When I first looked at the SliderShack menu, I got a little nervous and said to Matt “I have never eaten, let alone cooked, most of the dishes on this menu.” His response was, understandably, to make fun of me: “I’m Katya and I’m so cultured that I’ve never eaten chili cheese fries!” When I told another friend about it, her response was that I deserved to be deported back to wherever I was born.
I was born in the US.
I grew up on rice, beans, chicken, pasta, frozen fish sticks and 50-cent school lunches courtesy of federal assistance. This was supplemented by bagels on Saturday mornings and my mother’s tabouleh, falafel and hummus. I ate PB&J sandwiches and pizza like every other kid, but there was an unspoken kosher twist to what I thought was my standard, low-income American diet. I’d never eaten corndogs or cheeseburgers and never heard of chili cheese fries or biscuits and gravy. Growing up in a small city (Ithaca, NY) with a large international student and immigrant population, this wasn’t abnormal.
I went vegetarian when I was 18 and vegan when I was 20, which steered me further toward South Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern and West African recipes in my own cooking (not to mention countless meals of plain, sautéed kale when I couldn’t afford anything else). I didn’t bother trying to veganize American food because I’d somehow managed to grow up in America without figuring out what American food was.
Two months ago, I moved to North Carolina and learned what “chicken-fried” meant. Since Matt undeniably did grow up eating classic American food, I’ve gotten to hear and think about what that is (also see here). It’s been a valuable learning experience to execute Matt’s recipes for state fair food, Southern soul food, and “Midwestern church picnic food”.
On Saturday, I got to sample the dishes from our Slider Shack event. I have to say, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as much like an American as I did in that moment. Culture and politics aside (you may never hear me say that again), I felt a sense of “Oh, I get it now!” patriotism when I tried sliders and chili cheese fries. After trying a few bites of each dish, I felt like waving an American flag above my head and singing G-d Bless America.
So in honor of Oscar night (that happened recently, right?), let me conclude with a fake acceptance speech: I’d like to thank football, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and most of all, Slider Shack night for making me feel connected to the country in which I was born.
Track of the Weekend: