Chowhounds

I want to be a culinary chameleon and just enjoy every end of every spectrum possible. I’ve drunk really expensive Bordeaux and I’ve also drunk the best banana milkshake in Brooklyn, and I feel whole for experiencing that spectrum.

Jim Leff on Open Source

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Jim Leff [snapshotartifact.org]

“I eat to live. I live to eat. I eat to eat more.” Those are the words of a true chowhound.

If your desk drawers are bursting with takeout menus, if you have the stamina to eat at five different restaurants in one night, if you have the willingness to eat boatloads of bad food in the quest for that one tasty treasure, consider yourself a chowhound.

Most of us who reside somewhere between “eating to live,” and “living to eat,??? might not recognize that there is a difference between a “foodie” and a “chowhound,” but the ultimate chowhound, Jim Leff, offers a distinction

Foodies eat where they’re told. They get excited about the hot new restaurant/cookbook/ingredient. They’ll go to unfamiliar neighborhoods to eat, but only with their Zagat securely in hand to guide them to The Accepted Places. Chowhounds, by contrast, are iconoclasts who spurn trends and established opinion and sniff out secret deliciousness on their own. The places they find and frequent today will show up in newspaper reviews in two years and in Zagat in four (by which time the restaurants usually will have grown crowded, overpriced, and lousy)

Jim Leff, Chowhound, Chowhound.com”

Part of being a chowhound is not merely enjoying food but knowing where and how to find it. Many chowhounds claim that if a stark space has Formica counters and fluorescent lighting then it promises to be a gustatory paradise. If spices are growing in the window chances are you’ve found an invaluable eatery. If you are on the road, the yellow pages is your passport to the wonders of local cuisine.

Jim Leff of Chowhound.comwill be joining us this hour to discuss how you can find the best tamales and gumbo and strawberry shortcake in your corner of the world.

What edible traditions have you seen come and go? What delicacies would you put on the endangered species list? What new food is on the horizon? As franchises dominate the world will the chowhounds become extinct? What gustatory gems have you uncovered? Does the food court near you have the world’s best hot pretzels? Does your corner bakery offer the best cornbread in town? What edible wonders are you pursuing?

Jim Leff

Jim Leff didn’t know it at the time but he actually wrote one of the first food blogs What Jim Had for Dinner. This is now part of his popular website, known as the Zagat guide of the 21st century, www.Chowhound.com. Leff is a food critic who has eaten everything from every corner of the world.

Barry Strugatz

is a writer, director and filmmaker by day but he’s a 24/7 chowhound.

Ali Berlow

is a writer, home cook and weekly commentator on WCAI/WNAN, the Cape and Islands NPR stations.

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  • cheesechowmain

    I am really looking forward to this show! It would be great to hear Calvin Trillin. He is my absolutely favorite writer about food and puts out the quintessential doggerel.

    http://www.powells.com/authors/trillin.html

    Any food that doesn’t pound my taste buds with sodium chloride will get first-among-equals consideration. http://www.saltinstitute.org/teaspoon.html

  • I’m so pleased you’re doing a show on the phenomenon of chowhounds.com, which is to food what Craigslist is to used couches and apartment sublets.

    From a note I wrote about Chowhounds: This one board has deeper and more accurate knowledge of the Boston-area food scene — literally from street vendors with carts to break-the-bank places like Number 9 Park — than any publication in Boston, and it’s on and producing stuff every day. My husband’s birthday — dear God, I forgot to make reservations! Hop on to the board at 4PM, post requirements: excellent food, intelligently prepared, fresh, local ingredients, tables must not be too close together (I kid you not), not too noisy yet not dead, great ambiance. By 6 I had 7 excellent recommendations — I chose one, made reservations, arrangements with the restaurant’s wine steward, came out looking like I had been planning the whole thing for a month.

  • ChelseaM

    Yes, Calvin Trillin! would be a dream. We are trying to get but the chances are slim. He is out of the country on assignment…..eating. All his food adventures are embargoed.

  • If I were going before a firing squad at dawn and could choose a last meal (and the saving grace of facing a firing squad at dawn is that calories, fats, ect. all cease to be issues of consequence) I would want a cheese pesto bun from the Food Co-op in Moscow, Idaho.

    Structurally these buns are made like a giant cinnamon roll only instead of sugar, cinnamon and raisins they are rolled up dough that has been slathered with gobs of pesto and a generous layer of cheddar cheese. As they bake and the cheese melts some of it melts out through the bottom forming little puddles that then become golden crispy cheese bits. Eating one of these is like unrolling a sleeping bag. You can’t do it without getting buttery grease all over your chin and fingers maybe even in your hair and possibly a few bright pesto green grease stains on the front of your T-shirt. But oh, they are divine!

