Chinatown is Everywhere

It was true when the world was much younger, but all the more so in this age of easy travel and speedy communication: the globe shrinks, cultures meet and intermingle, and there’s less and less difference between one city and another. A minuscule part of me is sadder each time I see English plastered across the signs and storefronts of a foreign country that used to seem more exotic and culturally distant from where I grew up and lived my life. Intermingling can easily lead to homogeneity, and that can be mighty boring.
Photo montage: Chinatown is Everywhere

But then I am reminded that even when travel was arduous and communication as slow as molasses in a meat locker, cultures met, mixed and mated, and gradually produced new and fantastic variants of themselves. Where would we be if languages had never borrowed and stolen terms from each other, evolved and changed over time? If nobody had ever crossed a border, learned about another culture, married a foreigner, or learned the way a more advanced or inventive group could accomplish tasks more efficiently and elegantly, would humans even still be around to do that stuff anymore?

My attitude is changing. Now, I really do still greatly appreciate that there are recognizable ethnic neighborhoods in nearly every city, every country. They’re wonderful microcosms of the nations and peoples that immigrated and founded them. But I also love that there’s a regular hurricane of linguistic mash-ups, cultural blending and reinvention of characteristics that comes from our happy meetings on new shores. It’s how we got here; it’s how we’ll move forward and continue to thrive.

Meanwhile, as long as there are those fantastic ethnic-enclave neighborhoods still in action, I’ll know I can follow the locals and find the best jiaozi and sticky rice in town when I get hungry.

Foodie Tuesday: Come Away with Me

Travel eating can be a horror, of course, since the challenges of being in unfamiliar territory, changing time zones (and therefore, often, the times when we’re hungry or not), having to figure out the differences in price based on a travel budget and possibly foreign currencies and the simple odds of finding great food in a new or different place can all conspire to put us at risk of eating badly, if at all. I can think of a few classic examples in my own history, to be sure. A trip to a certain little (long gone, God willing) Inn that wanted ever so dearly to be thought quaint and Elizabethan and folkloric springs instantly to mind: a speedy glimpse into the dining room should have warned of danger ahead, had either my sister or I bothered to note that the decor included a plate rail circling the room and bearing an ominously vast collection of cartoonish miniature boxes of cold cereal. What followed, since we failed to notice this flagrant danger signal before we’d ordered and waited quite awhile, was remarkable in its weirdness and memorably awful tasting, a meal in which every single ingredient smacked noticeably of the tin from whence it sprang and the pièce de résistance was a salad thus composed: one wet leaf of iceberg lettuce cupping a hard, slightly greenish canned peach half that in turn cradled one whole pitted black olive. If ever a thing eyed me ominously, it was that thing.

But more often than not, lest you think me incapable of finding out the true culinary delights peculiar to any place I visit, I love travel in large (no pun intended) part because I do find and relish such specialties of places-not-my-home.

In Texas, besides the fine variety of regional treats influenced by the mix of whatever native and immigrant populations rule therein, there is almost always some great Mexican and/or Tex-Mex food to be had, not to mention the whole range of beefy, meaty and BBQ-smoky goodness that reigns in the hearts and stomachs of the locals. So you know full well that when my spousal-person and I get to do any wandering in our current state of dwelling, we tend to hunt for those joints where the area’s avid eaters congregate to eat such good and glorious things.photoA trip to the Boston Early Music Festival is reason to rejoice by virtue all of the fantastic playing and singing we hear there. High art and musical culture are always a thrill. But it’s also an outstanding excuse to indulge in Boston‘s superlative food culture. So, given the chance, you can bet I’ll dash to one of the nearest provisioners of provender to order up a beatific lobster roll as soon as I can manage it. If it is repeated numerous times and also happens to be followed by a number of equally fine regional treats, say, a dainty dish of Boston baked beans swimming in molasses-sticky sauce or some spectacular Italian food at the north end of town, why then, I’m all the happier.photoDriving through Oregon wine country is a sure way to enjoy some spectacular scenery, its vineyards interspersed with small organic farms and fruit and hazelnut orchards, but do you think there’s any chance I would settle for merely viewing such glories and not dining on them too? Think again! Would I go visiting in northern Italy and not fill up on ethereal handmade pasta with wild mushrooms? Never! Cross an inch of Hungarian soil without seeking out a good dose or ten of paprikás or gulyás? Perish the thought! This musing is motivated in part, of course, by the opportunity and intent to spend a bit of this summer engaged in this beloved sport of eating-while-traveling. (Or, admittedly, traveling-while-eating.) But if it also serves to move you to further such adventures, rest assured I will be cheering you on all the way. And if I can find you and join you at the table, I most assuredly will.photo