Further ruminations on watercress

My last post elicited some strong reactions. The editorial board of Broads of the Beltway is in strong agreement regarding the sass about Rustik Tavern, and about DC pizza generally. Others (I am not identifying them as ‘my friends and co-workers,’ because I want to give you the impression that this blog is more popular than it is,) have made strong cases for other DC pizza joints, have defended the fancy pizza movement, or have accused me of harboring Chicago-native fanaticism that effectually precludes objective pizza evaluation. I was most delighted by the feedback of bold commenter Rob, whom I swear I haven’t met, who asked, “Is there some kind of honor in being closed-minded and bullheaded for no discernible reason?” To which I say: Rob, I appreciate the flattery, but I do not believe I am worthy of much honor, insofar as I have never won a duel or donned a monocle. As for being closed-minded and bullheaded, they are really just old hobbies of mine. That’s a discernible enough reason for me!


The real point of contention about the last post was the relative obscurity of watercress, which Rob informed me “has been a popular foodstuff in the United States since the 50′s.” Indeed, several readers weighed in on public awareness of the existence of watercress. Some apparently moonlight as passionate watercress advocates, whereas others admitted to there being a few holes in their watercress education. The most memorable exchange was with my friend Leslie, who traced her own discovery of watercress to the book Happy Birthday, Samantha!  from the American Girl franchise. Our collective recollection of the plot was scrappy – we suspected that the spirited, spunky Samantha made Victorian society faint all over its hand-fans because she befriended a servant girl, or something – but Leslie is certain that the social barriers were broken that day over watercress sandwiches, which were served at the party. As Commenter Rob pointed out, I am imbued with a deep ‘willfull ignorance’ and cannot be bothered to fact-check the original book, but Leslie has a memory like a tack (and, it is worth noting – is very small, and thus quite information dense.) Anyway, I don’t remember the food served at the party – I was more concerned about her birthday dress, which I naturally owned – but if Leslie was right, we have a problem. You see, if Rob was correct in his assertion that watercress has been popular since the ‘50s, why did Samantha Parkington, fictional character and doll, serve it at her 10th birthday party in 1904? Was she simply serving unpopular food, or is this an example of an anomaly in the American Girl Universe? And, if so many people in my life have been running around town and living their lives with the explicit knowledge of watercress, why in the hell were they so intent on keeping it a secret??? Luckily, I already had the two most important tools one needs during a historical mystery adventure: Google, a lunch hour and a blind faith in the internet as a reputable source base.

Watercress, it turns out, is a proud edible plant with a rich history. Here are some things I have learned.

Watercress is apparently lauded for its healing properties. According to mythology, Zeus ate watercress to fortify himself against his enemies. This sounds dismissible, until you remember that we are talking about Zeus. He is at the top of the God food chain (if, that is, you don’t mind going along with my clunky metaphor by asserting that Greek Gods ate one another, which I suspect they did not.) He had an impressive amount of resources at his disposal by which to fortify himself, but chose nonetheless to do so with a small, peppery plant. In 460 BC, Hippocrates (whom you might know from his Oath,) insisted that his hospital be built close to a stream, so that watercress could be grown nearby and used to heal patients. If I were a hospital inpatient, I must admit that I would not feel too confident in my treatment course if I realized my chances of survival had been pinned on the unassuming plant growing in the river out my window. But watercress was good enough for Zeus, and in this scenario, I’ll take what I can get – because it is 460 BC, and I am illiterate and without internet access.
As far as I can tell, watercress pretty much bumped along the annals of history at a typical pace for a while, probably remaining in the places where it was indigenous. I don’t know, maybe it was there when Anne Boleyn was beheaded? That would make sense. I can say that the railroad was a major boon for the watercress publicity tour, and now the United States is the 3rd largest producer of watercress worldwide. Watercress has pervaded our shared culture to such a degree that several people I know have contended “yes, I’ve heard of it.”

And so, watercress, I apologize for not knowing about you.* Your resume is impressive, and my head has simply been in the proverbial sand. I am sure you are great. You seem so nice. But, as for the assertion that you aren’t as esoteric a vegetable as I made you out to be? I am going to stand by my own “seemingly arbitrary standards.”

* My Google search led me to the revelation that I actually have eaten watercress. It was in food truck bulgogi. I mean, it was fine. It’s watercress, you know?

– Natalie

About Natalie Shure

literature, life and latte lady

10 Responses to “Further ruminations on watercress”

  1. Okay, just to point out: The first yelp reviewer of the bulgogi cart actually complains that they wouldn’t give him watercress in his bulgogi, because after all, that’s digusting–it belongs in the bi bim bap. The lady in the cart told him so, but he wasn’t having none of it.

    Anyway, watercress is like other things that don’t belong on American pizza. They eat arugula and honey dip on pizza in France, and corn and peas on pizza in East Asia–both can be delicious, in fact–but if you’re going to serve that up in Bloomingdale and call foul when someone calls you pretentious, I’m just saying you had it coming. That is, if you didn’t already have it coming for calling your restaurant a tavern.

    And for misspelling the word rustic, without making a graffiti tag out of it.

  2. @andymakkolli, thank you for your astute observation that the yelp review mentioned watercress. I actually did not read it and figured I’d link to the Yelp review since I couldn’t figure out what the food truck was actually called. That is how professional I am.

