One time, I went to a small restaurant in Italy. And after my meal, I got to talking with the owner. And he told me about his family pasta tradition. They're a family of real purists. "I don't just buy a gallon of olive oil from Costco. I make the oil myself, from the finest olives in all of Italy. The way my family's been doing it for 15 generations. And when I make tomato sauce, I don't just put the tomatoes in a food processor. I mash them with my elbows, the traditional Italian way. My family's been mashing tomatoes with our elbows for 35 generations. And I don't buy pasta from anyone. I make it myself. I even mill the wheat. And grow it. With my own two Italian hands. My own Italian sweat and blood goes into that soil. And the entire time, I sing our family pasta anthem. 'Pasta, pasta--la, la, la, la. / Pasta, pasta--la, la, la, la.' And I fertilize the soil with my Italian cows' Italian shit. This is the way my family has been doing it for 75 generations. I'm not even going to tell you what we do for our oregano, but let me just say this: it involves petting a donkey, and putting a cherry in my nose. I take the oregano, the pasta, the tomato sauce, and the olive oil--and put it all together, according to my family recipe. If I don't do all of the elbow mashing, and the donkey petting, and the singing, and the milling, and the sweating, and the bleeding, the pasta's not going to taste the way it should. When I make the pasta, I become one with the pasta. The pasta is me, and I'm the pasta. When someone bites into the pasta, I want him to feel like he's biting into all of me, and all of Italy. I want to make him addicted to the pasta. Italian food must be authentic. I serve authentic Italian food, the way my family's been making it for 374 generations.When I was 2 years old, my pappa taught me how to make this pasta. He passed down the recipe to me. His pappa passed it down to him. His pappa passed it down to him. His name was Francesco. My name is Francesco. Everyone's name is Francesco. My great great grandfather Francesco had a wooden flower he carried everywhere. He was a lunatic. But he made the best pasta in town. So did my great grandfather Francesco, and my grandfather Francesco, and my father Francesco, and me, Francesco. 1,345 generations of Francescos making authentic Italian pasta."
Then that man's son told him, "Father, I'm going to America. I got a job there." [Father:] "A job? What do you mean, Francesco? A job doing what?" [Son:] "I'm going to manage an Olive Garden restaurant." [Father:] "What?" [Son:] "The Olive Garden. You know. It's an American chain of Italian restaurants. They have all you can eat breadsticks."
That was a year ago. The police are still trying to find Francesco, Jr.'s body.
When I go to the Olive Garden, I really get into it. Even though I'm not Italian, I tear up and say, "Finally--I'm back in the motherland. Signore--give me your best table." And I talk to the employees like I know them. "Francesco--how you doing? How's Gina?" [Employee:] "Uh--my name's Jim." [Me:] "Whatever, Francesco. Just tell Gina I said hi. OK?" And then I sit down at a table, and I sing Dean Martin's Greatest Hits. "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that's amore..."
Or sometimes I do the exact opposite. I walk into an Olive Garden, and I act like the very concept of Italian food is entirely new to me. "Eye-talians have their own food? This should be interesting." I'm fascinated by everything I come across, and I ask a lot of questions. "What exactly is this P-A-S-T-A that you guys got?" [Waiter:] "Sir--it's pasta." [Me:] "What's that?" [Waiter:] "Pasta. You know. Spaghetti. Noodles." [Me:] "Oh--it's noodles. And what is this fetta-seen thing?" [Waiter:] "Fettuccine. It's a kind of pasta." [Me:] "What was pasta again?" [Waiter:] "Noodles." [Me:] "OK. Sounds good. I'll take some of that fetta-seen. By the way--what the hell is wrong with your beer? It's red, and has no bubbles in it." [Waiter:] "Sir--that's wine." [Me:] "Pasta, noodles, wine, beer. I don't care what type of Eye-talian name you give something. This beer tastes awful. And what's this square thing next to my plate?" [Waiter:] "Sir--that's a napkin."
The Ming and Song Dynasties
In America, hardly anyone cares about Chinese culture. Except in the case of Chinese food. "I don't want to hear about the Ming or Song Dynasties, unless you're talking about Ming Fried Rice or Song Chow Mein. If I can't eat it, I don't want to know about it. I read menus, and burn history books."
People love eating Chinese food. And they also love ordering it. The dish names are fun to say. "Let's see. We'll have the beef chow mein, chicken lo mein, egg foo yung, kung fu chung, beef fried rice, coke with ice, bring us forks, moo shoo pork, fifteen bowls of won ton soup, poo poo platter, hold the poop... and some fortune cookies."
