The meal, consisting of something from the garden, something from Lake Superior, and something that Ralf across the table killed with his hands for the pièce de résistance, is over. There was wine, but I’m drinking Alquimia Reserva tequila brought back from Jalisco. There was cheese; soft cheese, hard cheese, blue cheese with a funk that still lingers at the back of my teeth when I think about it.
They say Chinese is the most sophisticated style of cooking, more so than French (the culinary gold standard in the West), Italian, Spanish…
But it hasn’t taken hold in the Twin Cities. In Minnesota it is still mostly greasy takeout and fried rice.
It reminds that the world is not so small yet that we have can anything and everything at our fingertips. Our general culture is still defined generally by city, state, region, country, and (all) the people living therein. And while big box grocery stores and delivery services have given us access to the things that don’t grow nearby (bananas, avocados, quinoa, walnuts, grapefruit…) much of the cuisine is still defined by what does.
But humans are odd in their distinction of culture. Amish stores selling Amish wares, restaurants offering the “most authentic” to white people while calls of appropriation and insensitivity abound.
We move around, and we take our culture with us. And then we take the culture of this somewhere new onto the next somewhere new. The Italians wouldn’t have pasta if Marco Polo hadn’t traveled east, and his descendants brought it through Ellis Island and across the United States. Now we have Asian noodles and Italian noodles side by side and thank the lord.
We have benefited and continue to benefit from the crossing/blending/sharing of cultures. Humans appreciate learning and trying new things. But does taking this time to talk about what it all means only taking away from our enjoyment of it?
Case in point: the neighbor’s dog enjoys food 1000% more than we do. And we love our food. I’ve seen the dog’s eyes roll back in delight after getting scraps from the grill. I’ve seen the dog beg. Watch each morsel with such focus she becomes a statue. I’ve seen the dog get aggressive.
We celebrate differences
Like the German who eats his eggs soft-boiled from the shell with salt and pepper. I have a childhood friend who will only eat them scrambled with ketchup. Sunny-side up with sliced and salted avocado on the side. The bibbed Frenchman eating them as an omelette or baked en coccotte.
People when they meet, inherently,
“That’s how you do it? Cool. I do it this way.”
It’s a social affair. The best meals are surrounded not only by plates of food but by the faces of friends, family. Or strangers as long as they appreciate what’s in front of them and don’t do too much cocaine before the meal. Eating is like getting a massage: it’s much more fulfilling when you’re cooking for someone else, or someone is cooking for you. It’s just not the same when you do it yourself.
Now I’m sitting at a desk with a small lamp lighting my computer watching old episodes of The Streets of San Francisco wondering who is around to get lunch with. Would I still be alive if there was no one to have dinner with tonight?
I had dinner once with a married woman, who I didn’t know was married, and her husband showed up and said he was going to wring my skinny neck which I thought was a little much given the setting and the situation, and the fact that there were ducks in the back that had literally had their necks wrung. But he was upset-drunk anyway and he tripped and slipped and fell while I escaped out the back with the leftovers.
But it was all worth it, because I had the best foie gras with caramelized onion, with a half lobster and drawn butter, that I’ve ever tasted and may ever taste again.
Let’s go out for dinner tonight. Something good, with multiple courses and wine. With a server who cares about quality of service. In a place that understands timeless and modern as yin and yang.
And after we eat I want to go to the small bar across the street, dark and somewhat hidden, for a glass of whiskey or gin or beer. For a nightcap with friends and family.
Because what is really left after we eat?
Written and photographed by Adrian Daniel Schramm.