The culture card lay at the bottom of yesterday's Seattle P-I story about King County's top 10 violators of restaurant rules.
One of those restaurants is Wild Ginger, a pricey pan-Asian place in downtown Seattle.
Cooks drawn from China, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam come from a food culture very different from that in the U.S., said the owner of Wild Ginger.
"It's still a challenge to try to get people to understand how we view what's sanitary versus (how a) culture that's 5,000 years old (does)," said the owner of Wild Ginger. "They think I'm crazy. I say this is the way we have to do it."
I almost went crazy when I worked at a Nicaraguan bakery in San Francisco.
On my first day I found a fossilized mouse beneath the mixer.
It got worse.
Bad plumbing. Burned-out refrigeration. Mold in the kitchen walls. An oven that looked like it was bought second-hand from a charnel house.
It was my job to clean it up, or work around it. The owner didn't seem to care which.
One day, the health inspector arrived on his regular rounds.
He looked around the kitchen for about 45 seconds.
I counted up the critical violations in my head.
The health inspector scribbled on a form.
He handed me a copy.
See you next time, he said.
I looked at the form: the violations I knew existed were not noted on the form.
I called the San Francisco health department. My efforts to reach the inspector's boss failed. Same with the inspector's boss' boss. They were on vacation. I left messages. Nothing happened. I still had a filthy bakery to fix.
It was a moment straight out of Roman Polanski's "Chinatown."
"Forget it, Jake," I heard that voice say in my head, filled with defeat and grudging acceptance. "It's Chinatown."
Actually, in today's polite world, Chinatown is the International District. Shouldn't we all get along in the global kitchen?
Hey, Food Network, how about a show about food safety, in 10 different languages?
UPDATED Here's an e-mail I received shortly after I posted this. Kids today -- God bless 'em.
I am a 12th grade student and Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma. As part of a student group for an American Government class, we are interested in the potential hazards of the substandard conditions of some Pierce County restaurants. After meeting with Mike Davis of the Tacoma Pierce County Healthy Department, we believe that public perception of food safety regulations may be skewed and are hoping to correct this inaccuracy. Our group would like to speak or meet with you to discuss the feasibility of publishing an article addressing food safety and what to look for in a restaurant.