“But we just had Indian food yesterday!”

I’ve never understood this argument, which is sometimes cited as a reason to go to a non-Indian restaurant on a given day.  How should people cope who live in India?  They have Indian food many, many days in a row, and often (not always, by any means) poorer Indians are choosing from a less varied menu of that food than Americans who visit Indian restaurants.  Would it be so terrible to eat only Indian food, whether at home or in restaurants, every day for a week?  Every day for a month?  I don”t see why.  So how about two days in a row?  Or two meals in a row?  Three?  What if you had Indo-Chinese food somewhere in the middle of the sequence?  Momos cooked by Nepalese immigrants?

Until a group meal yesterday, I had Korean food five days in a row, three meals a day, much to my joy.  I bet some Koreans, in Korea, did the same.


Just a guess, but maybe their range of "Indian food" is pretty limited, i.e. they order one of two things every time they have it?

Oddly enough, the best Indian food I've ever had is in lower rural Alabama, at the Taj Dothan in Dothan, AL. If you're ever heading through the way, I highly recommend it.

Here's a theory: Many people don't really enjoy foreign or otherwise unfamiliar food, they just pretend to to fit in to a particular crowd ("Look I'm not one of your negative stereotypes of Americans!"). They can keep this up only for a short while, or only by relying on one or two menu items.

Alternatively, Westerners enjoy the full panoply of options that our wealth brings. We don't want to have Indian food again because we can have Korean, BBQ, etc today.

Plus, assxplosion from all that ghee.

There must be multiple explanations. I like diversity in food, so maybe I want to switch around like you describe. But I notice a set of friends who feel dragged along to certain genres. I suspect people get more willing to admit this as they get older and more confident in their own tastes.

Restaurant Indian food in the U.S. does tend to be oily. I can't eat it regularly.

But I'm fortunate to be married to an Indian and it's my daily food. Life is good. And "Indian" contains a lot more variation than you would figure from the standard restaurant menu.

I have this generalized model. People like me just want the best option. I think it is because of the intensity of pleasure of the other best options. So, eating Indian again today costs the other alternative. I have friends who much more highly enjoy novelty and our choosing a restaurant discussion is always frustrating and comical. "Hey, I heard about this new sub shop!"

There's a new sub shop?

Great stagnation, my ass.

There are a whole variety of Indian food from different geographies and communities in India. (Even from the same place in India, there is variety depending on the religion and caste and class)

Mildly surprising considering your love for such a variety of cuisines. But surely at some point you'd rebel, right? If you had nothing but Korean for a year, and could not have Indian, Thai, or anything else, surely you'd desire something different at some point?

With a decent number of cuisines, "Americans who visit X restaurants" choose from a less varied menu of that food than people who visit or live in X country and visit restaurants of that type or indeed eat at home each day. The individual X restaurants in that native country tend to be more specialized, but people don't always eat at the same restaurant.

And thus my opinion is different if you talk about eating off the most generic American Chinese restaurant menu (even if at different restaurants, but the same menu) every day versus eating at restaurants that showcase the variety of Chinese styles of cooking. The same goes for Indian or Thai food-- nothing but Pad Thai everyday is different than enjoying a variety. Korean is a little bit less likely, since it remains "odd" enough in US culture that there isn't quite as much of a generic menu, but again I'd feel different about eating bibimbap every day compared to the variety available in Annandale or Ellicott City (where there are whole restaurants devoted to tofu soup, or porridge, or so on.)

A whole restaurant devoted to tofu soup?

Great stagnation, my ass.

I agree, I don't understand why people say that kind of thing.

I just got back from several weeks in Italy, where I had Italian food every meal, every day and I enjoyed every meal.

Former NOVA native but up in Queens now, are there any specific reasons why Honeypig is in decline? I was planning a trip down soon and was excited about going back there until I read your thoughts on their recent fare. Also, next time you're in NYC there's a Korean (Natural Tofu Restaurant) spot right across from the 40th st. stop in Queens that IMO is the best Korean joint I've been to (including some of the spots I got to visit while in Korea)...

