My son and I once checked a book out from the library, “Matisse, King of Color” by Laurence Anholt. We both loved it instantly – though of course I had guided the selection among a few artists in the series, Matisse is a favorite of mine. It tells the back story of how Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence came to be, with beautiful illustrations inspired by the artist. (Now that I’ve most of the rest of the series, it still holds up as one of the best.) After checking it out a few times, I suggested to grandma that it would be a good Christmas present.
Last night as we read the story for the Nhundredth time, it occurred to me that we could take Cash to that place, so he knows that it’s a real story. When I traveled to western Europe after finishing undergrad, I was so struck by being in a place (quite a few of them) with so much history that I’d learned about. Going to museums to see the art history I had learned about, getting a true sense of scale of paintings that had all been projected onto a wall at approximately the same size.
Then I wondered when. I have an idea in my head to go to Thailand for my 40th birthday or sometime in that year, to visit a friend and experience another part of the world that my culture wasn’t already based on.
When we decided to move back Texas, a place, where in all likelihood we would have to seek out cross-cultural experiences instead of stumbling across them as one does in Brooklyn, NY, we committed to doing just that, seek out cross cultural experiences. It did not occur to me that we’d be doing it through food as much or more than anything else.
I am a medium-level foodie, and my favorites are Asian cuisines, including but not limited to Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Korean. Choices in Asian food almost anyplace in America pale in comparison to New York City, and Waco is no exception. There is one Thai food restaurant (decent food, terrible acoustics), one Vietnamese food restaurant (just below fair), zero Indian food restaurants (but one in the works!!), and a couple of wildly different Korean food options (both excellent in their own way). It feels consumerist of me to be so obsessed with the foods of those cultures without delving further into their cultures, but as foodies know (especially those lucky traveling ones), you can learn a whole lot about a culture from the origins & preparations of their food. I usually make everyone eat Vietnamese food when we visit parents in Arlington, where there is an area with lots of wonderful Vietnamese restaurants.
Last night we went to a Korean Sushi restaurant and when I ordered Bibimbap, the server made sure to let me know that it came with a sunnyside up egg on top, and was that OK? (Hell Yes) It reminded me of a couple of other times recently when people at so-called ethnic restaurants checked a detail like that with me when I ordered. They were apparently so accustomed to white people being freaked out by something totally normal in the cuisine that was being served that they’ve made it a practice to double-check.
(Side note, that reminds me a bit about how white people so often have to be weird about names they consider unusual, a la Jimmy Kimmel’s oscar-hosting name weirdness)
Where do you want to go? Where do you want to eat? If you ever find yourself in Waco, I know the good spots! Strengths are taco trucks, breakfast tacos, a Korean-American concoction called Oriental Fries that you can get nowhere else in the U.S. The town of West has a Czech history, which has led to the Tex-Czech pastry the kolache. I once met a musician in New York who was very excited to learn that I was from Texas, made sure I knew what West was famous for and proceeded to extol the virtues of kolaches and bemoan the lack of them anywhere else. See? Cultural history, all wrapped up in yeasty dough.
EDIT: In the 1 day since I published this, I’ve found 2 food related articles that delve into some cultural context:
Your Instagram foodie pics could be perpetuating racist stereotypes
Why #45’s food choices are bad news: “A person who refuses to try something better is a person who will never make things good.”
Image by Claire Sexton: All The Hot Sauce at HEB Grocery Store in Waco TX