My first American food post and my first post about Washington DC!
Even though I’m mostly preoccupied with househunting at the moment, I have been eating. Some of it has been purely for survival i.e. sandwiches from 7-11 (I really need a house so I don’t have to eat this stuff!). But I’ve managed to have a couple of good meals here and there and some ‘American’ food.
The other day when I was down around the Dupont Circle, a very cool area of DC, I decided to grab a burger at Five Guys, a chain that I had read about in my research before moving here (I seriously researched EVERYTHING I could about DC over the last couple of months).
This chain started out big in DC and then spread across the country. Obama has even been known to drop in! The main reason I went in was because there was a line, and anyone who eats street food or anything like that knows that lines mean good food!
You may be wondering what can be so special about hamburgers or hot dogs or all those other American foods that have been exported around the world. And yeah, I’m sure a lot of it is pretty substandard. You always hear bad things about American fast food culture yadda yadda, but I think that the worst stuff is the food that has been packaged and corporatized (is that a word?) to the point where it is actually devoid of culture. Some of the burger joints and fast food places here just ooze culture, and they tend to be the ones that sell fast food that is less manufactured and icky (but still in mindblowingly huge portion sizes, which I will write about later. But let me just say, generally an Australian ‘large’ size is smaller than an American ‘small’ size!)
Ok, not sure if that stuff about culture makes sense, so let me try and explain more. At Five Guys, and some other places like it I have walked by or seen, getting a burger is almost like a performance. There’s a special way to order… you don’t just ask for the lot, there’s all this lingo that goes along with it. For example, here you order your hamburger “all the way” if you want all the toppings. The fries come cajun or ‘Five Guys’ and the orders are shouted out through the kitchen, like an elaborate sing-song. All this still goes on despite the busy shop having electronic ordering systems. It could be redundant, but its kept up, it’s all part of the show.
Calls go back and forward “two fryyyy, cheeburger all the way… two cajun, little burger”. It’s loud, punctuated by the crashes and thuds of the kitchen and backed by the continual hissing and spitting of the burgers on the grill. But there’s an entertainment factor too. “Cajun fries for the girl with brown eyes”…
I went to McDonalds here once in LA for breakfast and accidentally ordered one of the most disgusting things. A McGriddle… its sausage, egg (that isn’t made from real egg by the looks, rather a reconstituted egg white powder or something) and cheese inside two small pancakes covered with maple syrup. It was absolutely foul. I only managed a bite or two and you could taste the congealed fat. Just disgusting. It was served up in a lifeless manner as a queue of people just tramped in and out of the store.
There’s no culture to fast food like that. Maybe there used to be, a long time ago, but not now.
At Five Guys, there was a sign on the wall telling me that the potatoes used in today’s fries were from a farm in Illinois. There were also free peanuts! The fries, cooked in peanut oil, still had skin on them and were pretty tasty. A guy in the queue told me it was good to have them with vinegar… unlike in the UK and Oz, where we have chips with white vinegar and salt, here they used malt vinegar, which is such a different flavor, but good. The burger was pretty tasty… the meat didn’t taste processed or chemically. It certainly wasn’t healthy, with a big slab of meat and mayonaise and cheese on it, but at least it tasted real. I barely made a dint in the allegedly regular sized fries though. I don’t think even my food guzzling machine brother could have got through them!
Even though Five Guys is a big chain, it still had something a bit special about it. And that’s what I’ll keep my eyes out for while I’m here. So while I’m going to try not to go too overboard on junk in this fast food nation, I think there’s still some merit in exploring it a little. After all, I always try the local specialties wherever I go in the world…