As I sit at the picnic table with my friends, it becomes quite clear to me that they are all from different ethnic backgrounds. Greek, Bulgarian, English, Cuban, Canadian, Colombian and Panamanian litter this table and we all enjoy a nice crafted brew. As we sit and talk about whatever is going on in our lives, we turn to food as a binding source of what it means to be home.
We all begin to reminisce about "momma's cooking" and all are far from our original birthplaces. I, unfortunately, do not cook traditionally at home. I don't have the patience for Cajun cooking or the knowhow of Asian/Latin cuisine save rice. I'm also lazy. I have my mom in town for that and nothing beats that woman's cooking.
Elena cooks moussaka when she wants to feel like she's in her Bulgarian hometown of Petrich. She also enjoys stuffed cabbage and a fermented beverage called Boza. At this juncture, Elena has not seen her family in 13 years. I could see and hear the sadness in her voice as she describes the ingredients for these dishes. I could also sense everyone else missing home as we talked about the foods we love and how making them brings them back there. It's hard being away from family and culture, you lose a sense of yourself when decide to take up residence here. When you are completely separated from your family by ocean or vast land, sometimes cooking hygge-type dishes consoles the soul.
Some of us have been in America so long that it is the one thing that keeps us tied to our countries and culture. When my mom makes platanos maduros or sancocho, it brings me back to my heritage and where I come from. I asked some immigrant friends what do they make at home to shorten the distance.
I recall visiting my friend Lisa at her parent's house in college. Her mother was Italian and I remember her making gnocchi. She was preparing the pasta with such care and you could tell how proud she was that she would be serving us real Italian fare. Lisa says she loves making her mom's lasagna and since she's passed, I'm sure it brings a whole other meaning to her making the dish.
My friend Josie (Athens Tavern) doesn't have to go far to feel like she's back in Greece. If she wants to feel a taste of home, she makes Trahana, a poor man's soup basically a lot of feta cheese and good olives with Greek chickpea soup.
When my Kiwi friend, Ashlee misses home, she eats kiwi fruit, vegemite on toast or a meat pie. Proper Pie once again to the rescue!
I think because people forget that our friends are immigrants, it is sometimes hard to empathize with the missing of home. My mister hasn't lived in Canada for almost 20 years, yet his family is there. He feels everyone dismisses the fact that being from Canada is being from a different country. "We have our own culture there too," he insists. I don't think he gets the proper Coffee Crisp and Poutine intake to comfort him.
Louisiana is far from foreign, but it is safe to say it has its own culture and one I miss greatly. When I eat crawfish, which is never here, it brings me back to sitting in our backyard with my family, listening the elders speak in French while Zydeco plays in the background. When my mom makes gumbo or rice dressing, it takes me to my childhood and I miss our family gatherings, my uncles' cooking, and boudin from the tiny grocery store on the corner. When my mom makes traditional Latin dishes, it reminds me of where I'm from.
As the sun goes down and the last of the beer washes down our throats, I think about how lucky I am that I have this colorful array of individuals in my life. How each one of them works so hard to make a better life for themselves and their families. I listen to their stories about their mothers' cooking these delightful dishes and how hard it must be for them to be so far away from family. And now I'm starving and nudging each of them for an open invitation for dinner.
"Hey mom, yeah, whatcha doin? You know I've been craving...."