I'm sorry but that isn't even the best Korean soft-tofu soup restaurant in Queens. BCD in Bayside is much better.

HAH! three whole days??? I lived in Korea for a long time. The food is great, but it still lacks variety. The Anglo consumers- especially the USA- are simply, in a culinary sense, superior. We can appreciate variety in a way that Koreans simply dont comprehend because of a lack of exposure.

Winner of the ignorance award of the day.

This is wrong. I used to live in Korea also now I live in Germany. When I lived in Korea I believed what you believe - the food lacks variety but now that I live here in Germany I see the error of my ways. If you want lack of variety try German cuisine. Korean food is a veritable cornicopia of options compared to many other world cuisines.
Germany sits at the heart of Europe with cneturies of exposure to French, Italian and Eastern European cultinary traditions - and its cusine is, while good in some sense, very very limited in terms of options. Korea is a fairly isolated nation which has historically had relatively few migrants entering and staying within its borders and yet has produced a cusine that is far more varied than Germany.

I've heard the same objection and I too haven't bought into the idea that it's necessary to alternate cuisines.

Some years ago I was working in Hyderabad, India for several weeks. My US co-workers and even some of my Indian friends were surprised that I didn't want to eat some meals from US-based restaurants. I couldn't imagine eating at Pizza Hut there when I could find thousands of better places serving Indian food.

Perhaps there is such a huge variety of food offered here that we have become used to switching up cuisines often.

Strange, to me it sounds like you have bought into the idea that it's nice to alternate cuisines, or else you would have been perfectly happy eating from US-based restaurants when you were in India as well.

Did you always eat at the same Indian restaurant, or did you like variety?

No, I ate only Indian food because I liked it much better than Pizza Hut (one of the few US based chains I noticed in that city).

We tried a different restaurant for every meal except breakfast, with only one place repeated.

Hyderabad has one of the world's great cuisines, and I certainly wouldn't waste an eating opportunity there on anything else.

And the U.S.-like alternatives Larry mentions are, indeed Pizza Hut and the like. Food for children.

Diminishing marginal returns?

disagree completely, I think that is one of the greatest things about living in the US.

I really enjoy Chinese food, but was so sick of Chinese food after 2 weeks.
Same with Guatemalan.
I like variety.

This should be relatively uncontroversial. One of the great luxuries of modern civilization is having access to virtually any kind of food one can possibly imagine. We live in a world of plenty. One could argue that we've been spoiled, but by the same token if I can eat a different country's food for fifteen straight meals, why shouldn't I? This is a blessing.

Depends on what you grew up with and how you cook now.

when my sister was pregnant, her gynecologist asked her to avoid eating chinese food. i remember my dad wondering how women is china must get by :)

Pregnant women in China probably eat home-cooked food; salt content in restaurant Chinese food is probably the reason the ob-gyn recommended against it.

Chinese food, at least in India, use to have a high MSG content till a few years ago, due to contaminated ajinomoto... That led to an urban legend..

At whom is your complaint directed, Mr Cowen?

Dear Tyler, thanks for this unassailable argument.
I'll use it next time my wife says "but you just put on a blue shirt yesterday".
Actually I have lots of similar examples and even generalizations (from weeks to months, from Indian food to Congolese food, to red shirts,...)
Are you interested in a joint paper ?

A looser budget constraint and a broader choice set than low-income Indians, and a quasiconcave preference function?

I've encountered the same thing concerning Chinese food. People ask how I can eat Chinese food every day. I tell them I'm only one of about 2 billion people who do it. I think this attitude reflects a persons limited experience traveling and enjoying other cultures, and a very provincial view of the world.


I find eating the same thing everyday to be evidence of a limited experience enjoying other cultures, and a very provincial view of the world, regardless of whether it's the cuisine you were born into or not. You're not literally saying that you only eat Chinese food, and no other cuisines, are you? (If you're saying that Chinese food is your main type of cuisine, that's different-- but not dramatically so from people who mostly eat whatever food that their parents cooked.)

