Editor's note: This piece was originally published in the Southern Foodways Alliance's Gravy Foodletter #42, December 2011. Today's installment comes courtesy of Kat Kinsman, managing editor of CNN Eatocracy.
Several stories above Manhattan's Central Park, there hangs a three-Michelin-starred, monstrously expensive restaurant that an awful lot of people think is perfect. I may have thought that, too, at one point, but I know it's not, because I've been to the K&W Cafeteria.
Actually, I'm going to back that up and admit out loud in public that I have in fact boarded a plane, rented a hotel room, and stayed overnight in a city several states away for the express purpose of sitting down with a groaning tray of K&W chicken livers, fried okra, collard greens, and vegetable congeal and eating my greedy head off.
Editor's note: This piece - a little-known lesson in African American drinkways - was originally delivered as a presentation at the 2008 Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium on the Liquid South. It was later printed in Cornbread Nation 5. Today's installment comes courtesy of John Simpkins, Fellow of Comparative Constitutional Law at the Charleston School of Law.
I've been black since birth. I'm not sure how long I've been a Jew. "You're the only black person I know who can quote Woody Allen movies," said my Jewish friend, Peter, when I asked him to assess my Jewishness. "I only quote from the early good ones," I explained. "And those I love. In fact, love is too weak a word for what I feel. I more than love them. I 'lurve' them."
"Sammy Davis Jr. was your favorite member of the Rat Pack," Peter continued, pressing his case. "You even sent your three-year-old to summer camp at the Jewish Community Center. He recognizes the Israeli flag, can sing the dreidel song, and is constantly asking for challah. If you're not Jewish, Jonah certainly is."
My jaw hit the pavement the first time I saw the truck. Outside Atlanta's CNN Center was parked a FedEx-sized delivery automobile, painted with the colors of the Mexican flag and the portrait of an African-American man wearing a sombrero right smack in the middle. It bore a tagline, “The Blaxican Mexican Soul Food.”
I knew I had to find this Blaxican.
Before he was known as The Blaxican, William Turner was a Boston, Massachusetts-raised father of two who came to Atlanta in 1992 and today, like many Americans, found himself unemployed. Turner was laid off from his job as the marketing director for a non-profit religious organization a year ago.
So with that background, where did the food come in?
Several years ago, a graduate-school classmate and I intersected in Birmingham. We'd become friends over the poetry of Keats and Yeats in upstate New York. Once a semester, we would trek to Syracuse's Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, where I'd load a rack of ribs into my toothpick-thin body, to the amazement of the Harley-riding regulars. So on his first trip to Birmingham, I decided to take Paul to Dreamland.
I mean the one near UAB. Paul wasn't ready for the Tuscaloosa cathedral. I had to ease him into it. And the Birmingham Dreamland was also part of my grad school experience: I went there with my parents just after it opened, when I made my first trip home from New York for Thanksgiving. Birmingham's Dreamland was one of the few places I could exceed my Dinosaur draw, polishing off a rack before moving on to the second. This was the obvious venue for an Alabama reunion with Paul.
From dawn to dusk during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observant Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex in order to purify themselves, learn humility, pray and concentrate on Allah's teachings. Sarah Mahmood is a former intern on Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien and a junior at Wellesley College and shares this story of her family's traditional Indian celebration.
This might be the first Ramadan that my parents wonʼt complain about how theyʼve gained weight, despite having fasted the entire month.
After a long, hungry day of fasting, itʼs easy to overcompensate when you can finally eat. It doesnʼt help that in South Asia, the meal eaten to break the fast (Iftari or Iftar in other parts of the Muslim world), consists primarily of fried food.
Now that Ramadan is in the summer though, and the sun sets later at 8 pm, fewer families are having the traditional fare. Itʼs too hectic to prepare and eat two meals just before going to bed, and so many are skipping straight to dinner.
Jesse Friedman and Laura Hadden are cooking their way around the world.
The Brooklyn couple has set out on a multi-year project to throw a dinner party featuring the cuisine of each of the 193 United Nations member countries - in alphabetical order, no less. They document the experience, complete with pictures and recipes, on their blog, United Noshes.
Thus far, they’ve cooked 36 meals - starting with Afghanistan and ending with China.
It was a few minutes before 11 a.m. and Bill Adams had two things on his mind: Brunswick stew and cracklin cornbread.
To satisfy his craving for meat stew and fried pig skin, this lifelong Georgia boy made the hour-long drive Tuesday from his home in Griffin to Harold’s Barbecue in south Atlanta. When he and his friends learned this was to be Harold’s last week in business, they made plans for a final pilgrimage.
“Just wanted to stop by for one last meal,” the longtime patron said as he waited in the restaurant’s dusty parking lot for doors to open. He wasn't alone; there were about a dozen others, including a pair of Georgia State Troopers.
“It’s inevitable. Everything changes. Nothing lasts forever,” he said. “We don’t like it but we can’t stop it.”
Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs, writers and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian, living history interpreter and Jewish educator from the Washington D.C. area. He blogs at Afroculinaria.com and thecookinggene.com. As the originator of the Cooking Gene Project, he seeks to trace his ancestry through food.
Edward Booker, Hattie Bellamy and Washington Twitty didn’t know what an organic farm was, but nearly everything they ate was organic. They enjoyed wild caught, sustainable fish; they were no strangers to free range chickens, and they ate with the seasons with almost nothing originating more than a mile or two away from their cabin door. They had gardens, composted, and ate no processed foods. Their food was fairly simple, often meatless; and it was a fusion cuisine, with ingredients drawn from five continents.
They were not culinary revolutionaries living out of the foodie playbook - they were three enslaved individuals living among the over 4 million held in bondage before the Civil War, and they were my ancestors.
In the upcoming months I will return to the fields, forests and waterways of the Old South in search of my culinary version of Roots, tracing my family tree through food from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom. The project is called The Cooking Gene: Southern Discomfort Tour.