One thing that fascinates me, something I’m increasingly grateful for, is the curiosity North America displays for the cuisines of the world. I intentionally use North America, not just America here. Canadians hate that BTWs. That American’s call the U.S. “America,” please, as if we are the only country on the continent of North America!
The Unites States and Canada are the first two countries I lived in. While each is unique and wonderful in it’s own right, they are similar in that, a grocery visit boasts finds from around the world, across many cuisines. Latin, Indian, Thai, French, Cuban, Jamaican, Italian, our shelves are as lined, as our street with culinary options, restaurants and influences. Walking across Walmer Road in Toronto or 14th St. in NYC quickly proves this point.
The thing is, not all markets or cities around the world, reflect, well… the world. More reflect hyper local ingredients, produce and dishes, than offer products imported from around the world. Markets look more like
This is a fact that I once took for granted.
Take Italy for example, a country I love, respect and admire but one that does not boast near the diversity in it’s markets or it’s restaurants. Italians by in large cook… Italian food. There is massive diversity in the regions from North to South, East to West, but it’s all Italian food. While in Italy as a tourist, Sushi? Mexican? Really? What you want, what you should eat, is the MOST regional cuisine you can find. In Torino, Bagna Càuda in Rome, Rigatoni con la Pajata.
Years ago, when visiting Italy for the first time, I made a rather rookie mistake. Eager to impress my boyfriend’s (now Husband I call Bello) Father, I promised to make him a Quesadilla for dinner on my first trip to Italy.
Imagine an American shopping for Mexican ingredient in Italy. Tomato, check. Onion, Check. No Jalapeño or Serrano. Ok no spice, no problem, I can work around that. No Cilantro fresh or dried. Ok no problem, it will still be good. Cheese, a counter lush with options, all in Italian. A monger who spoke no English. At least I knew mozzarella and could point, that would work! Progress.
Now, chicken, only whole raw chickens, no breasts or thighs cut separate and shrink wrapped to save precious cooking time. lovely, great beautiful, organic… but the guys are hungry and have already been waiting in the car half an hour, that’s going to take too long. Ok no problem, I’ve got cheese, onion, tomato, it’s going to be a veggie Quesadilla, that’s all.
No Tortilla shell, I was sunk. Now, at the time, my Italian language skills were those of a 3 year old. My stubborn idea blown, reduced to pointing and tears. Thank goodness my now Mother-in-law came into the store with the silly American, she knew I was going to need help! Only understanding the desperate looking, she saved the day, motioning to put down what was in my hands. That night we made pasta with all local ingredients. It, was, perfect.
That’s the funny thing about amazing food cultures all around the world. Italy, France, Spain, India, they are brilliant at what they do, because they focus on what is local and what they know, not impressing with global diversity.
In the end, you’d better bet, after promising Bello’s Dad a Quesadilla I would deliver. I practiced for ages to get it just right. The next time Bello’s parents were in the US, we were living together in the UWS. In the local market I had everything I needed to whip up the absolute best Quesadilla you’ve ever had North of the boarder.
Now, Bello’s Dad REALLY, really has to have a Quesadilla anytime he’s in America, that and a big, fat, perfect juicy steak.
Cheers to that.