Cultural Identities through Cookery continued…

Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Memories are strange. Although they don’t really have a physical presence, they exist as if you can feel, touch and hear them, as if they preside in a parallel universe to hold our hands, using us as vessels to connect past and future. This connection is never stronger for me than when I’m preparing a dish that has been lovingly passed down through hands that toiled to create and nourish, both body and soul. No words are necessary as food is an international language. Many times the ingredients may not be familiar but we always identify with the love that went into their preparation. Sharing food evokes trust and promotes peace. Many conflicts have been resolved over a common spread of offerings, both at personal and national levels. I believe in food diplomacy.
You only have to visit the nearest ethnic enclave in your neighborhood to see how immigrant communities congregate around restaurants and grocery stores that connect them to their past through food. I do this at least a couple of times a week. I like to visit the Southeast Asian centers popping up in areas of Dallas that have been abandoned by mainstream retailers. Hardworking immigrants not unlike those that have been coming to our shores for generations, are eagerly introducing us to the the food of their lands sometimes with more love than substance. This was the case last weekend when I ate at a ‘North and South Indian Restaurant’ proudly advertising Vegetarian and Vegan selection. The host went out of his way to explain every dish and to point out its ingredients. Although I’ve tasted better, his enthusiasm convinced me that this place will only improve with time and as large Indian families occupied most tables, I was made to feel as welcome as in someones’s house.
I read the other day that Mark Bittman, chef and New York Times contributor paid a visit to a well known Armenian outpost in Glendale where he joined the owner in the kitchen to learn some ‘tricks’ of the trade. Armenian refugees fleeing political and economic unrest headed to California in huge numbers and found themselves welcome in Glendale. A walk around its business district reveals retail store signage in several languages and the aroma of simmering pots of specialties enticing you to enter. Since for many years Armenians lived in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Russia and other foreign lands, the food is an exquisite blend of the best those countries have to offer, from kabobs to rice dishes to desserts.

Glendale may be home to Armenians but Santa Anna boasts the largest Vietnamese population on this side of the Pacific and Texas is a close second. Hidden from the main restaurant scene, small Mom and Pop stores have been quietly introducing Dallas to Pho, Bah

Sarmale

Sarmale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

n Mi and Specialty Noodle Bowls.  A couple of years ago they went ‘public’ and now there are Vietnamese restaurant in several locations. They have won Dallas over with hot and spicy chicken broth poured over noodles, accompanied by fresh sprouts, jalapeños, limes, and cilantro.

When we first moved to Dallas, the immigrant population was almost nonexistent but a poor lost soul from Transylvania opened a small restaurant serving the much acclaimed ‘Continental’ cuisine of the day: Chateau Briand, Chicken Kiev, Veal Scaloppine, and Baked Alaska with the occasional Vienner Schnitzel. If asked, he would prepare a dish familiar to his compatriots such as Stuffed Cabbage (

Glendale, California, 1910.

Glendale, California, 1910. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sarmale) or Goulash. He also baked the best bread available in those days and sold it to other restaurants. It would be the ticket to his survival as when the restaurant closed, he made his living baking. Customers are a fickle bunch. Few old establishments survive unless they follow current food trends. But what’s old is new again and the Continental Style of classic restaurant offerings is making a comeback.

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Home town…

Downtown Dallas in the background with the Tri...

Downtown Dallas in the background with the Trinity River in the foreground. Taken from the N Hampton Rd bridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a local, I’ve seen Dallas expand into the huge metropolitan area it is today. Development now extends north almost to Oklahoma and West to Fort Worth and beyond. Non-Dallasites always ask me: why do people move to Dallas?

My arrival in 1965 was as an immigrant from Romania via Austria. My parents didn’t choose Dallas, it chose them.  As the new Southwestern Medical school was being developed, calls went out for qualified physicians and they fit the bill. Our knowledge of Dallas was limited but my father thought that fate was intervening when they were offered jobs in the town John F. Kennedy made famous in a most tragic way. As far away as Communist Romania, people wept at the news of his assassination. So Love Field is where we landed on a hot June day, traveling from Vienna in a four prop charter, naive yet eager to become Americans, to embrace our new home.

Today living in Dallas feels comfortable the way an old sweater does. The winters are becoming milder but the summers are brutal making for air-conditioned living from May to October. So what does a Dallasite do? Shopping and eating have defined the city for years but we also have a vibrant Arts and Culture district and a growing urban community. We have two major university and a web of community colleges all offering a wide variety of educational opportunities. There are more and more Biking Paths and I’m not the only one driving a Leaf.

Now that I’ve sold you on the reasons for living here, don’t come running. Home is where you make it, besides we’re heading West very soon.