  • cheesechowmain

    Shame about Calvin Trillin having a food adventure embargo. Very sad. A national treasure. Perhaps another time if ROS cannot get him for this show.

    After reading peggysue’s cheese pesto bun comment, I need a smoke (and i don’t even smoke). I like the last meal metaphor, mine: Dal, Nan, Channa Masala, Catfish, Hush-puppies, Mixed green salad, Chocolate hazelnut torte, Red wine, Espresso, and of course, a mr creosote waffer thin after dinner mint. Now I don’t need that smoke!

  • cheesechowmain

    Incidently, the best Taco and Burrito I’ve ever eaten in my life is made by a roach coach parked on the Corner of High & East 14th, Oakland, CA. You get your taco and stand there and watch the traffic go by. It’s Taco Nirvana. It’s been 20+ years ago.

  • OK so after my cheesy bun I’m going to want a perfectly ripe Bartlett pear and songbird friendly organic dark French roast drip coffee with a shot of Bailey’s followed by a hand rolled Drum tobacco ciggarette (havn’t had one in years) or maybe I should save the ciggarette for just before the blindfold goes on.

  • A cool, thick, creamy lassi on a hot afternoon in Yangon (Bo Soon Pat St. + N side of Mahabandoola Rd.). A souvlaki dripping in sadziki from one of the many vendors in the plaka, in the thoughtful shadow of the Acropolis. A hearty thukpa under a blossoming apricot tree in Leh, Ladakh. A hot bowl of ramen in a street-side stall on an icy cold Sapporo night, the steam drifting up from the bowl and mingling with our hot exhales. Mom’s rich chicken noodle soup on a wet winter morning (I’ll keep this place to myself). Often the best food is that of home.

  • Embargoed food adventures! You have got to be kidding me. That’s one thing my acquaintance with y’all has opened my eyes to: the tightfistedness of the publishing world with their precious ideas, and how eager they are to control when authors speak, and how it seems that saying No feels better to them than saying Yes.

    Maybe that’s too harsh. I have no direct experience of it, so you tell me.

  • You know, I actually came in here for something else, something that I’d like everybody’s comments on. Proposition:

    Blog posts with lots of comments do not make the best shows.

    One thing I notice is that blog posts about well-established conflicts (abortion, red vs. blue, Israel v. Palestine, and lesser, transient ones like The Mommy Wars, Walmart Bad/Good) attract a lot of comments.

    However, they attract a lot of comments by people who have already decided what they think and are unlikely to change their minds.

    The airwaves are filled with these nonconversations. All the thinking has already been done before the first moment of the program. You won’t witness any actual thinking, just people declaiming thoughts they had a long time ago. It feels very stale. You also won’t catch people changing their mind.

    If the chances of people changing their minds or having new thoughts during the course of the program is approaching zero, what is it that we are witnessing when we watch or listen to such a show? Is there anything actually happening? Perhaps there’s no There there.

    I like programs where people haven’t already decided what they think about the topic.

    I like programs where I get to listen to someone who has done much much deeper thinking on a topic than I have and can take me there with them.

    I like programs on subjects that can never be “closed” or “won” — like food, music.

    I like programs on things that seem small but upon inspection reveal a vast fascinating inner world (Coffee. Crosswords. There’s whole worlds in there, it’s like Horton Hears a Who times a billion web pages).

  • The writing on food culture is so varied, I’d point to a couple of examples of themes I’ve noticed of late.

    1. Focusing on the worst place one has eaten a given food. I believe that we’re all proprietary about our foods and the highs and lows stick out. A very funny example:

    The Unbearable Thinness of Crust

    That piece is a great hatchet job, an exploration of the worst places to eat pizza. It combines travel writing, atmospherics with acute social commentary.

    2. A new development, almost an interesting sub-genre, is what I call “Extreme Food”, people who go out of their way to find the most “exotic” food and recount their experience. Like much of “Extreme Sports”, it is all about bravado and titillation. An example:

    Rude Food. Live Octopus Tentacles.

    Most parts of our societies are removed from food cultivation hence we can now elevate matters of food to entertainment. I think that is a fair commentary on modern concerns. Once food availability is no longer a concern we can find ways to deconstruct it.

    The proof is the existence of competitive food eating competions (say the hot dog or turkey eating competitions on public holidays for example) which all come with proud corporate sponsors.

