Monday, October 17, 2016

Bowled over

What is it about bowls? Specifically: Why is food in bowls a thing? Because Instagram, is the quick answer. Food - specifically, healthy food - looks nice when photographed from above, in a bowl. The only permitted flat food is, of course, avocado toast.

There are breakfast versions involving granola, milk, and berries. Those I'm OK with. It's the savory ones that I'm having trouble embracing. These bowls - at like $12 a bowl - were very much a thing in Toronto. A city that also sells sub-$12 non-bowl lunch options, so I never wound up trying one.

I'm having trouble putting my finger on what my issue is with these bowls, exactly. Part of it is that I feel shamed by their existence - all that balance, those grains and greens where I'd sooner have pasta, (fewer) greens, and cheese. (The bowl-as-trough aspect isn't the issue.) It's a sense of inferiority for not going bowl, mixed with a sense of superiority for my non-faddishness in this area. (In this one area. I did buy a jumpsuit.)

But it's also the contents of many dishes labeled "bowls," which tend to sound vaguely nutritious but... bland. Cuisine-less, and not as in fusion, or the productive mix of existing cuisines. More like a bunch of supposed-to-be-good-for-you ingredients piles on top of each other. Thai or Chinese stir-fry, salade niçoise, Japanese or Vietnamese noodles with toppings, gnocchi with pesto, these all involve bowls, but they're not bowls in the utilitarian Western 2016 sense of the term. It's some sort of puritanical asceticism where you have a "protein" with your meal. Even if the ingredients are identical, a bowl is not a salade composée.

Consider this pro-bowl Guardian article, whose author writes, "I love how gentle and nurturing it feels" to eat one of these bowls. A bowl - and the Guardian ones actually look OK! - might taste good, but it's not really supposed to. It's supposed to nourish and nothing more. Which is, I think, what puts me off.

1 comment:

David Schraub said...

My most-eaten bowl is a Chipotle Burrito Bowl, so this post makes no sense to me.

(The actual closest thing I've eaten to a "bowl" in this post's sense is a Chop't salad. But even there, my ingredients of choice are: lettuce, fried chicken, fried onions, Chinese noodles, White Cheddar, and apples. But I do smugly declare that I "ate a salad for lunch", so there's that).