Forbidden tea, wet salad, and other sorts of food nonsense

Published 6:28 pm Friday, February 19, 2021

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Let me preface this week’s column: my mother recently said to me (jokingly, I’m sure) that she was tired of all the serious stuff I’ve been writing lately. And I’ll concede to her point. It does feel like it’s been a while since I’ve written about something truly silly.

Thankfully for me (and unfortunately for the rest of you), I’d already had an absurd topic in mind, and this was just the push I needed to write about it. You may have heard of the old “is a hotdog a sandwich?” debate before. As it turns out, this is not the only food debate people on the internet like to argue about. There’s a whole discourse about how to categorize different kinds of foods. And it only gets crazier from here.

First there are the alignment charts. They’re simple diagrams explaining different definitions for a kind of food.

Let’s take dumplings for example: a traditional dumpling would include the traditional ingredients (dough, meat, veggies) and the traditional structure (the filling wrapped in edible, unleavened dough covering). But say you wanted to include less traditional ingredients and you wanted to stretch the traditional structure to include any kind of edible wrapping. By those broader definitions, then you could say hot pockets, corndogs, or even Poptarts are dumplings.

Crazy, right?

My personal favorite alignment chart I’ve seen online was for tea. The purist definition is that tea must be made from leaves by boiling the main ingredient to extract its flavor. That’s the tea we’re familiar with and order from restaurants every day. But again, you can stretch those definitions. What if tea is just anything made from plants? What if tea can be made by mixing a powder into water? By those definitions, then coffee and miso soup can be considered tea. But let’s take it even further. What if you agree that tea can be made from ANY ingredient and is made by mixing powder into water? Then Kraft mac & cheese is technically tea! But what if you decide that tea is made from leaves but can be prepared by any method as long as the result is a liquid containing a suspension of a solid? By that definition, then a clogged gutter is also tea!

Gross! One commenter described a clogged gutter as “forbidden tea.” Seems like a perfect response because I’m certainly not going to taste-test that flavor.

Alignment charts are fun, but can definitely be confusing. Luckily, the “cube rule of food” is a lot easier to understand. A Twitter user drew a handy illustration to explain how food can be divided into a handful of simple categories based on where the starch is located.

Category one is Toast (starch on one side). Then there’s Sandwich (starch on the top and bottom), Taco (starch on three sides, typically the bottom plus two parallel sides), Sushi (four sides and two open ends), Quiche (five sides, including the bottom), and Calzone (all six sides are covered with a starch). A bonus category is Cake (which is anything with tiers). And then there’s the Salad category which is anything that doesn’t fit into the above categories.

Simple, right?

So this means that pizza is actually Toast (unless it’s a deep-dish pizza, then it’s Quiche), pigs-in-a-blanket is actually Sushi, pie with a crust on top is a Calzone (key lime pie is a Quiche), lasagna is Cake, and steak is a Salad.

These categories open up so many possibilities. A burrito can be Sushi or a Calzone, depending on how good you are at folding a burrito. Chicken pot pie is basically upside-down Toast. Dumplings (no matter what definition you use) are a Calzone. One Twitter user pointed out that a vanilla soy latte is just a three-bean wet Salad.

Oh, and a hotdog is actually a Taco. (Unless, of course, you accidentally slice the bun all the way through. Then it’s a Sandwich.)

It’s a whole new way of thinking about food. Labels and definitions are basically whatever you want them to be. I think that’s incredibly ridiculous but also super entertaining. Go home and debate about food with your friends and family. See how many dishes you can categorize. See how many definitions you can bend or break.

If nothing else, maybe it’ll make you laugh. And my mother was right about that. Every now and then, we all need a break from the serious stuff.

But just stay away from the forbidden tea, okay?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.