The Chinese people that I know do not eat Chinese food everyday. The ones that do, have a limited experience traveling and enjoying other cultures, and a very provincial view of the world.

It's funny calling people who like (ethnic) variety in their food "provincial" and "limited."

I agree that people who eat "Chinese food every day...reflects a person's limited experience traveling and enjoying other cultures, and a very provincial view of the world."

I think this attitude reflects a persons limited experience traveling and enjoying other cultures, and a very provincial view of the world.

As opposed to your foppish, dilettante view of the world which doesn't even know where 'diversity' comes from.

Lots of people are afraid of getting stuck into ruts. An active foodie, such as yourself, does not have this issue.

Variety is the spice of life?

Similarly, "I know that human happiness never remains long in the same place." During lunch, as he wrote this post, I wonder if he asked himself whether or not he was thinking regionally.

The working poor load up on the carbohydrate filler - the roti, the naan, the rice, the wheat noodles, etc - with a little bit of the heavily-spiced sides to taste. You're in Korea. That's what the kimchi is for.

On the other hand, in a restaurant, you get less filler and more of the rich, expensive stuff. More meat, more sauces. The problem is not the variety or lack thereof, the problem is that this is really, really rich food to be eating every day. This is only tenable in a society where people go to restaurants to eat every day. That's... not that common. The Tyler Cowens of the world can psionically sniff out the good roadside kitchens nonetheless, but mere mortals cannot do this.

CES utility function with "love of variety"

I once heard some thing like, "You can have the same thing for breakfast for twenty years in a row and no one blinks. But have the same thing for dinner three nights in a row, and everyone goes crazy."

I don't know about twenty years, but I breakfast seasonally. Windfall apples in yoghurt feature heavily at the moment.

As others have suggested, the statement makes sense from a variety perspective. If you're interested in trying to eat a variety of different cuisines and you're lucky to live in an area that provides a good variety, then there's something to the statement.

I don't think the statement makes sense if it's based on an assumption that the food will become boring quickly if you eat it every day. Provided the chefs/cooks are open to modifying the menu items a bit, I could see eating Korean or good Chinese, or Japanese every day for quite a while.

I don't think even Tyler would want to eat the exact same dish multiple days in a row, right? I suppose it's possible to eat at a restaurant n consecutive days in a row, where n is the number of unique dishes they serve, and not repeat yourself. But surely, something else from the same restaurant or cuisine would be more similar to what you had the day before, than something you could get from a different restaurant or different cuisine?

Here, in California a co-worker said "we had Mexican yesterday," and I have this vivid memory of staring back speechless, with incomprehension ...

Is this a joke post? Obviously most people like variety, which is the whole reason there are Indian restaurants in the USA in the first place.

Off topic: Dark Dining.
I came across this idea of blind waiters serving customers in pitch black rooms, supposedly to focus the senses on the food. It made me think of the Beautiful Women in Restaurants issue.


It is body odor.

Each korean food for a week, smell like a fermented cabbage. German saukeraut does the same thing.

Eat indian food for a week, and you smell like tumeric and curry.

Eat spanish food for a week and you'll smell like garlic.

The greatest innovation the the US brought to the world was the possibility of no body odor.

You will smell like meat farts if you eat American for a week: hotdogs, potatoes, and assorted TV dinners washed down with beer.

If you think that is American cuisine, you seriously need to get out more.

Only because the variety on each individual cuisine that you can get in the US is often low.

How much garlic does an average Spaniard eat in a day? Less than one clove. By American standards, authentic Spanish food is pretty bland, because of how little seasoning is added. It's also the reason why it's so hard to make authentic Spanish food abroad: It's mostly about low spice and good ingredients. Ask Jose Andres if he could even serve anything that resembles a good Fabada, the most famous dish from his hometown, in his restaurant in DC. He'd have to fly the ingredients over, and probably have to delay the meal until early november, when the new harvest become available.

There's also the issue of palate training. To a Spaniard, Indian food just tastes like spice, because their palate is not trained to soften the taste of the spice. The indian would have trouble with the Spanish food too, because to him, it'll be lacking in taste: all the subtlety will just not be there.

