Well, it’s been a rough year or so but now I can finally say it: Hello world, and welcome to the Princeton chapter of Spoon University.
Anthony and I started Spoon at Princeton over a year ago on a cold winter day in the blistering rain (please read Anthony’s article here for the full story). One of our major goals in bringing Spoon to Princeton was to provide a platform for students to talk about food that we found had been previously lacking. We wanted to initiate a conversation about food, and how food is intertwined in our culture, experiences and personal histories, and how it has come to shape the people we are today. As Editor-in-Chief, I wanted to start this conversation by reflecting upon my own experiences with food and the role it has played in my life.
Going to college far away from home is tough, especially as a lover of food. Experiencing the environment and culture, as well acquiring a taste for New Jersey staples such as the fat sandwich, buffalo chicken wings and White Castle can be refreshing, yet I often find myself craving the Northern Californian foods I grew up on.
Fall, spring and winter breaks have thus become an important time for revisiting my childhood through the food. Each time I return home to the Bay Area, I perform a ritual of revisiting old restaurants and flavors as well as seeking new food experiences within the culinary culture of the Bay. This is an account of my recent homecoming over fall break.
Stage 1: Childhood, Revisited
On the first day of my pilgrimage, I am reunited with a culinary love that had begun in early childhood: the In ‘N Out Burger. The burger is a West Coast classic, with its thinly-cut, but juicy beef patties, iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and a slathering of oozing cheese all topped with Thousand Island dressing. The location I frequent near my home in Marin County is located just off the 101 Freeway, but this California favorite has locations scattered across the state, and is the definitive fast food treat for the Californian child (no happy meals for us). With one bite out of my Animal Style 4×4 (four mustard-cooked patties with lettuce, tomatoes and extra sauce), I am transported back to lazy Sunday lunches after tennis practice, car trips to the beach, among other childhood memories. I wash down this dripping, overflowing monster of a burger with the familiar taste of a vanilla shake.
Stage 2: Cultural Roots
As a Chinese American, Asian food is a significant part of my heritage, yet it is rarely found in any authentic form in my adopted home of New Jersey. On the next day, I reconnect with my culture and visit Hong Kong Lounge on Geary Street in San Francisco, a Cantonese establishment that serves up some of the finest dim sum in the city. Hong Kong lounge is the newest favorite destination for my family’s weekend dim sum excursions, and we have gone through many such restaurants in the past. While the particular place may change, the experience remains the same, as do the staple dishes. Every weekend, the air is filled with a cacophony of Cantonese voices yelling over each other as middle aged Chinese women push carts packed with steamed buns and dumplings. The usual order consists of shrimp dumplings, sweet pork buns, custard tarts, and coffee-glazed pork ribs, a specialty of this restaurant in particular. My chopsticks reach for each of the numerous dishes placed before me. Lively noise all around me as I sample a wide palette of Cantonese delights, I feel at home in the sensory overload.
Stage 3: Exploration and Gluttony
Living in California, Mexican food has always been like a second culinary culture to me. Thus, after a few days of reconnecting with my Asian heritage by gorging myself on sushi, Korean soft tofu and Tonkatsu ramen, I head over to the Mission district in San Francisco in the search for the ultimate burrito. In a city famous for its burritos, navigating the taquerias for the best burrito in the heavily Latino Mission district can be a daunting task. My journey takes me to El Farolito, an unpretentious, hole-in-the-wall establishment near Mission and 24th Street. I order a carne asada “super burrito” equipped with salsa, brown rice, marinated steak, pinto beans, avocado, and sour cream, and horchata, my drink of choice. Layers of tin foil are eagerly peeled off to reveal a gargantuan wrap that seems bigger than my forearm. I hungrily make my attack, whittling away its size with each bite of sour cream covered rice, tender steak and creamy avocado. After the deed is done, the sweet, smooth horchata cools my throat as I drift into a food coma, lounging in my own excess, satisfied with what may be the reigning champ of Mission burritos. My exploration has led me to yet another spot which I must visit the next time I return.