Scott Hardie | November 16, 2021
There's a two-word phrase that raises my hackles: "Alfredo sauce."

There is no such thing as Alfredo sauce. Fettuccine Alfredo is made by tossing butter and fresh Parmesan with hot pasta, immediately before eating. It's rich and delicious! The cream sauce that you see served in restaurants and jarred in groceries is usually a wet, thin approximation, not even close to the real thing.

A Swedish friend of mine tells me that one of his favorite traditions when visiting the U.S. or Mexico is to eat good Mexican food, because the few Mexican restaurants in his country cannot procure the right ingredients to make anything. He says that Swedish "salsa" is just a plain, bland tomato sauce with nothing added. That's what the words "Alfredo sauce" remind me of. (I very much doubt that most Mexican restaurants in the U.S. serve authentic Mexican food the way that it's best served in Mexico, but I see his point.)

Worse still: I increasingly see "carbonara" offered on restaurant menus as just the same "Alfredo sauce" but with bacon. What in the hell? No.

Carbonara is different. It's made with eggs, Parmesan or Romano cheese, pork, and pepper. The egg is added raw, and it literally cooks while it is stirred with the other hot ingredients, creating a distinctive texture. Made right, carbonara is thick, salty, cheesy, delicious Heaven.

Bacon and cream sauce do not make carbonara, any more than topping a cake with Hershey's syrup and Smucker's cherry spread makes a Black Forest cake.

I don't even understand why it has to be called "Alfredo sauce." Just call it "cream sauce" or "cheese sauce," which is accurate and no less appetizing to the people who want it.

I know that saying all of this makes me an incredible snob. I know. But I will die on this hill. These dishes are too delicious when made right to go undefended.

How do you feel about these two dishes?

And are there other inaccurate phrases that bother you?

Erik Bates | November 18, 2021
I never knew that about "Alfredo sauce". Now I need to try to make some authentic fettuccini Alfredo, because DAMN that sounds so much better than what comes out of that jar from the store.

I'm with you on the carbonara, though. I recently learned of the delight that is authentic carbonara, and I can never go back.

It's not a phrase, per se, but it bothers me when people put beans in their chili. Beans are a side dish.

Scott Hardie | November 18, 2021
Excellent! I hope it goes well.

When I say fresh Parmesan, I mean get a brick of fresh Parmesan at the store and grate it yourself. It tastes better than, say, Kraft grated cheese in that green plastic tube.

...And with every sentence, I become even more of a snob. :-)

Look, I'm not saying any of this to "yuck on your yum," as the saying goes. If you like cream sauce served the American way, have all you want. I too have a number of foods that a lifetime of poor eating habits have made me prefer processed, from peanut butter (the runny, oily texture of real peanut butter tastes wrong and somehow Jif tastes right) to macaroni & cheese (homemade is great but there's nothing like the thunderbolt of pure childhood nostalgia that is Kraft).

Instead, the reason I'm saying this is that it seems like fewer and fewer people realize that there's a better way to make these two dishes, or that the "sauce" they're buying is a crappy imitation, not the real thing. Now that this version of "carbonara" seems to be showing up more and more on restaurant menus and grocery shelves, I bet that an entire generation of kids will grow up thinking that that's what carbonara is, and it saddens me. Eat the crappy imitation if you prefer it, but at least be aware of what it is.

If anyone here prefers Hot Pockets to beef Wellington, please speak up. I promise, no judgment. :-)

Samir Mehta | November 18, 2021
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Samir Mehta | November 18, 2021
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Erik Bates | November 18, 2021
Fair point on the beans, Samir. I'll make an exception for vegetarian chili. Please don't tell Texas I said that. They may never let me back in.

To be clear: beans are a side dish to chili. Not a side dish, in general. I'm willing to bet that a decent chili could be made using tofu, etc, that keeps to the non-bean tradition, though.

Scott Hardie | November 18, 2021
Samir, you might despise the bacon craze even more if you learn that it was manufactured by the pork industry.

I hear you about genericized "curry-flavored" as an adjective. "Asian-inspired" is a term that I hear sometimes, and it seems so incredibly broad as to be meaningless (really, what flavor are you supposed to get in your mouth when you hear "Asian-inspired"?), and yet it's still a better descriptive term than "curry-flavored" if used that way.

Bah, I dislike that I am a snob. I have an entire section of my website devoted to sharing my opinions with the world, and I still would rather not look down my nose at things, especially things that bring other people joy. And yet I do! I need to work on owning it.

I'm just going to piss you both off by suggesting that we all get some curry-flavored chili later. Beans optional. Bacon optional.

Samir Mehta | November 19, 2021
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Steve West | November 19, 2021
I like beans in chili. That doesn't make me it NOT chili any more than onions in your hamburger somehow makes it not a hamburger. I'd call it a variation of chili much like those cities that boast of their own varieties containing rice or macaroni or, God forbid, cinnamon.

Scott Hardie | November 19, 2021
If we're talking about regional variations, can we talk about the "chili" served in Cincinnati? It is of course not chili, but a unique meat sauce inspired by Greek flavors. It doesn't work without spaghetti. Personally, I think the name does it a disservice: So many people (myself included) try it for the first time expecting chili that it's off-putting and unpleasant to eat. Try it on its own terms as a unique dish and it improves.

Weirdly, Steak 'n' Shake copied the ordering pattern for Cincinnati chili ("3-way" "5-way" etc), even though what they serve is not Cincinnati chili at all. Unfortunately, after many years of us enjoying that restaurant's chili mac supreme (which had no beans and extra meat), Kelly and I were disappointed to see that it has been discontinued, leaving us no choice but to get beans in the chili if we want to eat chili and spaghetti there, which is not appetizing. We haven't been back much since the change.


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