And… it’s food memory time again! [stadium roars with cheers!]
I feel like it’s so southern of me to blog about food memory. And yet, it’s a universal tie to one’s culture, so if you replaced my southern food items with other cultural foods, it could be anyone. So in actuality, it’s just human to talk about food memory. I initially felt that way because many southerners, including myself, believe we have the BEST foods: fried chicken, cornbread, chopped pork barbecue, fried okra, peach cobbler, summer-homegrown-sliced tomatoes! The list goes on and on, but I imagine we could all argue that our childhood food, no matter where it came from, was the best.
I have noticed a strong similarity between Italians and southern Americans in their love of good food and a love of sitting around a table with food and family. That extremely unscientific observation comes from many hours of watching The Food Network, as I don’t actually know any Italians. I do have a friend who is half Italian/half southern and I’ve told him many times that his family reunion spread must be amazeballs. Truth is, it’s not just Italians and southerners. Food provides us all with a connection to our culture, our past, our present, and to one another.
I had an Indian friend in middle school. His name was Ashish Chaudhari and everyone loved him. I remember working on a group project at his house and his mom made chicken tandoori. It was spicy and delicious and different, and super exotic for a teenaged girl growing up in South Carolina. Later, when I had Indian food as an adult, I remembered his sweet mama making that dish and what a cool guy and friend he was. I’ve lost touch with him but it’s a food memory that connects us, even though we are from different backgrounds and have moved on to other towns and lives.
Now that I’m a mom, I wonder what his mother was thinking when a bunch of knuckle headed teenagers came over and she served us food from her homeland. Were we polite? Surely we were, we were southerners!! 🙂 I hope so. Were we grateful? We did not see that interaction as an adult would see it. And, it was the 80s and there was no Food Network, no internet, no organic section in the grocery store. No Nikki Haley. India may as well have been another planet. As an adult, I know now that food is an awesome way to introduce someone to another culture. So kudos to Mrs. Chaudhari! And may we all learn by her example.
What would you serve guests from another country or culture to introduce them to your culture? I’m not sure. Would I go fancy or more rustic? As an American, so many of our dishes come from other cultures already: pasta, tacos, pad thai. As a southerner, well, there are so many options! Although… I don’t even fry my own chicken…I buy it. [gasp!] We usually grill it or roast it now, anyway, but fried chicken reigns supreme, taste-wise. I do make my own cornbread and it is real and it is bomb. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and it’s made in an iron skillet, so yeah, I would definitely serve that. I also make my own fried okra — my other grandmother’s recipe — so I’d serve that, although I oven fry it now. Fresh vegetables are super southern, so I’d do that; maybe green beans and a squash casserole? Definitely summer-homegrown-sliced tomatoes! For dessert: either a caramel cake, or a lemon pie, or peach something, or pound cake. Or maybe all of the above, it’s a culture exchange for goodness sake! And to wash it all down, a big ass pitcher of not-too-sweet tea. With lemon and mint.
I hope my hypothetical guests would enjoy it and would feel welcome. I hope they would fill their bellies and souls with the goodness that I’ve been fortunate enough to have since birth. I hope we would laugh and tell stories around a table, and learn from one another. And afterward, I hope that they would invite me to their home for a meal.
To close, I love this food memory poem by Nikki Giovanni:
I always like summer
you can eat fresh corn
From daddy’s garden
And lots of
And homemade ice-cream
At the church picnic
And listen to
At the church
And go to the mountains with
And go barefooted
And be warm
All the time
Not only when you go to bed
Be well. Take care of yourselves and each other,
p.s. I totally forgot about mac and cheese. Sigh.