To me, food is perhaps the most significant manifestation of a culture. What else has the potential to express a culture’s values three times a day, every day? And the consumption of food is highly ritualistic, an integral part of defining how families interact, how business is done, how communities function.
To test my assumption, I thought about all of the countries I have visited and my ability to recall memories of food. It was easy. So many memorable moments revolved around food. In many cases, I could recall the precise dish and restaurant.
This post is the first in a series. I’ll start with North America followed by Europe, Asia and the Caribbean in future posts. Here’s a sampling:
New Orleans. Oysters and 300 beers to choose from at Cooter Brown’s. Pecan waffles at Camellia Grill. Mac and cheese at Rocky & Carlo’s in Chalmette. Barbeque shrimp at Pascal’s Manale. Fried oyster po-boy at Mother’s. Anything at Jazz Fest. Muffuletta sandwich at Central Grocery. A great meal at Herbsaint whose details I can’t remember. With New Orleans, I could go on.
Boston. This one’s tough as it’s my home town with too many memories to fit one blog entry. That said, here’s a few. Clam chowder at Legal Sea Foods. Tasting menu at Radius. Cannoli at Mike’s Pastry. Fried clams at Woodman’s or The Clam Box. Anything at Oleana. Pizza at Emma’s. Shrimp & grits at Hungry Mother. Burgers at Barley’s.
San Francisco. Crab cakes and broiled fish at Tadich Grill. Anything Asian in downtown Mountain View. Mongolian pork chops at Mustards Grill in Napa. Cheap sushi and sake bombs at Miyake in Palo Alto. Simple pasta dishes and sidewalk dining at a defunct Italian resto in Palo Alto whose name I can’t recall.
New York. This one’s hard if only because my culinary adventures span 30 years. Maybe the most memorable trip was my first, at age 13. My older brother first exposed me to Thai food, sushi and Chinese in one weekend. Thereafter: Sugar Reef on Second Avenue for great, cheap Caribbean food in the East Village. Brunch at Maxwell’s Plum. Sushi at innumerable good places. Aureole for some duck dish I can’t remember. Henry’s End in Brooklyn Heights for exotic game on the grill. Zarela for killer margaritas. Gustavino’s for one of the more memorable settings ever: under the arches of the 59th Street Bridge.
Halifax. Clearwater for freshly cooked lobsters to take home and make lobster rolls. Lots of meals cooked at my Mom’s house. In fact, she probably wouldn’t want me to speak of anything in Halifax that she didn’t cook.
Toronto. Bouillabaisse with grilled seafood at Pronto, long defunct. I would literally go there every trip to Toronto in the early 90’s. And that was a lot of times. Bistro 990 for duck confit and celebrity sightings during the film festival.
Montreal. Schwartz’s for smoked meat sandwiches. Bagels at Fairmount. Though I can’t profess a love for their wood-fired oven flavor and texture, they certainly differ from New York style.
Washington, DC. Sushi Taro for some of the best Japanese cuisine I’ve had outside of Japan. Also the place I first tasted unfiltered sake. Yum. I suppose it helps to be located near the Japanese embassy. Restaurant Nora before the Clintons even got there.
Other cities with great food but foggy memories: Chicago. Portland, Maine. Seattle. Los Angeles. Vancouver.
Stay tuned for future installments elsewhere in the world.