Eating any cuisine outside of the place where it originated involves a whole lot of work, as recipes have to be adapted to match the same overall effect with different ingredients. Some specific recipes will move easily, others will not.

Fabada? Sounds like faba beans. I see. Bean stew. I agree with your comments. One complaint for Filipinos (I live in PH, but am not a native) is that food in the West is too bland, and after reading your comment it explains why. Here is a nice painting on this theme btw: The Beaneater is a painting by the Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carracci. Dating from 1580-1590, it is housed in the Galleria Colonna of Rome

"The greatest innovation the the US brought to the world was the possibility of no body odor"

Eating boiled meat and potatoes does that to you.

And here I thought I was being the reasonable one when I told my kids I didn't want mac & cheez again.

I've thought the same way since reading Dan Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness. He discusses an experiment where people win a prize at a restaurant such that they get a free meal once a month for so many months. Thing is they must pick their future meals right that moment. People end up picking several different menu items even if past behaviour shows they're much happier getting the same thing every time they eat there.

My bowels can only take so much.

There's nothing wrong in principle with eating the same cuisine and the same fixed menu every day. But if you have a choice, why not eat something else for any given meal?

This has to fit somewhere in the Rubik's cube of conspicuous consumption, perhaps feeling richer because you can have the choice. And obesity, the literal elephant in the room in this case.

When eating at home, you have "American" or at least "Tyler Cowanese" food every day. But going out to a restaurant is usually motivated by a desire for a change -- the chance to get something you can't normally have. If you want variety, it's counterproductive to get the same "variety" several times in a row. Especially since, as one of the other commenters already mentioned, restaurants (especially "foreign" restaurants in the US) have limited menus. So you basically get the same six or twelve choices you had yesterday. Whereas going to a different style of restaurant gives you six or twelve entirely different choices.

I get the feeling that ole TC's home meals are prepared in a restaurant kitchen. Why someone would not want to go out to the same place back-to-back days seems painfully obvious to me, but then I don't eat out but maybe 2 times a week.

If people really love that much variety..........why leave the bed at the same hour everyday?

I love Chinese food (Yeah)
You know that it’s true (Yeah)
I love fried rice (Yeah)
I love noodles (Yeah)
I love Chow mein
Chow Mo-Mo-Mo-Mo Mein

Restaurant food. Even Indians don't eat food in a restaurant everyday. They eat at home. You could probably eat home-cooked Indian food everyday and be just fine. Happy even.

Tyler, out of curiousity, you should try eating Korean food the way that Korean people do. That is, you'll start out with six dishes at dinner and you'll completely eat two and have left overs in the other four. For breakfast, you'll start with those four, polish off two of those and then add two more, Lather, rinse, repeat.

There's no lunch food or breakfast food, per se. It's all just food. And the evolving rotation of dishes changes the character of the left overs.

But what this also means is that (like the dish or not) you'll likely be eating the same pancheon three times over the next three meals.

If you're just doing bibimbap for lunch and bulgolgi for dinner, those are very satisfying but it's worth it to experience food as they do in Korean daily life.

reminds me of the nursery rhyme:

Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;

Sounds awful to me, but de gustibus etc.

Tyler, you're out of touch.

Most Americans eat regular American food most of the time. They don't try out authentic foreign restaurants every other day like you do. When they eat out, it's mostly to eat American food or heavily Americanized foreign cuisine.

What is American food?

Either there is a single optimal meal, possibly adjusted based on personal characteristics, which you should be eating at any given point in time, or the element of food that goes beyond basic sustenance is pure luxury in which case variety is an aesthetic choice.

The above statement makes sense, and is also total rubbish. Eating interesting food from different places is fairly core to the experience of being human. Tempted to wonder as Mike does whether this is a joke post.

One work outing, we got talking to the waiter at an excellent Chinese restaurant. He happened to be the son of the chef and spoke about the benefits of studying while living at home, including the wonderful food. One colleague asked "don't you get tired of Chinese food every day?"

