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Friday, August 15, 2008

Limited Perspective Playhouse: The Olympic Diet, Part 1

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2008 at 8:15 AM

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By Meredith Brody

My friend Bill was the one who named it thus: the skewed perspective that comes from viewing culture through your obsessions, a.k.a. Limited Perspective Playhouse. You know, the particular filter through which we see the world. In this case, it’s me and the Olympics: no matter how fleeting a glimpse I catch of the proceedings (OK, it’s pretty much constantly on as a background to my life these days), somebody seems to be talking about food.

Like, I never watch Today, but on the first day of the Olympics I flicked it on and there was Meredith (no relation) Vieira and some other gal who turned out to be Ann Curry (I told you I don’t watch it), Meredith feigning astonishment that the Chinese do NOT eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, in what was the first installment of a special series Today was doing about Chinese food called “Today’s Chow.”

They were quickly walked through a breakfast buffet by Shanghai and Beijing restaurateur H. Lee, who introduced them to savory rice congee (“like porridge”), sweet rice with red beans, scrambled eggs rolled in crepes, crullers that “taste like beignets” (“Oooo!,” chorused the girls), a variety of buns, and soy milk. “No orange or apple juice?” asked Meredith. Ann pointed out that they drink lots of fresh watermelon or cucumber juice, just not at breakfast. “No bacon or sausage?” Meredith persisted, beginning to sound whiny. “Later in the day!” came from both Curry and Lee, in desperate appeasement.

I decided against TiVoing the three China-centric hours of Today for the duration of the Olympics, in quest of the two-minute “Today’s Chow” segment – that way lies madness – but the less-than-completely-user-friendly www.nbc.com (who knew that Today is indexed on msnbc.com, as http://today.msnbc.msn.com/) wasn’t completely helpful.

I did find some “Today’s Chow” segments: Ming Tsai’s recipes for a traditional pork dumpling and a bacon-cheeseburger version (oy vey!), and Jennifer 8. Lee recycling stuff from her The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food: stop the presses, fortune cookies did not originate in China! They don’t have takeout boxes in China! And like that. Travel is so broadening.

Especially for Al Roker, who eats his way down four blocks of what they call Beijing’s snack street, and samples scorpions. He likes them! “Kinda like pork rinds,” he opines – at least he didn’t say chicken. (The one time I tried them, I found the exoskeletons disturbingly crunchy. But Al’s scorpions look MUCH younger than the big ol’ boy I tried).

And if you like what you see, there’s this, big surprise: a nicely-packaged disc of all the “Today’s Chow” segments – “if you love Chinese food or just want to learn about it, this is the DVD for you.” “From America’s First Family,” they say. (Huh. News to me. But I guess Matt, Meredith, Al, and Ann ARE preferable to the Bushes.) Only $24.95. Ships October 6.

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Janine Kahn

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