Monday, December 9, 2013
For an immigrant in America, food from the homeland is a powerful symbol. It connects you back to your native soil. And it can bridge the gap between you and the people of your new adopted land.
Illustration by Kathleen Wilber Designs www.kawilber.com
Which brings us to the Woodfords Corner section of Portland's Forest Avenue. Clustered along a three-block stretch is a culinary profusion of Iraqi markets, Vietnamese restaurants (two across the street from one another!), an African supermarket, an Eastern European shop ... it's a United Nations of food. Even Haggarty's, the Brit-Indi specialist, is now also serving "Middle Eastern Cuisine."
Last week, illustrator Katie Wilber and I purchased samples of exotic delicacies from some of these venues. Then we made a buffet dinner, with my family joining in. Here's some of what we enjoyed.
Croatians run the Euro Market (621 Forest). Half of the shop seems given over to cookies and candies, but Daniela took us into the back, where Croatian and Bulgarian sausages filled the case (Babek! Todoric! Cajna!).
"They're all good," Daniela explained patiently, and we finally settled on Sremska Dried Smoked Sausage.
Turns out it's made in ... Pennsylvania. Perfect for gourmands like me who crave hot, spicy sausage.
The Euro Market also sells Podravka Dalmatinska juha: Dalmatian soup, a hearty, tomato-based soup with little pasta pieces. (Yes, the name refers to the region within Croatia, not to you-know-what.)
Down the street, the African Supermarket (1037 Forest) sells videotapes, hair care products, clothing, and, oh yes, food. Especially, bag after bag after bag of Pride of Africa Nigerian Style FuFu Mix. Made from pounded yams, Fufu mix looks like flour.
The package had a recipe for fufu pancakes, so I gave it a shot. Fry 'em in oil and they're just as yummy as potato pancakes.
Need a drink? There are at least three Iraqi markets nearby; I am fond of Sindbad (710 Forest). The guys behind the counter are always friendly, and they have Vimto, manufactured in Saudi Arabia. Vimto is a tall bottle with a dark liquid, a mix of fruit juices. Mix just a little Vimto with a lot of water and -- voila! Or, as my son said, "Delicious!"
Among Portland's many Asian markets, Haknuman Meanchey (803 Forest) stands out. Step inside and you're really back in the Old Country, if your Old Country was China.
Were those chicken hearts I saw in the meat case? Not for us -- we chose the frozen banana dumplings, from Thailand.
First of all, they look exotic: stuffed banana leaves wrapped in some sort of twine. Inside (after the microwave, after the steaming) is a sweet, rice-and-spice-and-everything-nice treat. Indian pudding from the East Indies.
Haknuman Meanchey also provided us with Shing Shang seasoned anchovies with sesame seed -- "good on a salad," my wife said. For dessert we had lychee pudding, from Malaysia. (My son's pronouncement: "Like sorbet!")
We ate quail eggs, too. Just like regular hard-boiled eggs, only teenier. And they come from Thai quail, which sounds like a Scrabble combination.
Only that one of the many benefits of a significant immigrant population is its food. They get to share it, we all get to enjoy it.
John Spritz is a marketing and communications consultant based in Portland, www.jspritz.com.