Eating as I Go
Scenes from America and Abroad
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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A few years ago, when she was visiting New York, my granddaughter Emily, then nine, proposed that we have lunch at La Bicyclette, a French bistro she remembered from an earlier visit. “We could eat Italian,” she said, “but the restaurant is noisy and you wouldn’t like it. ...
Part 1: DELICIOUS ACTS OF DEFIANCE
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YOM KIPPURS AT YUM LUK
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My favorite egg foo yung is the one I ate religiously—in an ammonia-scented Cantonese dive on upper Broadway—every Yom Kippur during my high school years. At Yum Luk, three crunchy “omelets,” neatly stacked and bulging with bean sprouts, onions, and diced roast pork, ...
A KITCHEN OF ONE’S OWN
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The first kitchen I called my own was the one I shared with fifteen other female graduate students on the second floor of Yale University’s Helen Hadley Hall. The building, which opened its doors in 1958, the year I entered graduate school, was a tasteless concrete box. ...
MARRIAGE MEXICAN STYLE
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“Dos margaritas,” I said, showing off my Spanish. “Lo mejor que tiene,” the best that you have. In 1969, Eli and I didn’t know brand names of tequila or whether Cointreau made a richer drink than Grand Marnier. We had been nibbling fiery peanuts, and a fresh taste was required...
DINNER PARTY PROTOCOLS
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When the doorbell rings at 6:45 on a sour Friday evening, I am busy slicing onions and holler to Eli to get it. The bumper-to-bumper traffic following a Friday afternoon meeting at the college has left me frazzled and pissy. ...
THE PENULTIMATE PASSOVER
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I can always count on a certain phone call in early March to bring out the worst in me. Once again, it is Gerry, my eighty-eight-year-old aunt, phoning about plans for the forthcoming family seder. She is having the usual “interesting” group at her house, and she certainly hopes that...
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A large white tent shimmers in the September sun. Beneath it twenty round tables are covered with sparkling white cloths and whimsical bouquets of fall flowers. Overhead, the sky is clear and big. On the western edge of the horizon, the Shawangunks (a.k.a. the “Gunks”), where my...
THANKSGIVING IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN
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I shift the heavy shopping bag, brown paper in white plastic, from my right hand to my left, flexing the tired muscles before I press the elevator button marked “8.” The tall, burly man who has come in after me inspects my parcel, sniffs for telltale odors, and then abruptly glues his...
Part 2: CRAZY SALAD
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EAT (ETHNIC)! EAT (AMERICAN)! [Contains Image Plates]
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I watch the tiny, wizened woman on the line in front of me selecting her lunch. She points an arthritic forefinger first to pancit (Filipino noodles), then to a chocolately brown pork adobo (pork belly marinated in vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce),...
OPAKAPAKA AND POKE, TOO
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This is embarrassing. I am calling Alan Wong’s, one of Hawaii’s premier restaurants, at 11:00 on a Monday morning hoping to reserve a table for that evening. A New Yorker knows better. Alan Wong’s received a James Beard award in 1996...
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It happens to me all the time. Shopping in the mall, I’m suddenly gripped by late morning hunger pangs that must be assuaged. My first thought is the Starbucks knockoff, where $2.75 will get me a disappointing cappuccino, which I’m likely...
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I load ten plastic containers and several Styrofoam-wrapped packages into the large red-and-white cooler: whole cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, shredded daikon, spinach and cucumber salads, dried squid, sweetened dried fish, black soybeans, dried baby octopus, baby clams, japchae, scallion pancakes, and sesame...
Part 3: A GLOBAL APPETITE
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THE REAL SENEGAL
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At the luxurious Hotel Ngor, on the Senegalese coast facing the Atlantic, Eli and I begin lunch each day with a perfect mango. The gleaming orange flesh, carved into a crown of cubes and triangles, is sweet, firm, and silky smooth in the mouth. ...
THE POLITICS OF COUSCOUS
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We have rented a white house with sky-blue shutters on a rocky outcropping facing the Mediterranean. It is a serene retreat, twenty minutes by car from the Tunisian capital and my job at the University of Tunis. I open the shutters each morning to...
THE BEST CHEESE IN THE WORLD
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Our neighbor Francisco, a portly man of sixty, hangs out weekends in the doorway of his street-front garage. Weather permitting, he soaks up the sun while gossiping with friends. When he spots Eli and me heading his way, arms laden with books, beer, and bread, he beckons us inside. ...
A VIEW FROM THE FORTRESS POLANA
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The breakfast buffet at the Hotel Polana is thirty running feet of elegant imports: decadent patés and seductive herring, vegetable salads and classic French cheeses, fruit pastries and croissants, fried eggs, sausages, and, for the cholesterol conscious, granola and yogurt. ...
DAL BHAT AT PHARPING
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The fruit trees ringing the house at Pharping produce apricots, peaches, cherries, and pears—amazing pears, my son Adam boasts. The air is sweet and fresh; it’s the opposite of the killer exhaust and rotting garbage that clog our nostrils in Kathmandu. ...
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Ahmed stares at the photo of Fatima Abbasi. The young professor from the West Bank studies the beautiful woman with coal-black eyes and a direct, unsmiling gaze. She stands at a table in her kitchen, stuffing grape leaves with a mixture of bulgur, ground lamb, onions, and currants. ...
CHAPULINES, MOLE, AND FOUR POZOLES
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On a blisteringly hot afternoon in Oaxaca, my friend Nancy and I stroll north from the Zocalo in search of a restaurant called Las Quince Letras. The guidebook warns that Las Quince Letras is easy to miss: we’re to look for a plain purple entryway and a sign saying “restaurante.” ...
