Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and this week, we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America in 2011. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m. E.T.
The first time I ate matzo ball soup, I was sure it was the most exotic thing I would ever put in my mouth, so long as I lived. To Jewish people since time immemorial, it's been the homely stuff of a family kitchen - filling, grounding, comforting and totally quotidian.
To me, a thoroughly unworldly girl celebrating the occasion of her First Holy Communion at a Jewish-French restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, it was like a bolt of lightning in the dead of night, suddenly illuminating a previously unseen city in the distance.
Upon moving to New York some 15 years later, I dated a solid string of gentlemen fated to eternal disappointment in the matzo ball soup offerings from the city’s delis and restaurants. I sampled each and every one of them – often trading whatever I’d ordered in exchange for their soup after they’d inevitably laid down their soup in exaggerated disgust. They were, to a bowl, perfectly fine and often excellent renditions of the dish. They just weren’t their Bubbe’s.
I didn’t grow up with a Bubbe – or a Nonna or Memama or Oma – cooking up wonder in the kitchen. Grandma K. was a solid maker of American staples, and excelled at Christmas cookies (to this day no one can equal her Swedish Gems). Grandma R. was...not an enthusiastic follower of the culinary arts. Had either of them been – and been Jewish rather than Sicilian or Welsh-Irish-Canadian-French-somethingorother, I may have been happily indifferent to the charms of that first bowl.
But I wasn’t. I was smitten. I’d taken a chance on something wholly other than my square, stolid diet and been rewarded. I tagged along with my Dad to Cincinnati’s International Folk Festival, selling little dragon flags and shirts at the Welsh Society booth so I’d be in close proximity to the food booths when my breaks came around.
I spent my allowance money on those days studying the subtle distinctions between Cantonese, Vietnamese and Cambodian eggrolls. I shocked my sinuses with an unadvertised wasabi glob nestled in a dragon roll (and spent the next 10 years assuming all sushi was brutally spicy) and learned quite quickly that even if the cream cheese is an extra $.50, a dry bagel is indeed, no bargain.
Despite any culinary missteps, I didn’t – and I don’t to this day – ever stop hoping that the next miraculous matzo ball, haggis, larb, souse, 'nduja or mangosteen is right around the corner. It may not be from my culture, but it feeds the ever-ravenous kid inside me.
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