Don and I went out to lunch with a friend today to a Middle Eastern Restaurant. Middle Eastern is high on my list of delectable cuisines.
My husband and I were both born and raised in Oklahoma, as I may have mentioned once or twice before, and our friend Nan is from Indiana. As the three of us sampled and compared the wonderful flavors and spices in each other’s dishes, oohing and aahing, Nan mentioned that when she was growing up, she never ate food of any ethnicity besides her own. No Chinese, no Mexican, no Italian, just homegrown middle-American.
We Oklahomans had to admit that we had the same experience. I clearly remember the first Mexican restaurant I ever ate in. It was a privately owned establishment in downtown Tulsa. The food was spectacular, and like nothing I had ever eaten before. In Don’s hometown of Enid, OK, he remembers the opening of a “Chinese” place called Three Towers. I put Chinese in quotes because they mostly offered American diner food, maybe some chow mein and egg rolls.
I was in high school when the first pizza place I ever saw opened just down the street from my house. Shakey’s Pizza. I loved it, and it made me deathly ill every time I ate it. I was a sixteen when a Taco Bell went in close to my high school. Shakey’s and Taco Bell meant ethnic food to me until I was in college. In fact, I never ate a bagel until 1984. They were simply unavailable Way Out West until modern times.
One may think that the three of us simply lived out in the culinary wasteland during our formative years, and in fact, had we been in NYC, LA, Chicago, or San Francisco, it would have been a different story. But it’s hard for people to remember that until very recently, the world used to be a much bigger place than it is now, and if you didn’t have an Italian neighborhood in your community, you didn’t get the chance to eat Italian.
And now when I take that first bite of a spectacularly spicy curry, I mourn the fact I was cheated out of years of the joy of Indian food in my youth.