the idle pistons* in the future, same with idle engine shutoff**.

      *When half the cylinders stop fueling & firing during cruise

      **When the engine shuts off when the car comes to a stop for more than a few seconds, then restarts when you hit the gas.

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      • Variable Displacement engines have been around since the early 80s, & Start-Stop systems since the early 70’s. It has only been since the early 2000’s, when consumer demand (thanks to rising fuel prices) combined with the decline in the cost of the associated technology to make such features marketable to the consumer automotive market.

        I think technology that is 30-40 years old can be considered almost mature.

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      • Well the electric car has been around for one hundred years but still isn’t economically feasible for most activities, so I’m not convinced. Has this technology been INSTALLED on vehicles for all this time? Has it been working on long haul trucks?

        Here’s what I mean. BMW has replaced a lot of their 6 cylinder engines with 4 cylinder twin turbo engines. Turbos and 4 cylinders have been around for a long time. This doesn’t mean that this particular combo or installation is going to be less expensive to maintain that the conventional inline 6. The reason for the twin turbo/4 cylinder, which includes auto shutoff as well, is the CAFE standards. Since the design is to meet that goal, it doesn’t follow automatically that the car engine will be less expensive to maintain.

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      • First, both options I mentioned are just that, options. Neither has been mandated specifically. They are, as you said, a way to meet CAFE standards while not having to fit each car with a 3-Cylinder Atkinson cycle engine. To be honest, such things would happen anyway as the cost of fuel goes up (TWSBDA). Remember that a good chunk of the world does not keep fuel prices artificially low like the US does.

        Second, both options have been in the fleets in some capacity for ten years now.

        Finally, a good measure of a systems reliability is warranty coverage. Both Chysler & GM cover the complete powertrain for 5 years / 100K Miles, and I didn’t see anything excluding Variable Displacement or Start-Stop, so they are at least confident that such systems will not significantly add to the maintenance costs of the vehicle in the first 5 years of ownership.

        I mean, if we just look at raw numbers from one year to the next, the cost of ownership of cars is always on the rise, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest that either system is significantly increasing that cost, & even if they do cost more to maintain, that cost has to be weighed against fuel savings.

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  13. Sometimes you just want a nice and juciy medium rare hamburger with fries and kethcup or BBQ sauce and not something super-artisnal with an aioli.

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    • People who gush over aioli but turn their nose up at mayonnaise deserve an ice pick through the temple.

      This might be a uniquely NY thing, but this argument comes up with pizza all the time. I love many varieties of gourmet pizza. Top notch brick oven pizza can be amazing. An artisan margarita pie can be a thing of beauty. But so too can a $2.25 piece of slice pizza. They each have their niche. And when you’re craving that slice, crisped up from a second go-around in the oven to reheat it, neither of the other two will suffice. Yet it is so often overlooked when people make their “Top Pizzas” list because, well, it’s $2.25 a pop.

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  14. Five Guys. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I used to live around the corner from the original Five Guys, back when they just had two or three restaurants in NoVa and were under the original ownership. When they sold to the current owners and started expanding throughout the DC Metro Area, they got crazy popular crazy fast, but for the first couple of years it was all just as good as the original joints.

    But at some point it got too popular and quality had to suffer a little. It’s still better than most burger joints, but it’s not quite the same experience. The first thing to go was Stewart’s Root Beer. Washing a greasy burger and fries down with a Stewart’s is one of the great pleasures in life, and almost no one has Stewart’s from the fountain – Five Guys was the exception, but no longer.

    Also, nowadays, when you order a small fry, they don’t overload the cup nearly as much as they used to, so if you’re expecting that someone’s going to ask you to share, there’s actually a reason to order the large fry. And the burgers themselves, while still never worse than perfectly acceptable, are far less consistent from visit to visit and store to store.

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    • Cosign with this. BTW, both of the earliest two locations (the one at Columbia Pike/Glebe, and the one at Walter Reed Dr/Beauregard//Leesburg Pike/King) are now closed.

      I’m lamenting that Ben’s Chili Bowl seems to be going to same route, now expanding into (the super trendy yuppie part of) NoVa.