And in China, people love going to KFC and McDonald's, and ordering American food. "Ching shei nah shan sei Big Mac / Biscuits, gravy, Jumbo Jack / Coca cola, chocolate shakes / Extra Crispy stuff mai faice / Pigs' feet, cow legs, chicken ears / Yankee Doodle, Britney Spears / Shing nao Beijing chop stick drink / Egg McMuffin, kitchen sink / Shanghai, Bruce Lee, hot pie, iced tea / Ice cube, ice ice, cocoa, white rice / Black beans, black tea, ginseng, bank fee / Give me French fries, super size me / Cluck cluck, moo moo, ruff meow / Jimmy Carter, Chairman Mao / Pig li wig li, tur ki jer ki / Fun ni moo vi, Eddie Murphy."
Little known fact: If you spend an hour in a Chinese restaurant and you don't eat anything, you'll still end up inhaling 500 milligrams of secondhand MSG.
Some people are very proud of the fact that they don't use chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant. "The hell with you and your Chinese customs! I'm talking about good ol' American efficiency and ingenuity. Fork. Spoon. Knife. Those are as American as red, white, and blue. You guys should learn from this." Then he tells the waiter, "Come here, Chang. Are you watching this? No sticks for me. I spear, scoop, and cut my food. This is what gets results. This is what we do in America. It's no wonder you Chinese people are so underweight. You have to do an entire workout just to eat a bowl of rice."
Some Chinese restaurants have really strange fortunes in their fortune cookies. "You will tip your waiter 40%. Or you will end up with a flat tire on your way home. Take your choice. It's one or the other." "You will save 25% on your car insurance by visiting ConfuciusInsurance.com." "Your waiter pee-peed in the poo-poo platter."
As for me, I don't believe in all of that fortune cookie nonsense. I mean, how is a cookie supposed to tell my future if it doesn't know I'm an Aquarius?"
Bacon For Breakfast
I'm really fascinated by the history of food. How does a country's food become a country's food?
What made people in ancient China think, "You know what? These noodles and rice and egg rolls and tofu seem really Chinese. I think we found our foods. This is Chinese food. And that bologna sandwich isn't Chinese food. Bologna is bullshit, and sandwiches are bullshit."
And what's the deal with airplane food? Actually, never mind that.
What's the deal with English food? How did that get started? Hundreds of years ago, a few English people were sitting around eating lunch, and they said, "This plain chicken is tasty. My taste buds are enjoying it. I don't like that. Instead of just eating chicken, let's spend a few hours making some sort of chicken pie that tastes like an old newspaper soaked in rotten sheep's milk." Then when they made that pie and tasted it, they said, "Now this is English food. It has a nice, rich, vomit inducing flavor that makes me feel English. Plain, tasty chicken is bullshit."
In America, food history isn't nearly as illogical. For example, here's the history of a popular dish known as fried butter. One day several years ago, some guy in Texas said, "Butter is bullshit. It's too lean. I'm going to deep fry it, so it'll reach an acceptable fat level. And I'll also eat it with bacon and sausage for breakfast. Go Cowboys!"
I think the most interesting part of food history has to do with the introduction of bacon and sausage into our breakfasts. That started in the 1920s. Before then, breakfasts were much different. Some guy got up at 5 am, planted some seeds, built a shed, chopped down a few trees, built a shed, tamed a horse, built a shed, shoed a mule, and built a shed by 8 am. And when someone asked him, "What did you have for breakfast this morning?" he said, "Oatmeal and water. With a side of dirt. I don't have time to talk to you. I got to go build another shed."
But nowadays, a lot of people get up at 8 am, start off their day with bacon, sausage, eggs, and milk--and they don't build any sheds. Instead, they go to an office, sit at a desk, stare at a screen, and occasionally walk over to the vending machine for a snack. We switched from oatmeal to animal fat, and went from building sheds to sitting in front of a computer and drinking carbonated sugar water. I think there should be Public Service Announcements on TV each morning that say, "You just ate 700 calories of bacon and sausage for breakfast--and the smoke detector in your den is out of battery, and has been beeping once a minute for the last two days. If you're not going to chop some wood or build a shed, at least change that battery."
We're busy trying to incorporate fatty pork into everything we can. We don't just stop at breakfast. "Put bacon in that burger. Crumble bacon on that mushroom. Stuff that jalapeno with bacon. Wrap that remote control in bacon. Fill your wallet with bacon. Insulate your home with bacon. Sell high and buy bacon. Fire Kevin Cosnter and hire Kevin Bacon. The United States of Bacon. O say can you see bacon? Hey Moe--can you fry bacon? Hey Jude--don't make a salad. Make some bacon. A lot of bacon. A B C D E F Bacon. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Bacon. Knowledge is power, Francis Bacon. Some bacon a day keeps the cabbage away. When in Bacon, do as the Bacons bacon. When at Costco, buy 20 pounds of bacon. I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on my motherfucking bacon!"
