I just returned to Kansas after a week in Connecticut. I went for a bellydance teacher training and was hosted by a friend who grew up here, but has since put roots down on the East Coast. My friend Pajes and her family made sure that I got a good sample of the wonderful food from the area…and there was lots of it. They are blessed with proximity to New York City, so their standards are very high and there was incredible diversity of choices, from Moroccan to regional Italian and the some of the best pizza I have ever eaten.
I don’t normally go to really expensive restaurants, for no other reason than I am usually too broke to do so. If a meal costs as much as a pair of cute heels, I will almost always choose the shoes. Most of the food I’m drawn to is inexpensive, spicy, and can be eaten standing up. I love great food at any cost, though, so once in a great while, we go crazy and splurge on something really special.
Italian food is almost universally accepted as America’s Favorite Ethnic Food. It’s so mainstream nowadays that we forget that as few as 50 years ago it was considered a very foreign cuisine. We are so saturated with pizza in Wichita (Italian cuisine’s gateway drug) that we have acquired a taste for tomato sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella. We love spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna. We want our pasta drenched in sauce and cheese. This Americanized Italian food is delicious, don’t get me wrong. I grew up on Ragu sauce with Kraft Parmesan cheese and ground beef meatballs.
Sushi has been the subject of many a dinner negotiation. I adore sushi and will bargain outrageously with my non-sushi-loving family to get to go eat it. I’ll promise to fold laundry, or dance a little jig, or even listen to Steely Dan to get to eat sushi. They have gamely tried to enjoy it but it’s just too weird for them. Too cold, too many textures, the unforgivable presence of seaweed…not to mention the raw fish part. That just puts it over the edge.
We live in difficult times. Because we are wired the way we are, when we are stressed, we turn to foods that feel comfortable, reassuring and safe. Some people turn to soft, creamy things like macaroni and cheese, or ice cream, or oatmeal. “Mom Food” is what others want: meatloaf and mashed potatoes, or chicken and noodles, or chili. We turn to our country of origin when we need reassurance, as well.