Sunday, June 03, 2007

A "Smorgasbord" of Memories

I was thinking about food just now … about how certain foods so strongly associate with periods in one’s life. Sometimes the relationship is short and sweet (sno cones, for instance), sometimes enduring.

When I was a kid, homemade pierogi with hamburger filling (known in our house as “dough things”) and pomegranates dominate my food memories. Of course, fruit of all kinds was available in abundance, so just the sheer volume of watermelon, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, grapes, etc. boggles my mind now.

When we moved to Oregon, the whole food landscape changed. I remember vividly blackberry pancakes with handpicked berries, homemade beef jerky, foot-long hotdogs we’d buy from a cart in downtown Portland on our occasional forays and the apples from the orchard where we lived briefly.

High school brought the start of the meatless years. I recall, in particular, a favorite banana protein drink – a precursor to the so-called smoothie, procured from one “Nature’s Way.” And since it was the 1980s, it was run by sad holdover hippies. A typical lunch break from my job at B. Dalton would find me at the Nature's Way counter eating vegetable soup seasoned with Spike and drinking my beloved banana concoction.

San Francisco offers up a bonanza of food recollections. Bagels, crepes, sushi, Ethiopian, Mexican, but most of all Chinese. I ate lunch regularly at the same Buddhist vegetarian Chinese restaurant – Kowloon – in Chinatown where I worked for two years. Not only did I go to the same restaurant day after day, I ordered the same dish – tofu noodle soup. My memory of that soup is also my memory of that place and time. The Buddhist shrine along the back wall. The soft-spoken server who would say “tofu soup?” and nod sweetly. The herbal medicine shops and produce stands. The tourists (and locals, for that matter) thwarted constatnly by the small elderly Chinese hogging the sidewalk. The long hours working for a highly quirky Asian American newspaper (that's a whole other post, trust me). Me, perfectly nourished and content.

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