  • Potter

    Lisa Williams-I was going to suggest a show on conversation. Edward Rothstein did an article in the NYTimes a few days ago about a new book out on the art of conversation. I thought it would be a good topic. I disagree with your proposition however with regard to the topics on this blog. There is a conversation and exchange going on and some mind stretching in the process. I think it’s immaterial whether minds are changed. One topic “warming-up” in particular is so overdeveloped that it would be hard for a show to happen it seems to me.

    ( sorry for the intrusion on the main topic here which is delightful)

  • This topic reminds of the that Monty Python scene…. “Just one more teeny, tiny little mint.”

  • Lisa– yes, I remember the conversation-about-a-conversation thread a few weeks ago, and that’s where the opinion of the Vocal Few tended to promote the status quo, and due to the utter length of the thread, all of the points were lost.

    And for kicks, I checked out ChowHounds Boston Message Board. It appears like the board software is a bit unscaleable itself! But the splash screen says that they’ll be upgrading thanks to CNET.

    Funny, there’s a guy there who has the same name as one show’s producers who’s looking for “After-work grub in Allston” Brendan, give a holler, let’s grab a bight at the Sunset Bar & Grill.

    A nice review on New Shanghai today. I had eaten there last year, and was trying to recall the name. Apparently on Boston.com and CitySearch, there were a lot of similar comments trashing the service. A gorup of 11 people went out for a business lunch, and three came back and wrote independent reviews. Suspicious…

  • Hello all! Jim Leff comment on how he likes sprawl very intriguing. I was born in the city, and then lived in the sprawl from the age of ten until I left for college. I never like the sprawl and I refused to be a part of it. Moreover, I am sure the sprawl did not want me. I now am thinking about when I go back to my parents’ house. Perhaps I will go back and explore and look for places that have unique quality that I felt was absent in my suburb.

  • Potter

    Yo for Worcester! ( I live next door!) We had a great whole foods restaurant out here in Shrewsbury, gone now though. Every dish was cooked with total love and inspiration, fresh ingredients– vegetarian. But alas the cook/owner had to give it up- totally drained, she gave it her all. These places come and go.

  • jazzman

    Potter: Was it the Garden of Earthly Delights on Highland? I used to love to chow there.

  • Does ChowHounds concern itself with sustainable agriculture, heritage breeds? or just taste?

    Also, will cyrovac cooking come to Boston? (or has it not come to restaurants I tend to be able to afford…)

  • What makes deliciousness delicious? That old question about quality that sent Phaedrus in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance over the edge. Hope it just leads Jim to more succulent grub.

  • Matt_Eldridge

    Tom Robbins once wrote of Ray Kroc: “Thanks to Kroc, the migrating masses simply aim their protruding stomachs at the landmark arches, sinuous of form and sunny of hue, and by the first belch they’re back on the road, fast fed and very nearly serene, which is to say, no cashier has cheated them; no maitre d’ has insulted them; no tempermental chef, attractive waitress, or intriguing flavor has delayed them; they’ve neither gagged on a greasy spoon nor tripped over an x in oie roti aux pruneaux. With McDonalds, they’re secure.”

    I feel Chowhoundery is indeed the beautiful antithesis to this horrible reality.

    -Matthew Eldridge

    Brighton, MA

  • Potter

    Jazzman: It was “Back to Basics” Shrewsbury Center which morphed into “Binkermans”, both incarnations excellent! Tiny tables- food cooked w love. The Living Earth in Worcester( wholefoods) has a little restaurant connected to it but the one ion Shrewsbury was chowhound worthy.

    Incidently, my son can’t stop talking about the fried smelts tucked into fresh bread that he had on the Bosphoros a number of years ago. I can taste them myself. He describes breathing in the humid air, watching the the boat traffic.

    There is (or was not that long ago) a great felafel cart on 54th street around the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

  • Potter

    Jon Garfunkel– Unfortunately that forum thread was long if that is the one that you are referring to. It was for the hosts, not for conversation and the suggestions should not be lost. I have tried to read and read much of your thoughts on the subject always meaning to get back and finish. This ROS thread was a chance to give our feedback.

  • Pat

    Jim Leff, The Chowhound. Terrific show! Great chemistry among all the participants.

    Re: Frozen Pudding. Howard Johnson’s used to have it. My favorite too!

  • Nikos

    Oh, my, I tried my best to stay out of this thread, but I can’t resist lauding this gem from Jim Leff: “Food (cuisine) is the only art form you ingest and are (physically) one with.�

    Wow.

    Now I want to upgrade my utilitarian, rural diet.

    (I miss the city.)

    My favorite cuisine?

