Dreams of Pakistani Grill and Vada Pao in Manhattan: Re-Inscribing the Immigrant Body in Metropolitan Discussions of Taste
The theoretical discussion of taste is overwhelmingly shaped by concerns about distinction and omnivorousness from the perspective of the white, anglophone consumer. The scholarship on what customers get out of eating ethnic food is substantial, yet it dismisses any volition or aspiration on the part of the immigrant producer of food outside of economic necessity. This paper inserts the habits, memories, work and dreams of immigrant entrepreneurs into the discussion of taste. It focuses on the “ethnic” restaurateur as the hinge between taste and toil—two streams of theoretical accounts that could be put in productive conversation with each other. It is based on interviews with thirty immigrant restaurateurs, and buttressed by descriptive quantitative data derived from US historical censuses, mainstream and diasporic newspaper coverage of restaurants, guidebooks (current and historical), telephone directories, restaurant reviews in print and online, menus, recipes and practices of cooking. The work pays attention to the peculiar intimacy between the anglo and the ethnic that has always shaped public cultures of eating in the United States. In the process, the author points to the limits of disciplinarity in the current research on the food cultures of US cities.
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