The attitude absolutely baffled me - firstly, wouldn't "aren't you lucky your father is a professional chef" be a more relevant thing to say, and secondly, aren't you making a weird assumption that his skills are not transferable to rustling up an English Sunday roast dinner if required?

It's really not that baffling. Most of the time, restaurants serving one country's food in another county are going to have a more limited menu, like a "greatest hits" of the whole country instead of specializing in one kind of food (in the way we have diner food, home cookin' food, cajun food, steakhouses, etc. in the U.S.) It's not that hard to imagine someone who's only had one kind of Chinese food in the U.S. (takeout Americanized style or dim sum or whatever) wouldn't realize there's alot more variety within the cuisine. No one is advocating for eating uber rich chicken tikka masala or orange chicken everyday but for some people that's the only exposure to those cuisines they have.

I live in America and don't eat American food for dinner two days in a row if I can help it.

It's 'Nepali' immigrants, Prof. Cowen. It's a neverending argument, but there's all Nepalis on one side, and the nytimes on the other... so.. I'd go with 'Nepali'.

Momos are awesome! They're the national obsession. When you're in Nepal you should ask any kid (or adult) what they feel like eating, and it'll ALWAYS be momos.

I see this in reverse. A lot of people eat the same thing for breakfast every day for most of their lives.
Fewer, but still plenty, eat the same meal for lunch every day for years.

I spent two months in India eating nothing but Indian food nearly the entire time (the last few weeks, our hosts started cooking us toast and eggs for breakfast). Until I went I always really enjoyed Indian food and often cooked it for myself. By the end of my time in India though I got so sick of it that my appetite shrank and I lost 20 pounds. I didn't eat Indian food for a year afterwards.

I would explain this by arguing the utility function for food goes something like this:

U = A*characteristics + B*Novelty

The answer "diminishing marginal utility" seems like a no-brainer.

I initially read this post as a sanctimonious rebuke of "variety is the spice of life." Now I think it's a pat on Tyler's back for finding variety where others see none.

Here in Vegas, it's considered gauche to have a blonde two nights in a row. The horror!

Has TC never heard of dietary restrictions? Diabetics, for example, can only feasibly eat Indian food very occasionally. Diabetes is highly prevalent in India, and what is the number one complaint you hear from diabetic Indians? "I can't eat anything!"

Indian food every day particularly makes sense for vegetarians. It's the best-developed vegetarian cuisine in the world.

With ethnic foods, what people eat at home is generally different from what is served up in restaurants. Even most Indians don't make a habit of eating that kind of diet, loaded as it is with heavy cream and ghee, on a daily basis. Indian restaurant cuisine would be the equivalent of going out to a steakhouse, which people don't do every day either. Home-cooked food tends to be simpler, less heavy and rich and more vegetable based.

i'd posit that autists such as yourself simply have an incredible capacity for repetition, and that most of your culinary adventuring is just signaling behavior. gotta build that cowen brand.

Ex-rectum: people have a baseline range of food they enjoy both for reasons of taste and reasons of comfort. Those same people have a range of food they enjoy in part for reasons of taste and for reasons of being different. In this framework, there is limited decline in marginal utility of comfortable foods but greater decline in different foods.

“But we just had Indian food yesterday!”

Also known as "White people problems"

Playing the race card eh? "We just have no food today!" - aka black people problems. This site needs a moderator, lol.

Commenters are dancing around the point. Yes, America has a diversity of food choices but that's because we have diversity of people. Many other countries are ethnic and cultural monoliths with attitudes bordering on xenophobia.

It is our ethnic diversity that gives us variety and our open mindedness that makes these various cuisines acceptable or desirable and hence sustainable. I do think that foreigners, especially Asians, are highly provincial. I know many rural Americans who are equally so.

Also recall that most of us live in urban areas that are relatively more diverse and which have local communities of monocultural eaters who sustain ethnic restaurants beyond the finnicky culinary tourists most of us are.

America is also an affluent society that can afford variety as a luxury, and food is especially cheap here which is why we have such high obesity rates.

Remember that in more rural areas, the "meat and potatoes" American diet is still very common.

