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Hope and Change: Immigrants

October 20, 2016

The presidential debates are over! I think I have a way for making them better in the future.

Before each debate, each candidate should submit a concise policy statements on a set of topics. These are published and shared with the American people in advance of the debates. Then, the candidates can actually spend some time trying to convince voters that their specific policies are superior to those of their opponent.

The platitudes. The evasions. The sniping. The theatrics. The self-aware commentary on debate posturing and performance. It’s terrible.

Thankfully, the debates are behind us. I hope the next time we go through this, someone can infuse greater depth into the proceedings.

But this is a food blog, so I want to turn this around to something to be hopeful about. And that’s immigrants. Because I’ve been thinking for a long time that immigrants are one of the best parts about every place I’ve ever lived.

I grew up as a small kid in New York City. Can you imagine Manhattan without bagels or Italian ices? And while the Jewish delis are a fading part of the city’s landscape, they are an indelible part of its history.

The best part about Miami was definitely the Cuban food. Some might argue it’s the beaches. But locals don’t go to the beach in winter. That’s for tourists. The locals all have their favorite Cuban cafeterias with strong, sweet, and cheap coffee, paired with pressed toast, and some guava and cream cheese filled pastries.

After school my mom used to take me to Reuben’s for ham croquettas and a cafe con leche. I loved sitting on those stools and watching them click the Cafe Bustello into the hopper, pile sugar into the metal pitcher, and stir the hot coffee into a sweet, thick, and potent brew.

Philadelphia had its Chinatown, and its Italian market. But we can’t forget about the Amish. Those Germanic elements of pork and cabbage are Pennsylvania through and through.

Northern California was a hub of immigration. We had the amazing Mexican communities that were responsible for some of the best tacos and burritos you can find in America. But it was in San Francisco that I finally developed a love for dim sum, and for good reason. The dim sum parlors out there are amazing. North Oakland had a thriving Ethiopian population, and that meant getting exposed to injera and all of the flavorful stews of the cuisine. And the state owes a debt of gratitude to the Italian immigrants who were responsible for establishing Napa Valley as a major global player in the wine industry.

In Princeton it was a Haitian immigrant who owned and operated the best French patisserie in the area. But what would New Jersey be without its Greek diners? Seriously.

The Capital Region is growing. We’re getting more and more immigrants all the time. The influence of the Italians and Irish are felt deeply in the culinary landscape. But Rolf’s is proof of the Germanic heritage within the community. It’s amazing to see our Mexican offerings expand. Same goes for our Korean options. Plus we have access to some seriously authentic Chinese food.

Just yesterday, I was at a bus stop and heard a relatively new arrival complaining that she couldn’t find the ingredients locally to make the food of her homeland. Then I heard her talking about injera.

I was compelled to interject. “Are you looking for teff?” I asked.

She was stunned that someone in Albany might know of these things. And not only that, I told her where she could get it. Although I explained the berbere might be harder to come by locally.

It sounds like we’ve got a growing community of Ethiopian immigrants somewhere within the Capital Region. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll eventually get an actual Ethiopian restaurant here as well. I’m a prisoner of hope. Things change. But I think we’re on the right path.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2016 10:44 am

    Honest Weight, right? And I think they might have a berbere mixture as well.

    Re the idea of the candidates having policy statements before the debates, I think they actually do that. It’s just that nobody pays attention. Agree it’s good that they are over.

    • October 20, 2016 10:54 am

      I was thinking more like a debate specific questionnaire with word limits. It needs to be something manageable that’s easy to compare side by side.

  2. October 20, 2016 11:02 am

    I loooove discussing the complexities of immigration. So much that it’s essentially the topic of my master’s thesis. Anyway, not to get on soapboxes here, but wanted to mention that if you are interested in the topic, and if you are interested in learning about how immigration (specifically from Mexico and Latin America) affects and subsidizes our food supply, I’d wholeheartedly recommend reading any of the investigative pieces by Luis Alberto Urrea or the book “Coyotes,” by Ted Conover (which, interestingly, was given to me by a friend AS A JOKE when I moved to New York several years back, and it ended up being a very compelling read).

  3. October 20, 2016 2:22 pm

    Dan, did I not just ask you about an Ethiopian chef for the Taste Makers series? We want Ethiopian Food! I think I’ll stage a protest somewhere.

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