A Taste for Ethnic Difference:
American Gustatory Imagination in a Globalizing World

Krishnendu Ray



Ethnic, foreign, soul, etc. are a few ways in which American journalists writing on food have tried to capture difference within the national imaginary. These categories often have divergent connotation of difference from a presumed mainstream. This paper analyzes the print record and interprets the category of the “ethnic restaurant,” in the process of narrating the story of the American engagement with gustatory difference in the making of a national cuisine. My analysis is based on data from four sources. First, national American newspapers, such as The New York Times, analyzed qualitatively and in detail from 1851 to the present. Second, descriptive quantitative analysis of The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times to contextualize the narrow focus of the first source. Third, qualitative analysis of journals digitized in the American Periodical Series. Fourth, Zagat Surveys beginning in 1982. This paper makes an argument about taste, ethnicity and hierarchy as it relates to the gustatory imagination of American taste-makers through the twentieth century.


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Krishnendu RayKrishnendu Ray is the author of The Migrant’s Table: Meals and Memories in Bengali-American Households (Temple University Press, 2004).  He has taught for a decade at the Culinary Institute of America. Currently, he is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. He is working on a book-length project tentatively titled “Taste, Toil and Ethnicity” and his most recent publication is “Nation and Cuisine: The Evidence from American Newspapers ca. 1830-2003.”