GEORGIA ON MY MIND
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Arriving at London Heathrow from Newark, I check the boards for my British Air flight to Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia. Terminal 1 for European connections, the signs announce, and Terminal 4 for Asian connections. ...
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“Abueng has done us a great favor,” my nephew Eric announces. He pauses to fill four glasses with South African sauvignon blanc. His parents and I are relaxing on the terrace of the Johannesburg house that Eric, his wife, and his daughter have rented for the year. ...
Part 4: COOKING FOR A CHANGE
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The FoodBank’s community room is festooned with red and yellow crepe paper streamers. On the wall behind the chairs of fifteen Food Service Training Academy graduates are their names in large black type. Blue balloons above each chair, with “Congratulations” and “Good Luck”...
INDUSTRY RULES AND ETHNOGRAPHIC ANGST
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“You have to be here,” Chef Jimmy announces. “Every day. On time.” His booming voice, like a drill sergeant’s, fills the classroom. It’s January 3, 2004, the beginning of another cycle of the Food Service Training Academy’s free fourteen-week program. ...
THE LORD IS HIS SHEPHERD
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I notice, parked outside of the FoodBank on a chilly January morning, two beat-up vans with the logo “Feed Our Sheep” in bold white letters. In smaller print are the name and address of a Newark church. Soon, FoodBank workers will help load these and other vehicles, destined for...
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Chef Jimmy bangs his fist on Chef Robert’s metal toolbox. “It’s Clint!” he roars. “I can’t believe what that guy has done! Less than two months on the job and he stopped showing up. Just walked away. I used my contacts to get him the job, and now he’s burned me. He’s burned the...
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“It all started when I was five years old,” Tracey wrote in her in-class essay “A Memorable Meal.” She remembers her grandmother cooking for the family and welcoming homeless people to her table. “I admired my grandmother for that. Watching her help people that couldn’t or wouldn’t...
THE WAY TO A WOMAN’S HEART
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Entering the kitchen on an April morning, I confront a mosaic of white chef’s hats framing black faces. A dozen students are busy: turning Betty Crocker mixes into cakes, cantaloupes into fruit salad, the previous day’s baked potatoes into twice-stuffed potatoes, and chicken breasts into...
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Eddy, the volunteer chef-instructor, checks the grill and the warming ovens. He pokes his head into the fruit salad and then into the walk-in refrigerator. His movements are twitchy and abrupt, like a dog with fleas. “Take this pan, quickly. No, put it here. Who’s got potatoes? Get the...
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I was in Chef Robert’s office during the first week of classes when Nelson dropped in for a chat. A youthful forty-two, Nelson sported a clean-shaven head and a neat black mustache. The second student to serve as sous chef for the day, Nelson was taking the assignment seriously. ...
TRAINING AND CHANGING
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Waretta, who completed the Food Service Training Academy program and graduated in December 2003, was the last of her cohort to find employment. As a student, Waretta never missed a day and never shirked a task. She earned a stand- out grade of 95 on the national certification exam. ...
Part 5: EATING ALONE
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HOW DO YOU EAT?
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I sit, squeezed between Adam and Sapana, on a narrow couch. On my lap I balance a snack plate containing half a hard-boiled egg, three rice balls stuffed with cooked vegetables, a few slices of pickled cucumber, and two pale pink rice wafers. The hard-boiled egg slithers around...
MY OWN MUERTOS
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Just a few days before he died in August 1991, Eli asked me what I was planning for his funeral. He was sitting in the big round chair in my study, rail thin in his warm-up suit, his dense curly hair gone with the chemo. We were drinking coffee, and I had swiveled my desk chair around to face him. ...
WHEN CHOPSTICKS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM
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“I’m so sorry,” I tell Michi, “but my stomach is sending a message that I dare not ignore. I’ve been looking forward to our reunion, and especially the sea bass you promised to steam for me. ‘I’m in my element with fish,’ you said, sounding mystical. ...
SUNDAYS AT WHOLE FOODS
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Maria is rolling up Joe’s wrap as I approach the counter. I watch her hands, in clear plastic gloves, press the bulging green tortilla into a neat roll. She cuts it at an angle, revealing a landscape of intense greens and reds in an ivory field, and wraps the two halves in brown butcher paper. ...
THE MOON IN MY DINING ROOM
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Rinpoche presses his hands together and begins the mealtime prayer. He speaks in a low singsong, in Tibetan. Adam joins him. Sapana, sitting very straight in her chair, follows silently. Rahula, age five, probably knows this prayer but doesn’t participate. ...
SALAD DAYS AND NIGHTS
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The voice on the phone is light and cheery, somewhat at odds with the formal diction. I imagine a woman who used to wear white gloves to church, even in eighty-five-degree heat. “I’m your Leonia neighbor, calling on behalf of United Way,” she says. ...
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Pete, my plumber, stares glumly at his coffee. He is in what I think of as his office at the corner table of Happy Market, angled toward the front door. Next to him, two Latino day workers remove freshly made fried egg sandwiches from tinfoil and settle into their breakfast. I hesitate...
EPILOGUE: MY BOOK OF MAPS
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Four months ago, in South Africa, I had a dream about this book. When I awoke, I wrote in my notebook:
Once again I am a graduate student at Yale. In a cramped, gloomy office, one of my professors is admonishing me to pay attention to the reading list. You’ll have four chances to prove yourself, he says. ...
Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2006