Also consider how foreigners view our "American" food: a sandwich is a sandwich, a hamburger is a sandwich, a burrito is a sandwich, pizza is a sandwich, gyros is a sandwich, etc.

Most cultural cuisines and family recipes are poverty menus designed to use cheap and easily obtained ingredients, to make tough tender, to make rancid palatable, to extend meager supplies, and to extract every last nutrient from what others consider waste. The history of food is the history of an intelligent species that wandered the globe, starving, for millions of years putting things in their mouths to see if they were edible or figuring out ways to make them edible. With the luxury of surplus food, we have become expeditious, gluttonous, and snobbish.

Has everyone here missed the question?

"But we just had Indian food yesterday" means "I want to decide this time". The question isn't what to eat, it's who decides. People dining in groups in India have the same argument every day, too.

Why listen to multiple albums/cds/mp3, when you can just keep one that you enjoy on repeat for days and weeks on end?

Why watch more than once movie, when you can replay a single favorite over and over?

Interestingly, my dog feels similarly. Whenever we buy her a new brand of dogfood, she becomes really interested in it. Then after a few days it loses its novelty.

Talk to an affluent middle class Indian family.

Even they go out and enjoy the food at a McDonalds once in a while. Some even spend hundreds of rupees at a Pizza Hut.

Perhaps consider the TITLE OF YOUR OWN WEBSITE?

I'm married to a Lebanese woman and her family eat Lebanese food day after day after day. Can you believe that? I mean every day they choose to forgo the wonderful opportunity to eat American food, which doesn't seem to have done Americans any harm. Hold on a minute...

So I have Indonesian food everyday usually, but then I live there, this week though I am having Chinese everyday, but then I am in Hong Kong. And when I am in the US I have usually western food. What this shows is that the cuisine you eat normally is basically dependent on the choices around you. Eating Indian several days in a row in the west is similar to going to the same restaurant every day, it's just not adventuresome enough for most people. Typically in the west you might have say 100 western restaurants for each Indian, so you are really restricting yourself to a small selection if you eat Indian frequently.

Diminishing marginal values of a similar type of food within some time period, combined with limited variety of each type of food available in the US. For example, I can eat Chinese food every day of the year in Beijing, but if my only option was Panda Express, I think it'll take a max of one day before the marginal values drop significantly.

We, in India are accustomed to eating Indian food everyday. As for me, I am a vegetarian. I are used to eating Rice atleast twice daily. The food is simpler compared to restaurant food. Rice with Rasam/Sambar and Yogurt/ milk , and a curry for taste and Pickle. The food is largely vegetable based with spices for the added flavour and aroma. There is a large variety in the vegetables and other ingredients used. Oil is used just enough for frying. This is the south indian cuisine, whereas North Indian cuisine is largely wheat based with Rotis, Naans etc.
I have many friends who visited the US and have told me that they were able to eat different cuisine everyday only for a short period. A meal without rice doesnt feel complete. They started cooking at home so that they could have rice everyday.

I share the poster's love for Korean and Indian food, but I'm sure he would be similarly irritated if his peers repeatedly forced him to eat somewhere he found boring and uninteresting. The fact that other people on Earth also have to eat boring food would be of little comfort. This post is silly.

I live in India, and when you're actually on the subcontinent saying "Indian food" is about as meaningless as saying "American food" or even "European food", though there are "American" and "European" restaurants here that do a sort of greatest-hits-sans-beef of both (and a surprising number of dubious "tex-mex" places).

Given that you'll mostly eat Indian food ("we just call it 'food' here, sir"), there's still seven or eight sub-cuisines to choose from, and I could see saying "I don't know; we ate Bengali yesterday".

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Indian cuisine has many varieties like north Indian food and south Indian food. North Indian food completely differs from south Indian food. So Indians may prefer to stay attached to their cuisine only and some may prefer to try something new. It depends on the taste to each individual. I don't think that it's a bid deal if someone is eating Indian food for a whole month. The food we get in Indian restaurants is not always the food that is served daily on the table in Indian houses.

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