I want to talk about the US, particularly about its food.
USA--my god, such a vast, vast country--so much space, so many people it's almost hard to fathom. Especially for someone who lives in a tiny country of five million where everyone who's anything knows each other and where you can never go Sunday grocery shopping in your unwashed tracksuit since you ALWAYS bump into your ex, or someone you're planning to go on a date with. In the US, for every state there's a new start (like if you've robbed a bank).
Last week I returned to Denmark after a three-week rollercoaster ride around Northern America along with fellow Umamimart writer Yoko. I spent one week in wonderful Berkeley, then south to Solvang, LA, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Phoenix and last, but not least, New York for the big Umamimart Writers Dinner Party at Yamahomo's fab gay lovepad in Chelsea.
I don't know where to begin or where to end, it's been such an adventure. And as expected an especially culinary adventure when you're traveling with an Umamimart writer. I took a truckload of photos along the way, and I thought it'd be most fun just to report on the highlights of some of the places Yoko and I sank out teeth into--and to try and expose the wide array of food the country offers.
Something peculiar struck me a few days into my stay in Berkeley--I was surrounded by people who talked about food most of the waking hours: a new wine from this exotic vineyard, where to lunch but definitely not dine, what kind of miso to cook those beans with, what chef should be fired, what kind of idiots who buy that shit nihon-shu and so on. No, this isn't a judgment or criticism or anything. I'm just used to people talking about other things as well. Which of course everyone also did from time to time--but mostly as fillers between the real conversation subjects (food).
Two Poached Farm Eggs with prosciutto di Parma & Levain toast (@ Café Fanny).
One morning I was sitting at this wonderful and intimate breakfast & brunch place called Café Fanny. I was alone, wearing sunglasses and reading an interiors magazine, trying to look cool as I was alone at my table. But of course all I was really doing was eavesdropping on the conversations between these assorted groups of strong, independent, democratic, left-wing, hippie Berkeley women. Were they talking about politics? Art? Feelings? Life-aching problems? No, they were discussing where to buy the freshest scallops, or whether that restaurant was still worth lunching at, or whether you should put that kind of cheese in this kind of pasta.
Freshly baked apple Danish and cheese bread from the Acme Bread Company next to Café Fanny.
Wholewheat pancakes with local produce (@ Café Fanny).
I must admit I find this both funny and depressing in some way--all these things our parents and grandparents fought for, be it environmental issues or womens' liberation or the political flowerchild movement in the 1960's--well, we inherited all that, and all we do now is talk about objects that go into our mouth and come out the other end (usually less interestingly flavoured).
It seems a little to me that people like to think they become a better person and that they're saving Earth's endangered species if they just shop at the local market instead of Target. That they're making huge political statements by eating organically. Which worries me, because surely the US needs more than just that to get up on its feet again.
But I guess it's always better than not thinking at all or to live on a TV dinner diet bought in WalMart. In the old days, people spent a lot of time praying and clinging their fists to the sky in the name of religion.
If eating is the new Second Coming, I guess things could be worse. In the end, being into food will probably not save the world, but it might save your day--and the next. It might keep you healthy and most of all: it's a positive religion. It's all about love. And that's always better than hate, no?
Yoko in her Berkeley kitchen working her magic.
Squeezing your own fruit for your drink--very creative. Dinner at new Japanese izakaya Ippuku in Berkeley.
Spicy uzura (quail eggs) at Ippuku.
Super popular chicken sandwich with freshly mixed ice cold lemonade on the side. There's usually a long line outside at lunchtime to get a hold of this sandwich. It was truly delicious. (@Bakesale Betty)
During my three-week stay, Berkeley ended up being my favourite place of all our visited locations. The lush, wild growing greens everywhere, the perfect climate, the abundance of delicious eating options, the optimistic and creatively bubbling energy, the strong lockdown against chains and malls sneaking across the city border, the many happy dog (and cat)-walkers everywhere--it was just perfect.
A normal day at Monterey Market on Hopkins Street. Who eats all this?
This array of options is unbelievable. In my local (big) supermarket down the street in Copenhagen, you can choose between a carrot...or no carrot.
So many lemons and oranges! Would you be able to taste the difference blindfolded?
A display of mushrooms.
It's just crazy.
Lunch at Apple Headquarters--their cafeteria is incredible.
Mexican tortillas, Italian freshly baked pizzas on the spot, sushi, burgers, smoothies--what a place to work and eat every day! We envy you, Harper!
Kayoko & Yoko: "munch munch...burp...chomp...hiccup...so good...."
Fisherman's Wharf candy store--barrels filled with all sorts of salt-water taffy.
It's not just any café inside Whole Foods, Cupertino--oh no, it's Café Gratitude.
This is so Californian--I wonder if anyone takes this seriously?
Health starts here...
But who cares about being healthy when these cupcakes look into your eyes and you both fall in love right there?
We visited Yoko's mom--and she made us the most wonderful homecooked Japanese meal.
Now I know where Yoko gets the magic from.
Hot cocoa made with the original South-American cocoa recipe without milk. Plus added marshmallow.
What I also found really interesting on my way through the States was this contrast between the food fascination/hysteria in California and NYC, and then the rest of the country's obvious disinterest in keeping the soul food spirit alive. When you're hanging out in the Bay Area opposite San Francisco, there's no limit to the abundance of farmers markets, small local produce serving restaurants, and alternative bars.
But as soon as you exit SF and the Bay Area--or drive onto the freeway heading to The Real North America, everything changes. All you ever see is chain restaurants: Denny's, McDonald's, Jack In The Box, Taco Bell, Good Ol' Burgers, KFC, Hardee's, Subway, Wendy's, etc. etc. It's quick, cheap and easy and it's like a pest.
Yoko called this the "Main Street to Wall Street" phenomena--in the old days, you'd drive down the main street in the city you'd pass through, and then stop at the local diner perhaps trying something local from that area. But that's all history. Everything has been bought up by the big Wall Street listed companies who paved the roadsides with chain after chain of malnutrionous diet trapdoors.
Really depressing, and quite troubling considering the insane obesity problems that America is facing these days. People in general looked seriously overweight compared to Scandinavia--it seemed like it was more or less normal that people have more than one chin.
Therefore I really respect what California is trying to do, especially the Bay Area. Even though you talk a lot about food. Ha!
After one week of eat & play, Yoko and I rented a car and started our road trip adventure - more on LA pool parties, roadside burgers and NYC dining next week.