    Not Greek (although it’s my second or third)

    Not French (although it’s so, so fine)

    Not Italian (although it’s the closest to ‘soulful’ that Europe can offer)

    Not Thai (although it’s second or third, depending on my mood)

    The favorite?

    Ethiopian.

    Nothing’s better.

    Try it!

  • Nikos

    on the other hand…for all his many pearls of wisdom, Jim came off as a bit of an elitist.

    Oh, well…

    Nobody’s perfect.

    Nice show, ROS gang. A welcome break from the emotionally exhausting intensity of last week’s ‘menu’.

  • pegreenb

    I don’t know if it the NY Jew or what, but my father had the unique ability to find the best “dive” in any town or city. Matter where it was if could find the what no triple-A-guide could tell you, so I have inherited some of the skill.

    What I want to know what do you do when you just can’t find that place that you know exists. For example: I once found myself in Santa Barbara one morning, driving around looking for a “good old” American breakfast. After I while I realized that Santa Barbara has no middle class therefore no diner or equal. I found myself stopping “regular” looking people asking ” where is the Jim’s, Jonnie’s, or Jack’s diner?” Everyone kept saying “oh there’s a Denny’s over there or an IHOP down there” NO!!! Not Denny’s Not IHOP, I want real food. I then spotted some kids selling lemonade, this is my chance, their parents sure will know the spot I’m looking for… “Well you turn left down there and you will see Denny’s….” ARGHHHH…..Sometimes you just can’t get all the luck…..

    As for some of my secret spots… Be forewarned I find that some of the best food is found in Neighborhoods that you may have to look over your shoulder a lot, and I would not suggest going to after dark if you are fair skinned. (SF Bayarea)

    Best Chinese: The little Palace, across from SJSU, get the Mongolian Beef.

    Best Fried chicken: Esters across from the main Post Office in West Oakland

    Best BBQ: Dugs on San Pablo, at the Emeryville/Oakland border.

    Best Burger: The 2 Jakes, across from the projects at Hunters Point (great place to goto before a 9er Game)

    there’s a short list, mind not fully on this early in the morning…

  • Any fellow Bostonians on this thread remember Nick’s Beef and Beer House (whose sign degraded over time, with one particularly colorful configuration as “Ick’s Beef and Bee Hose”?

    Ten points for anyone who remembers what was special about the light fixtures.

  • Oh, and I was crushed to discover last week that Lentine’s, the place that made the best cheesesteaks in the town I grew up in, had been converted to a low-rent daycare.

    I can’t believe I’ll never eat that sandwich again. Every time I went in they would yell at me: “Very Few Peppers!” Which was actually my (dearly departed) Dad’s order. An order they hadn’t been given in ten years, they remember it, they even associate it with the customer’s daughter who is, of course, also ten years older.

    Gawd. I think I’m actually gonna cry! Of course, I had to go be in proximity to a cheesesteak later that same day, somehow, coincidentally, my husband was hungry and I thought, I need to buy him a cheesesteak, and so there I was at Andrea’s House of Pizza, and I felt so weirdly thankful getting the little narrow paper bag with the sub in it I went home and wrote Reducing Human Misery, One Cheesesteak at a Time on the Watertown metroblog I run.

    To be honest, the cheesesteak is not anywhere near as good as Lentine’s. But Andrea’s gives me a good feeling. There’s a little television on top of the soda case. Sitting down to watch it, I’ve left the 100 channel click this link universe of amazingly customized but totally solitary Daily Me; I’ve traveled to a place where you can’t change the channel and you all watch together. (This world is under attack by guerilla forces bearing TV-B-Gone keychain remotes) I don’t think I could live there. But visiting there is sublime. We are mostly all strangers but we are all eating pizza, and we are all watching basketball. We have citizenship in this land for just as long as it takes to get from the point to the rind of the crust and then, poof, the whole thing disappears through the little swinging door on top of the trash bin.

  • Essential question: what’s the difference between a chowhound and a foodie?

    That should get some interesting responses and shed light on the topic for people who have never visited Upper Houndistan.

  • [PSA] for the best bacon cheeseburger in Tacoma, Washington checkout THE HOBNOB. Thank You, the cheeseburger czar.

  • windfate

    Having just listened to the show (as a podcast), I’m suddenly struck by the way that cooking must certainly be like composing. Cooking, it seems, is *doubly* a time-based art. Misplaced cadences or early climaxes come both from the point at which the wrong ingredient is added during cooking, but also possibly the amount of time that might lapse between finishing and *serving* the dish.

    How would overcooked Stravinsky sound to our ears?

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