We eat all of that bacon. And yet, we have the nerve to use an expression like "Eat like a pig"--as if pigs are the ones with an eating problem. Even Oscar Mayer himself must think we've gone a bit too far down bacon lane. He's tempted to put out an ad that says, "Bacon. It's good. But don't get carried away. A few times a week, put down the bacon and pick up a piece of fruit. And don't wrap it in bacon."
Some of the things we do to food are pretty amazing. Something starts off as a baked potato. "How about we put some butter on it. And cheese. And bacon. And sour cream. Let's also give it a tummy tuck, lip injection, spray on tan, nose job, and some breast implants. I'm thinking a c-cup. There we go. Potato skins. That'll make a great appetizer."
And what's the deal with movie theater popcorn? Actually, never mind that.
What's the deal with appetizers? We eat some pre-food food before we eat food--and that gets us in the mood to eat more food than we normally would. I think any time someone eats appetizers, he should be forced to call up some poor person in a third world country, and say, "Hi--my name is John Smith, I'm eating potato skins with bacon as an appetizer, and I'm an asshole. With a 38 inch waist. And apparently, I'm on a mission to make that 39 inches as soon as possible."
Sometimes we also have pre-appetizers like bread and butter. I think that should be illegal. What if restaurants served carrots instead of bread and butter? People would say, "Carrots? What are we--rabbits in a cage? Get these carrots away from us, and give us a basket of grain--like we're pigs in a pen. Feed us like hogs--not bunnies."
We don't just eat appetizers and bread to stimulate our appetite. They're what we eat while we wait to eat. It's like restaurants are saying, "You can have bread while you're waiting for your appetizers, and appetizers while you're waiting for your entree--and after you're done with your entree, you can have dessert while you're waiting for your death from diabetes. Or instead of all of that, you can speed up the process by ordering our 'Three Bullets to the Head' special. A chef will come out here and use a deep fried gun to shoot you three times--and then he'll sprinkle some freshly ground pepper on your corpse. Would you like to see a tombstone list?"
In a lot of cities, the department of health gives each restaurant an A through F health rating that's posted at the restaurant's entrance, where everyone can see it. I'm always puzzled when I see a rating less than A. How come the owner doesn't just make his restaurant cleaner, so he won't have to display a B or C on his front window? What does he tell his employees? "Bob--stop mopping so much. Around here, we don't mop and then mop some more. We mop, and then we stop. Now go inhale some pepper, and sneeze on a few plates. A C rating is good enough for my customers. They'll take that C, and they'll enjoy it. The hell with them." Some waiters prefer working for a C restaurant, and having looser standards. They think, "I don't want to work at one of those uppity restaurants where I have to wear shoes, and I'm not allowed to blow my nose in the menus." And then they tell customers, "Hi--my name is Tim, I haven't washed my hands in 3 days, and I'll be your waiter."
Sometimes during your meal, a waiter asks, "Is everything OK?" And I tell him, "The food is great--but I need you to change your personality, so you'll be more like that Columbian girl on Modern Family. It's not that I don't like your personality. It just doesn't go with my red meat, white potatoes, red wine, black tie, red underwear, and pink Trapper Keeper."
After a good meal, I pay the chef a visit and personally compliment him. "That was by far and away the best pasta I've ever had in my life." And then a month later, I pay him another visit and tell him, "I gained ten pounds, asshole. What the hell did you put in that pasta?"
One thing I've learned about food is that if you have one or two knives and your pepper came out of a shaker, that's dining; but if you have six or seven knives and your pepper was ground a few seconds ago, that's fine dining--and if you have one or two knives and one or two guns and you're eating at Waffle House, you might be a redneck. Even if your cinnamon is freshly ground.
Most people eat like absolute savages. For instance, 95% of the population uses the same knife for butter and non-butter purposes. Unbelievable! That would be like using the same butler to wash your Bentley and iron your pajamas. At my estate, you'll never catch me doing anything like that. I won't even let my pajama-ironing butler within a hundred yards of my Bentley. " Dman it, Jeeves. Stay away from that Bentley. Just keep on ironing my pajamas."
