This is how I like to define the borders of the continental United States: If poutine (fries with gravy) is on the menu, you’re in Canada. If you go to a restaurant and ask for tater tots and they say, “What’s that?’ You’re in Mexico. If you drive too far down the hem until you reach the end of Florida’s boot or too far East or West you’re probably drinking salt water and the fish would appreciate it if you’d pull your stupid car out of their home.
In the U.S., if your fries are covered in anything it’s cheese, fresh grated or that fake oily cheese-colored concoction. All other possible condiments get served on the side. Ketchup, Ranch dressing, or if you’re in a place that calls itself a “Pub” or carries “Fish n’ chips” welcome to Americanized England! Here’s your bottle of vinegar and oil to go on your fried everything. At any rate, most of us love cheese. I’d probably be fifteen pounds lighter if it weren’t for my cheese addiction. Who’s to blame for our cheese addiction? Those long-ago French immigrants? Or the Swedish ones, perhaps? I don’t know. Somewhere along the way we made our own uniquely American obsession out of it.
I’ve been to Japan several times and India once for a couple of months. One of the most diverse things about American culture is how much we love diverse food. My high school history teacher once said, we’re not a melting pot, we’re a tossed salad. I agree! Every night when I think about what to prepare for dinner, I consider what ethnic food I feel like to narrow down my choices. Do I feel like Italian? Chinese? Vietnamese? The list can go on, including regional dishes like Afro-Cuban beans and rice from south Florida.
Two years after we married my husband and I were able to afford a 14-day honeymoon trip to Japan. I was so excited to introduce him to the country and meet friends I hadn’t seen in years. We had a great trip, but halfway through we were getting pretty tired of just Japanese food. I’m a vegetarian and a food-lover, so when I see an American fast-food restaurant in any country it doesn’t interest me. It might as well be an annoyingly large piece of chewed gum sitting on the sidewalk. As luck would have it though, we found an Indian restaurant in the basement of a building near our hotel in Kyoto.
As soon as we entered, surrounded by the restaurants bright décor we felt at home. We live in the Pacific Northwest on the West coast of the United States. “Home” for us offers a broad variety of Eastern and Southeastern Asian restaurants. Our favorites include Thai and Indian food. Cooking is not my forte, so many of our favorite restaurants recognize us as loyal regular customers. When we entered that Indian restaurant in Kyoto, Japan it felt like we had found an old friend. We were the only patrons. I think we might have been on the early side for dinner. The owner seemed as happy to see us as we were to see him. It was nice to hear that familiar Indian-accented English. I think we must have stayed for almost two hours, trying a bit of everything, trading stories with the owner, meeting his wife, the cook and any other staff that showed up. I have a lot of great memories of Japan, but that’s one of my favorites. Just the novelty of it. I learn so much about myself and the country I grew up in every time I leave for someplace else.