I am a Mexican food afficinado. My love affair began in Utah, much like my love affair with a lot of things, continuing to this day. I’m not talking about drive through after the bar Mexican food or what you find at a chain restaurant.
I’m talking the real deal. I unfortunately am the only family member who has this romance going, so it’s a solitary pursuit. Living in the Midwest, authentic anything was in short supply for a very long time. That is slowly changing as diversity begins to take hold.
There are more ethnic restaurants in Sioux Falls now, and as a vegetarian, it makes my tummy very happy. I used to struggle with eating the same thing all the time (it’s not discipline, it’s boredom). Going out to eat was a challenge, since I had the choice of only a few places.
Like music, food provides visceral memories for me. I can tell where I had a certain food for the first time:
- Falafel. In a middle eastern restaurant across from Columbia University at a high school journalism conference. I met several really cool presenters and I thought if I ate what they did, I might absorb some talent through osmosis.
- Bamboo rat. Hunan province China. They lied & said it was chicken. I’m sure they loved pulling a fast one on us American tourists.
- Paneek paneer. A little out of the way Indian restaurant in Philadelphia, with my former college boyfriend who was angry about being taken to such a dump. My grandmother was recovering from open heart surgery and I was gutted. He could care less about my feelings or what I was going through. He was upset over me making him eat such slop. Indian quickly became my favorite cuisine.
- Authentic Mexican-a lot of my high school friends were of Mexican descent (we went to a catholic school in Salt Lake City) and we would trade lunches in the cafeteria. I loved learning about their cultural traditions behind some of their favorite foods.
I try to recreate certain moments in my life by cooking the foods that bring me back to that freeze frame. I can tell you what first meal I’ve made for any boyfriend I’ve had (it’s always the same-some sort of parmigiana with spaghetti, home made sauce & broccoli, because broccoli is the bomb). However, I can’t tell you what the last one was. I made frozen pizza for the first meal in my house. I had chicken parmigiana as my last meal before I became a mother. The night after my grandma died, it was a sampler platter at Denny’, at 2 am, wondering if the funeral home would close her slack jawed mouth. Whenever I need to grieve, I need mozzarella sticks and onion rings.