When McDonald's is trying to come up with new recipes, they tell their chefs, "We have very high standards here at McDonald's. All of our ingredients have to taste good. They have to be cheap. And they have to look like food." And then someone asks, "Do they have to be food?" [McDonalds:] "No. What does this look like--Wolfgang Puck's? This is McDonald's. We don't care if you use bacon, bagel mold, banana peels, stiletto heels, or Bangladeshi firecrackers. As long as it tastes good, it's cheap, and it looks like food."
I think the most interesting thing about the McDonald's menu is that it has a double cheeseburger, it has a bacon cheeseburger--but it doesn't have a double bacon cheeseburger. McDonald's has test marketed that item plenty of times. "Do you guys want double bacon cheeseburgers on the menu?" And we keep on saying, "No. We do want bacon cheeseburgers and double cheeseburgers. But once you raise the stakes to five pieces of bacon, three buns, two beef patties, and two slices of cheese, that's where we draw the line." America has rejected the double bacon cheeseburger over and over again, in favor of the plain old double cheeseburger and bacon cheeseburger. I think that's what the Buddha meant by the Middle Path of moderation. He said, "Find the Middle Path between not enough sleep and too much sleep, underwork and overwork, a burger and a double bacon cheeseburger, and a line of cocaine and a mountain of cocaine."
What are meetings like at McDonald's headquarters? [Executive 1:] "Every year, we're selling the average person $30 of food they basically shouldn't be eating. Now let's figure out a way to make that $31. Everyone sit down and think." [Executive 2:] "How about we offer a mashed breakfast containing Egg McMuffins, hash browns, coffee, and a little tobacco? We'll make babies start off their day with their daily requirements of nicotine, caffeine, and whatever the hell we put in our McMuffins." [Executive 3:] "That's good. But is there any way we can make it so that we also whip the baby's back, and kill a kitten?" [Executive 1:] "How's that going to increase our profits?" [Executive 3:] "It's not. I just figured it would be fun. It seems very consistent with our company culture." [Executive 1:] "Um. That seems a little excessive. I mean, if you can make it profitable to whip babies and kill kittens, then we'll do it. But otherwise, it's off limits."
What is it like when someone aplies for a job at McDonald's headquarters? [Interviewer:] "Where did you last work?" [Applicant:] "I worked for the Taliban." [Interviewer:] "The Taliban?" [Applicant:] "Yes. I was part of their Department of Propaganda. I made Afghani children believe what the Taliban wanted them to believe." [Interviewer:] "OK. This interview is over. If you're good enough for the Taliban, you're good enough for McDonald's. You're going to be part of our Department of Propaganda a.k.a. Marketing--where you'll spend eight hours a day convincing three year olds to eat more fries. But before you actually work for us, you're gonna have to go to an orphanage and steal some of their books." [Applicant:] "Why?" [Interviewer:] "Company policy. If you're unwilling to steal books from an orphanage, you're not good enough for McDonald's."
Then a few months later, there are ten former Taliban members working for McDonald's. And they tell the company, "The Taliban wants us back very badly. They offered us $200,000 each--plus free dental." [McDonald's:] "Damn Taliban. That's it. We're going to war against those assholes. We'll send over a few McMissiles, and a McFlurry of ass whooping. "
As it is right now, McDonald's uses toys and a playground to attract children to the place. I think child molesters are taking notes. "Fries, toys, and a slide. I'm going to put those in my van--along with a sign on the outside that says, 'Billions and billions of children molested.'"
The thing I hate most about McDonald's is that I have to set my alarm for 10 AM, just so I can get there early enough to have breakfast--as if I'm in the McMilitary or something. "General McDonald. I'm reporting for duty."
I also hate McDonald's Mcpricing. A few days ago, I ordered an Egg McMuffin extra value meal and an additional McMuffin--and they charged me full Mcprice for the second McMuffin! So I told the McManager how their McPricing is McMathematically incorrect, and how the extra value meal McDiscount should extend to the Mcsecond McMuffin. I McPresented the McEquation "Discount (sandwich 1 + side order 1 + drink 1 + sandwich 2)." McBut McShe McSaid, "If you want to get a discount on the second McMuffin, you have to order a second extra value meal." McAnd McI McMcTold McMcMcHer, "McMcYouMc Mcguys Mcgive free McRefills. McWhatMcMc McAmMcMcMcMcMc McI McSupposed McTo McDo Mcwith McMcMcMcA McSecond McCoffee? McPour McIt McOver McMcMcMcMcMcMy McHeadMcMcMcMcMc McWhile McI'mMcMcMc McDrinkingMcMc McMcMcMcThe McMcMcMcMcFirstMcMcMcMcMc McMcMcCoffeeMcMc?"
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