Photo of David Guas by Scott Suchman
Photo of David Guas by Scott Suchman

The ability to access cuisines from around the world is one of the greatest pleasures of living in D.C. But diners often head into restaurants with preconceived notions that are flat out wrong. We asked chefs and other restaurant professionals to dispel common myths about the food they serve. 

David Guas at Bayou Bakery and Lil’ B

1515 N Courthouse Road, Arlington; 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW

Myth: Tomato belongs in Cajun cooking.

Reality: Cajun cuisine is associated with French Acadians who settled in the swamps and prairies of Southwest Louisiana. Cajuns wouldn’t have had access to tomatoes as part of their “swamp” pantry. Cajuns get the credit for creating jambalaya, a one-pot meal. Today, Cajun jambalaya is often referred to as “brown” jambalaya because it is made without tomatoes. If you see a red, tomato-sauced jambalaya, it ain’t Cajun!

Joe Neuman at Sloppy Mama’s BBQ

1942 11th St. NW

Myth: A “smoke” ring, or the pink rim around the edge of the meat, is some sort of indicator of the quality of smoked meat.

Reality: A smoke ring doesn’t really do much other than add to the aesthetic quality of the meat.  We smoke every piece of brisket the exact same way. Some get a very pronounced smoke ring and others none at all. It has zero impact on the flavor or texture of the brisket. Smoke rings can be faked—a little pink salt in the rub will create that effect, even if the meat is cooked in a gas oven.  

Sileshi Alifom at DAS Ethiopian  

1201 28th St. NW

Myth: All Ethiopian food is spicy.

Reality: The general assumption tends to be that the cuisine appeals mostly to those who enjoy spicy food. Ethiopia offers a tremendous variety of dishes ranging from mild and flavorful to quite spicy. The food retains flavors based on the order in which the spices are added during the cooking process. 

Jeeraporn “P’Boom” Poksupthong at Baan Thai

1326 14th St. NW

Myth: The color of Thai curry will tell you how spicy it’s going to be.

Reality: American Thai restaurants started that myth to make it easy for customers to pick out a meal. A curry’s heat comes from the type and strength of the chilis, the season in which they were picked, and how they were grown—sort of like grapes for wine. 

Danny Coleman at The Dubliner

4 F St. NW

Myth: Corned beef is a common Irish dish.

Reality: Corned beef was a substitute for bacon that Irish-American immigrants used in the late 19th century. Bacon or lamb and cabbage is the typical St. Patrick’s day meal. The Dubliner keeps corned beef and cabbage on its menu because of its modern significance.

Reda Bouizar at Mazagan

2901 Columbia Pike, Arlington

Myth: Moroccan food is Middle Eastern food.

Reality: Most people expect a Moroccan restaurant to serve hummus and baba ghanoush. Those dishes are Middle Eastern and not Moroccan. Our cuisine is typically a mix between Andalusian, Berber, and Mediterranean food. Expect tagines, couscous, and bastillas. 

Peter and Lydia Chang at Peter Chang and Q by Peter Chang

Multiple locations; 4500 East West Highway #100, Bethesda

Myth: Chinese cooking methods consist mainly of stir frying. 

Reality: The cooking methods span from braising, stewing, cold mixing, double frying, and smoking to braising. Some techniques have distinct levels such as shao (regular stewing), meng (stewing for a long time), and wei (a soup stew).

Chef KN Vinod and Surfy Rahman at Indique

3512 Connecticut Ave. NW

Myth: All curries have curry in them.

Reality: Most Indian chefs are puzzled when guests ask if a particular dish has curry in it. The expression “curry” to most Indians means sauce or gravy. The British evolved the term to mean a combination of certain spices, including turmeric.