Recently fellow offender Justin and I were talking about certain kinds of food that rarely are bad enough to fully disappoint (even though there’s room for greatness.) Hotdogs and Shanghai soup dumplings fall in that category, as we can’t remember when the last time we ever had a bad version of them but can debate over varying types of good to great versions. Whether it’s Costco, Dodger stadium, or street vendor bacon wrapped dogs – rarely have I ever been disappointed by a hotdog. And even though I can debate the merits of the different xiao long baos I’ve tried throughout the San Gabriel Valley, I can’t say I’ve actually found one that was not worthy of consuming. I wonder if fatty, salty comfort is the democratizing element that allows certain foods to always satisfy despite quality of execution. Is there anything you would be happy to eat regardless of quality?
JEROME: Can we extend this to things we drink? If so, I’d have to go with any sort of malt. There was very distinctly a time in my life when I hated Whoppers (chocolate covered malt balls for the uninitiated) and anything that had that taste.Now any dessert with that same taste – liquid or otherwise – gets a free pass with me.
IRIS: I don’t think I’ve ever had bad Chinese salty chicken before. And I sometimes have a craving for it. You might have something there regarding the salt factor.
ALFREDO: Indian food. Specifically, chicken tikka masala. Specifically, the tikka masala sauce. Yeah, yeah, sometimes it’s too thin, too thick, too spicy, too mild, but at the end of the day, you could throw a hunk of rancid kangaroo meat into that magic orange sauce and I would eat it.
ROGER: Hamburger and french fries. I find it very, very hard to screw this one up. When it’s bad, it’s still ok. And when it’s good, it’s gourmet (ok, at least in my rather lacking culinary world). As long as the meat is beef and the fries are fried, usually the end result is something that can put a smile on my face and a skip in my step.
PHILIP: I’ve never really had a bad meal in L.A.’s Koreatown–there are places that do certain dishes better than others, but overall, it’s hard to go wrong there. But if I had to pick one food it’d be pizza. Even a bad pizza has its merits.
ANDERSON: I’ve had horrible burgers and pizza, all in Vietnam. Gawd awful! On the flip side, I’ve had horrible pho in many places outside of Vietnam. But, a food item that is hard to screw up? I have had bad soup dumplings before. Maybe I just go to some really awful places to eat, or I am too cheap, because I have had some dried up dumplings with only a trickle of soup in them. Hot dogs are hard to screw up too. Saltiness is definitely a factor. Other items that come to mind: Anything with spam (spam musubi, spam fried noodles, spam in instant ramen, just fried spam) comes to mind. I would also go for instant ramen in general too. You can do wonders with it too, add kimchi or add an egg, or as mentioned earlier, add spam! But if you eat this everyday, you’ll eventually die of stomach cancer, so eat it in moderation, please.
EMMIE: Hm . . . not really . . . but kind of. I think there’s a massive spectrum of quality for all food, and it’s super noticeable. That said, if I had to pick a food, I’d say pasta with marinara sauce. I notice when it’s bad, but as long as it’s hot and the sauce is plain and simple, I like it enough. Mm. I love pasta.
BEVERLY: Grilled cheese! I mean it’s CHEESE, and cheese is inherently perfect.
DHH: I had a really hard time with this question, but, in the end, have to agree with Anderson: anything with spam is hard to screw up. Primarily because spam is a pretty acquired taste in the first place. So if you happen to like it (which I do), this “precooked meat product” dominates anything else in the dish and, in the end, you’re basically still eating spam. Also, bacon: it can be too soggy, too fatty, too dry, or too crisp, but I’ll still eat it and be glad.
QUENTIN: Sorry been in MIA. In Hong Kong now taking a break from producing BGL. Believe it or not a dish from my hometown province Quebec is making the rounds in California menus lately. It’s the Poutine, essentially gravy over curd cheese and french fries. In high school we got it as a special treat after a hard day of exams or skiing. Even at that age, we knew a Poutine was bad for you with all the fat and carbs. It’s heartattack in a bowl. But when you dig into it, it’s deliciously addictive bites after bites of french fries and molten cheese covered with gravy. And no, I’ve never had a bad Poutine. West LA’s Plancheck has a delicious Pastrami Poutine worth checking out.