Having lived in three states along the East Coast, New York, Florida and South Carolina, and being lucky enough to have done a fair amount of traveling throughout this vast and food-filled country of ours, I’ve learned that while there are many foods in common available to us, there are also definite differences in preference specific to certain areas. Lucky for me (or not, depending on how you look at it) I’m in love with it all.
While we moved away from New York when I was young, I spent many a Summer vacation there and have gone back once a year or so to visit as an adult. Whether we’re talking about upstate, where I come from, or the city, where I love to visit, there’s a bounty of goodies available that are superior to anywhere else I’ve had.
Italian food, for instance. I won’t even go into detail about the pasta except to say there’s a reason my favorite food of all time is spaghetti and meatballs. Nowhere else can you buy a slice of pizza (or just “a slice,” to use their vernacular) for so much bang for your buck. I’ve paid $2.00 for slices the size of my head. They’re made with the most delectable crust you’ve ever known and need no adornment of toppings besides the cheese. And while we’re on the bread thing, let’s talk about the bagels for a minute. Soft and chewy on the inside, light and flaky, not too hard on the outside – I can and do sometimes happily forgo cream cheese because it’s hard to improve on perfection. Then there’s the “Hard roll.” The name is misleading, as this is also soft in the middle and lightly crusty. In the South I’ve found its inferior cousin, the Keiser roll, but there’s really no comparison. A perfect NY breakfast: two fried eggs on a Hard roll with a frosty glass of chocolate milk. I think I just gained five pounds writing that. There is a list of things I always eat when I visit there, and it never varies. I once took a picture of a perfect piece of cheesecake I was eating in the Carnegie Deli so I’d always remember that magical moment.
My formative years were spent living in various cities around Central Florida. At a young age, I discovered the wonders of fresh seafood, though it took awhile before I warmed up to lobster. Once I did though, I made up for lost time. Along with shrimp and scallops, I also love most kinds of fish and eventually, clams and oysters. For awhile down there, Brian was commercial fishing and it became customary every Friday night he brought home a veritable smorgasbord of seafood so fresh it was practically still swimming. It’s very easy to get spoiled with that, let me tell you. I’ve found that most people from the Midwest gag at the thought of seafood and to that I say, “You’re right; it’s disgusting – leave it all for me!”
Of course Florida is also known for its produce bounty and I especially loved the oranges, strawberries (well, all berries really) and watermelon. One of the many perks of living there was that there was a fairly good chance the house you were renting or buying would already have a citrus tree growing right there in the backyard. I still miss picking limes straight off the tree and squeezing them into my water.
Then in my early 20’s, I moved here (for the first time) to the “Real” South. And a whole new culinary world was opened up to me. It was then that I learned to appreciate the right way to eat grits (mix in your eggs and crumbled up bacon), the fact that the South can be divided up into different regions based on bar-b-que sauce alone (we live in the mustard-based zone, while North Carolina is vinegar & black pepper and some other places have ketchup but we hardly count those) and that you’re not a proper Southern restaurant unless you offer the “Meat & Three” – that’s one serving of meat and three vegetables. But “vegetable” also includes things like cornbread and macaroni and cheese. One of the finest examples of this type of menu is at a local chain restaurant called Lizard’s Thicket. When I told people I moved to a place that had a restaurant called this, they became a little worried. Until I took them to eat there. And lastly, this is where I learned there’s no vegetable that can’t be made more tasty (and fattening) by turning it into a casserole.
So even though I’ve been exposed to a few different types of food, I realize there’s still a whole lot I’m missing out on just by virtue of not getting around much anymore. I was very young when we traveled out West and I was a lot pickier then. All I remember is freaking out in a San Francisco restaurant when they brought my clam chowder to me and it was thin and red instead of thick and white. If I ever get out that way again, I’d make it a point to try as many local specialties as possible. And whose idea was it not to put a Trader Joe’s anywhere around the Southeast?
Although I didn’t get to be this weight by missing out on too much.
I love hearing about foodies from different places, so if there’s a good one you’d like to share, please do. I will eat vicariously through you. Wait, that sounded wrong. You know what I mean. I hope.