My mom is a relentless and talented cook, very creative and able to stretch short budgets into long meals. She was raised in Germany during WWII and still carries a “waste not want not” sensibility. Food was nourishment but always delivered with interest and as a social thing for our family. When we traveled to different regions of the U.S., I learned it is fun to sample the new things I might encounter there—often unheard of, usually enjoyed, sometimes best forgotten.
I became an adventuresome sampler. Perhaps my favorite such surprise was a New England dessert called Indian pudding. I had it in a sandwich shop in Vermont and it slayed me. November in my house now is not certified until I’ve made Indian pudding for the family. I’ve added my recipe to the Recipes discussion.
After traveling a good amount as an adult and living in different regions of the U.S. and twice in England, I discovered that the best first thing to do when I go somewhere new is . . . visit a grocery store. Go shop for food where locals do their shopping. If you want to get a crash course in the basic parameters of a group’s foodways, go where they get their eats and look around.
In Chicago’s and New York’s downtowns, you’ll find small, cramped stores with an economy of high-interest items targeting those who live within a few blocks (see the featured image, above). In Germany, you’ll find a preference for mouth-watering baked goods and fresh meats. In England, the fare seems bland until you discover they sell beer in plastic litre bottles like we sell soft drinks. And in the American South: A better selection of biscuits (fresh and frozen) than anywhere else.
In the long run, I’ve discovered I am a foodie and enjoy experimentation. What I love best of all when away from home is “reading” how a community’s or region’s foodways grant us insights into what makes the locals tick. It comes as no surprise to me, then, that I find myself teaching a university-level foodways course.
Featured image info.: Inner-city groceries like Westside Market in New York often spill out onto sidewalks to draw passers-by into the incredibly maze-like warren of goods. (Photo: Grocery Headquarters)