      (there’s still the Weenie Beanie, though)

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  15. 1) Right there with you on the greek yogurt.
    2) Greek Gods Athena, while STILL NOT FATTY ENOUGH, is both fattier than most everything else (2 percent i think) and easy enough to doctor with your own stuff… plus not too sweet to start with, so it works better with the honey or whatever else you want to throw in there. i used to eat it every day. (then i found noosa, which is australian culture yogurt made in colorado. five percent fat or so. YES I SAID FIVE PERCENT. willing to give up the greek cultures for that.)

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  16. I don’t really pay attention to whether the yogourt I’m buying is “Greek” “Balkan Style” or just “Plain” – I just get whatever has the most fat. 11% is the most I can generally find in the grocery stores in my range.

    When visiting a friend’s place in Montreal, I wandered into a Persian grocery store, and got an absolutely heavenly yogourt there. It wasn’t pre-packaged, just in a big tray in the chilled display case. It was almost as thick as a cream cheese. If I lived there, I would eat an awful lot of the stuff…

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      • It’s really not the same thing. Good rich yogourt with fruit and muesli is one of my favourite breakfasts. I really don’t think that would work with sour cream.

        I do use rich yogourt in place of sour cream because I prefer the taste.

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      • Sour cream, at least as available where I live, tends to have acids and thickeners added as a shortcut to time-consuming bacterial souring. Good quality yogourt without that sort of gunk added is easier for me to find than good quality sour cream.

        Also the bacteria are different (mostly streptococcus strains for sour cream vs. mostly lactobacillus for yogourt) so I would imagine even proper good quality sour cream would be taste quite different.

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      • If you get a chance to get some good Breakstone’s sour cream, pick it up!
        They’re about the only folks that actually set out to make sour cream… the rest are “manufacturing” it as an industrial byproduct.

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      • I don’t know how widely it’s sold, but Nancy’s sour cream is made properly as well. Whole Foods will likely carry your region’s equivalent.

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  17. Sweet Thai curry.

    I think you must be overlooking something with the Greek yogurt, because I know I’ve seen the full-fat kind. Plain, full-fat yogurt is rarely sold in individual packs, but rather in pint or quart packages. I forget the brand name, but it has a pseudo-Greek font.

    Have you tried regular full-fat yogurt? I prefer it to Greek yogurt, which I find too thick due to the straining.

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    • I used to go to a Korean-run Japanese restaurant where they had “sushi” with plain rice. The other food was pretty good, though.

      What’s the deal with that, anyway? Why are so many Japanese restaurants run by Koreans?

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      • Most are actually run by Chinese. The reason why few are run by Japanese is that you don’t really have that many new Japanese immigrants to the United States. The Japanese-American community is established enough and old enough that most of them are out of the ethnic restaurant business, which tends to be dominated by recent immigrants. Its the same reason why authentic Jewish delis are also rare these days. On the West Coast, you get more than a few Japanese restaurants run by Japanese people because of a higher concention of Japanese people.

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      • Just wanted to say:
        anyone bitching about someone’s food, simply because of their ethnicity, is being racist.
        If you’re getting the food wrong because you aren’t black/Korean/Jewish, that’s a different story.

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      • So, saying things like “I don’t like Chinese vegetarian food because a lot of the time, it is just rice with 3 different varieties of boiled cabbage” is racist even if it is factually true? That is to say if most of the affordable Chinese veg food is unpalatable to me, actually saying so is racist?

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  18. I started making my own yogurt a few years back as an experiment after reading this article in Slate and the corresponding NYT article they link to. It’s surprisingly easy to make a half gallon of it at a time and the quality improvement is immense compared to store bought. I can drain the yogurt in a coffee filter to whatever consistency I want (from runny to greek to cream cheese). Granted, it’s never going to be as convenient as buying it at the store, but it might be worth a try if you’re having trouble finding the good stuff.

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    • We make yoghurt at home by the gallon everyday. If you’ve gotten proficient with yoghurt making, you could make the low fat stuff by starting with low fat milk. But you probably need to wrap a towel around so that it keeps temperature better.

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