Oh how I miss you, worldly foods

The other day, as I sat munching on some tasty rice crackers I had just discovered (part of my new effort to keep to my no-bread diet), I began reading an article on NYTimes.com all about ramen noodles in Japan.  My mouth immediately began to water and the crackers no longer seemed so appealing.  I began thinking about all the delicious foods I have been subconsciously missing back home, my no-bread diet aside.

My head filled with thoughts of steaming soup dumplings from a tiny place my parents discovered in Chinatown where we´re always the only non-Chinese clients, City Bakery salad bar (tortilla soup, jasmine rice and carmelized bosque pears calling my name), heaping plates of spicy Thai noodles with savory coconut sticky rice, fresh sushi rolls (real sushi, not crab and cooked salmon), flavorful tacos on corn not flour tortillas, a dripping-with-oil gigantic day-worth of calories NY slice, Pinkberry, what I like to call ¨designer burgers¨ from one of my four fav places (The Burger Joint, Goodburger, Five Napkin Burger, or Shake Shack), cheesy corn from Cafe Habana, curry chicken salad from Friend of Farmer, prosciutto eggs benedict (Argentines don´t do brunch), arepas from Caracas, Luzzo´s authentic Italian pizza, everything bagel with cream cheese and lox and a side of peach Snapple, falafel sandwich with extra tzatziki from Mamhouds, Zibetto capuccino and brioche, the melt-in-your mouth bufala mozzarella cheese and plate of prosciutto/mortadella at Obika!, a heaping plate of nachos…well that about does it before I write a short novel.

It just goes to show, it´s hard to truly appreciate the unmatched global variety of New York restaurants until you step outside this food-lovers mecca.  Back in my Manhattan studio apartment, a typical week of eating looked like this: Mexican Monday and Friday, sushi Tuesday, Thai Wednesday, Italian Thursday, New American Saturday, and a mish-mash home cooked meal Sunday.  I also ate salad or some kind of vegetable every day.

What I can´t ever seem to be prepared for is when I travel and find that most other cultures around the world eat a diet almost entirely based on their local food, not anyone else´s.  I realize this sounds kind of silly, logically people would eat a lot of their own culture´s food.  But I guess I thought there´d be more alternatives.  And given my experiences growing up in New York – being more adept at using chopsticks than a fork at four years old, first trying and loving sushi at eight years old (after my dad told me the eel was bbq´d chicken), tasting food so spicy my eyes poured with water but still going back for seconds  – it´s just not what I´m used to.  In Italy I saw a similar thing – the second you ventured outside raviolis, risotto, and pizza you were faced with a pretty nasty plate of greasy stir fried food that didn´t resemble anything Asian as it was intended.  My ex-boyfriend´s family from India believed that any Gujurat meal contained all the nutrients and food groups you needed, no matter what the salt or oil content, and I remember trying to explain to my host family in Thailand what cheese or a burrito was.  So this tendency is really universal.

Diverse foods from around the world are available here more or less amongst the array of restaurants (it´s a big city that attracts tons of tourists), but it´s not part of the regular diet and therefore not easy or cheap to come by.  It´s also hard to even find an Argentine friend who is willing to try some of these foods with me.  As I have mentioned before, pepper is not on the table here (only salt) and Argentines are suspicious of foods that are remotely spicy.  People eat what they´ve grown up eating and then it becomes hard to convince them to try new things.  I realize there´s an economic part to this – certain foods grow abundantly in Argentina and are therefore cheaper, while the more exotic ones come with a higher price tag.

That´s a reason I truly appreciate New York.  Since people from so many different countries live there, grocery stores cater to different ethnic groups that have settled together, carrying all the rare ingredients needed for different ethnic dishes but at normal prices.  Set foot in Jamaica or Astoria, Queens, or Brighton Beach and you will immediately see what I mean.

I don´t like to complain about the adjustments I´m experiencing living in a new country (after all I made the decision to come here in the first place), but given my passion for food sometimes it´s hard not to.   I do enjoy a lot of the foods here, but at times it gets a bit monotonous when I´m eating steak or polenta for the third time in the same week.  I so desperately miss my days of some truly amazing gastronomic experiences.

Photo:  potatomato.com http://www.potatomato.com/blog/?p=1554