Everyone eats. What we eat and why sheds light on who we are and our experiences. Food is a language that we have in common.
When we have conversations about food we have an opportunity to allow others to get to know us and our families and to see that we are all similar in many ways, even as we see how our culinary backgrounds differ.
Something as simple as a vegetable can elicit fond memories and provide a narrative to share information about our culture, heritage and upbringing.
Take for example okra. Okra takes me home to my childhood growing up in the south.
My mother steamed okra and cooks it in collard greens and field peas. My daddy uses it liberally in his famous seafood gumbo. And one of my favorite restaurants that still visit when I visit my family serves the best fried okra you will ever taste.
I’m always surprised to when I see it in the grocery store here in the north—fresh, not frozen. The same applies when I’m in the cereal aisle and see grits on the shelf.
When I cook fresh okra, I slice it really thin and pan fry it in just about two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, adding just a little bit of salt and pepper. I patiently wait for it to develop a nice brown crust before flipping it over.
When I told my mother about this recently during one of our Saturday phone calls, she called it “fancy cooking,” said she only knows how to “boil it” and wishes that she could cook it as well as her mom, Big Mama, did. It made me laugh because I’ve always wished I could cook it as well as my mom.
That’s just one vegetable. What foods conjure up special memories for you? What stories do they tell about you, your family and your roots?