Saturday, July 2, 2016

An American food story

Yesterday my sweetheart and I decided to have an adventure. We wandered around town, exploring ethnic markets and seeing parts of the city new to us both. It was lovely. As lunchtime approached I found a listing for Cajun Deli. It had good reviews and we both like this kind of cuisine; on top of that, it gave us a chance to reminisce about a trip we took to New Orleans earlier this year.

The restaurant was in the corner of a typical city strip mall. There is a dollar store on one side and a hair salon on the other. Inside it was fairly austere, just a counter where you order and assorted seating. The menu, posted on the wall, told us we could get fried catfish or shrimp, or boiled crawfish, shrimp, mussels or crab legs. It smelled wonderful.

The place was packed. We ordered at the counter, found seating, then settled in for lunch and people watching. On one wall was a poster with an acacia tree and a giraffe, on the other a generic shot of a bridge over a rushing stream. It's one of those places where it's better to not look too closely in the corners, but to instead enjoy the moment.

Our food came out quickly and was hot, fresh, well-seasoned and delicious. That's not what this post is really about, though.

Here is the truth of the matter. It's a few days before July 4th, that moment when we have a collective cheer for the founding principles of this country, celebrating with fireworks, hot dogs and (if we're lucky) a moment to think about the good as well as the bad parts of our history and culture.

A few days before that secular holiday I found myself in a restaurant in the middle of the continent, eating food with influences from the West Indies, France and America. The restaurant was owned and run by Asian immigrants, their daughter sounding thoroughly American. My sweetheart and I, both white, me a Jew, were surrounded by African Americans, Africans and Asians, all of us sitting in a strip mall (that icon of commerce), sharing tables, laughter and condiments.  I cannot think of anything more American or more worth celebrating about this country.

Happy Fourth of July. May we all extend our hands in friendship and welcome, may we enjoy the mix of culture that you can find no where else, and may your days be delicious with friendship and flavor.

(c) 2016 Laura S. Packer