  3. I think you discredited yourself by mentioning your Midwestern roots. Chicago pizza is something that should never come to dc.. Hence your dislike of pizza at rustik or anywhere else for that matter.

    id be curious to know what you think of petes new haven pizza

  4. Thank you for the response. I appreciate your mockery of my choice of words; that was pretty enlightening. I also really liked the part where you actually state whether the pizza you’d ordered and received was satisfactory — totally filled in some of the gaps in the first post, and made your righteous indignation completely understandable.

    The “real point of contention,” as far as I am concerned — and this post does appear to be primarily a response to me, if I am not mistaken — is whether your experience justified the snarky, self-righteous, and downright mean diatribe against Rustik. I appreciate restaurant criticism, but speculative (and hacky) insults hurled toward the owner are unhelpful and uncalled for, and I fail to understand from the evidence presented from whence comes your general anger and condescension. Your ignorance, and your failure to respect the ‘cress, are secondary and tertiary to my main problem with your post, which I gather now is more a function of personality than anything else.

    If you find the lack of pizza options in town so abominable, why don’t you open your own place? That’s a hell of a lot more brave and respectable than lobbing whiney, mean-spirited, unsubstantiated insults and criticisms at those who have.

    • Rob,

      Although you are the only person to write a blog comment on the relative obscurity of watercress, several people did mention it to me in person. I thought it was a humorous enough issue to expand on. I quoted you because your comment was written, and because you seemed the most upset – and I am glad that watercress has such a vehement ally. Despite our disagreements, I am also genuinely glad you have visited and commented on the blog.

      As for the Rustik issue – I don’t believe that I have a moral responsibility to open my own pizza place simply because I am dissatisfied with the job that others have done. I also don’t believe that my assessment of the restaurant constituted an insult hurled toward the owner himself. I do believe that Rustik exemplifies the type of pizza I was describing when I began my post, which is why I decided to write about it. Fancy, high-brow pizza is a culinary category that I simply can’t get behind. I don’t think it tastes good, for one (and, as for your question, I did not enjoy the sausage and cheese pizza.) Moreover, it smacks of the alienating pretension that characterizes the aspect of foodie-ism that I find objectionable. My snarkiness was a reaction to that. And, yes, I guess it is a personality issue insofar as I can be a snarky person – but it isn’t as if this was out of nowhere. And frankly, your accusations of ignorance on my part are foodie-pretentious as well – do you really think that not knowing about watercress is a character flaw? Do people have a responsibility to educate themselves on esoteric ingredients? I have a simple palette – that was the initial basis of my post. Given the fact that I have a tongue, have visited the restaurant and am able to write in English, I don’t think my post was hacky.

      Thank you for your continued interest in Broads of the Beltway.

    • Rob: I just saw a movie that I did not like very much, and a friend of mine was going to see it and asked me what I thought about it. I told him that I would be able to let him know as soon as I direct my first movie.
      By the way, your standards are quite tough. I assume I can no longer comment on the performance of my favorite baseball team, since I have never played major league baseball, and I cannot have any opinion on whether or not a girl is pretty, since I have never been a girl. I really did want to tell you what I thought about your comments,but I figured that I had to write a comment first before I was allowed to express an opinion on yours. So here is a comment, and I will try to follow up soon with an my opinion on your comments. Want to guess what it is?

  5. Rob seems to be asking for all consumers of edible goods to maintain a 100% objectively non-committal, equivocating view of what they eat. Why, as higher-level beings, would we turn food into an art form if we could not find among ourselves a rich variance in how we value each flavor?
    And why have a blog if you cannot express your personal beliefs about the aforementioned flavors — which, in this case, come from a rather hilariously out-of-place aquatic vegetable?
    For these reasons, I find Rob’s impassioned response here unreasonable.

  6. If you find the lack of pizza options in town so abominable, why don’t you open your own place? That’s a hell of a lot more brave and respectable than lobbing whiney, mean-spirited, unsubstantiated insults and criticisms at those who have.

    Ah, if it isn’t the most hackneyed, predictable refrain in all of rhetoric. “If you don’t like X, why don’t you try starting up your own X instead of shitting all over someone else’s?”

    You probably know this already, but this same rubbish logic can be applied to practically anything with equal (in)validity. Since you’re ostensibly living in the nation’s capital, this point can be proved by a simple reductio ad absurdum:

    Let’s say you want to criticize the President of the United States, saying that his administration really sucks. In response, the White House Press Secretary could easily retort the next morning by saying: “If you don’t like the job the President’s doing, why don’t you run for office against him and see if you can do any better instead of just whining about his? Or why not start your own country and see if you can run the administration there any better? etc., etc.”

    Obviously anyone is both free to criticize the U.S. President of any administration, regardless of whether you’ve been President yourself or even held political office. Really, Rob, you doth protest too much. It makes me wonder if you’re either the owner of the restaurant or one of its shameless fanboys.

    • Just to clarify, the first paragraph is quoted from Rob’s comment. I tried putting it in blockquote format to distinguish it from what I was saying, but it doesn’t seem to have worked.

  7. Hi dude! I fully agree with your opinion. I really like what you’re posting here.

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