GOOD

Food Studies: An Immigrant Food Field Trip

Why are most Indian restaurants run by Pakistani families? Why is Chinese food cheaper than Japanese? An edible exploration of ethnic food in America.

Food Studies features the voices of volunteer student bloggers from a variety of different food- and agriculture-related programs at universities around the world. Don't miss Josh's last post, on the first grow-your-own pizza of spring.



Lately in my "History of Food and Cuisine" class we have been talking about the culinary impact of immigrant communities on the American food landscape, from the 19th century to the present.

It's a fascinating string of tales that hardly runs straight as we grapple with questions like: Why is it that many immigrant families have no problem eating toast and cereal for breakfast but definitively eat food of their own country for dinner? Why is it that most "Indian" restaurants in New York City are actually owned and operated by Pakistani or Bengali families? Why do we gladly empty our wallets for French, Japanese, and even Italian cuisine, when we feel the same is hardly appropriate for Chinese, Thai, or Middle Eastern food of the same caliber? And what does "ethnic" food mean in America, really?


To further explore these and other questions, my class took a field trip last Wednesday to a couple of majority immigrant neighborhoods of New York to meet people, have discussions, and of course, eat great food.

The first place we stopped off was in Jackson Heights, where we went to a Pakistani restaurant that is well-known as one of the best in the area. We were treated to a lunch feast (the samosas were some of the best I've had—pillowy, flaky, well-spiced, and full of veggies; the gulab jamun, a sort of syrup-soaked dumpling, were incredible), had some great discussion about the development of restaurant culture in immigrant populations with one of the NYU professors who was showing us around, and the owner even brought us back to the kitchen to teach us how to bake roti, their flatbread, in their huge clay ovens. Mine didn’t turn out exactly right, but the center drooped down to form a perfect heart shape, so as far as I was concerned it was at least an artistic success.


After lunch, we went around Jackson Heights in search of pa'an—traditionally, a post-meal ritual involving the chewing of betel leaves, areca nuts, slaked lime, and sometimes tobacco. Our version, however, was much tamer (and far less addictive): in sweet pa’an the betel leaf is stuffed with slaked lime paste, dried coconut and other fruits, candied fennel seeds, and then folded into a little pocket. It was a singular experience, and an incredible blend of flavors— sweet, sour, astringent, bitter, and herbaceous—and textures, from crunchy to chewy to crispy: much more potent and complex than your average breath mint. The taste lingered in my mouth for hours.



From there we took the 7 to the end of the line for the second half of the day. When we exited the metro station in Flushing, it felt like we had walked straight into Hong Kong: The air was full of exotic smells and sounds, there were people everywhere going about their business, and delectable morsels beckoned from every storefront. We tried Peking Duck buns, watched cooks make hand-pulled noodles in the Golden Mall, visited different Korean and Chinese grocers, and went to a Korean-French fusion bakery.

We finished the day with a multi-course Chinese meal, where we discussed our various impressions of "authenticity" and what it means to search for an experience of "the other" (our understanding of the "ethnic") as an "outsider."

That last sentence involved a lot of scare quotes, and our conversation was definitely pretty academic, but the day's eating and visiting really did help to ground all the theoretical issues we've been discussing in class. It could have hardly been more valuable—or delicious.

To be continued.

Josh is a student blogger for the Food Studies feature on GOOD's Food hub. If you enjoyed this, you should check out the rest of the Food Studies blogger gang here, including recent posts on food labels, papaya pollination, and farmer-activism.

All photos courtesy of the author.

Articles

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via ICE / Flickr

The Connors family, two coupes from the United Kingdom, one with a three-month old baby and the other with twin two-year-olds, were on vacation in Canada when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) turned their holiday into a 12-plus day-long nightmare.

On October 3, the family was driving near the U.S.-Canada border in British Columbia when an animal veered into the road, forcing them to make an unexpected detour.

The family accidentally crossed into the United States where they were detained by ICE officials in what would become "the scariest experience of our lives," according to a complaint filed with the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

Keep Reading Show less
Travel