I wish to provide you with my gastronomical background so that you may better understand the motivation in what I’ve written. At the moment, I shall only list my influences. I’ll provide details as time allows.
The Gulf Coast, half way between Houston and Galveston, is the confluence of many food cultures. I had easy access to Cajun, Mexican — primarily it’s anglified Tex-Mex variant, but also cuisine from the Yucatan region — Barbeque of several varieties — Southern US, Central European and Mexican — and even Vietnamese from the large population of relocated boat people. And the reason why they settled our area was for the fresh seafood. There was a commercial fishing port not 5 minutes from my house. Alas, I did not truly appreciate the bounty I had at hand until I moved away.
Today, my father and I have quite different views when it comes to food. It’s not that he doesn’t like good food, he no longer seeks it out. He lacks my curiosity. Growing up, though, he took great pride in consuming incredibly spicy things. He predates Adam Richman by decades. My father would down whole, fresh jalapeños on a dare. This affinity led us to many a Mexican restaurant. The unusual or the different was not something to be avoided. For that, I am grateful. He has retained, though, his desire for good beer. And that never is a bad thing.
This country opened my epicurean eyes. As a Texan, I thought I new beef. Ha! It was with great joy that I discovered the Argentine meat culture and equally great anger at the crap that past for quality back home. I also discovered coffee and wine, broadening my horizons during dawn and dusk. However, it was a simple event that triggered an epiphany: Chinese food is not what I thought it was. I ordered what I usually do at such establishments. I don’t even remember what, just that I wasn’t yet adventurous. I thought I was served the incorrect dish. No, this was Chinese food in the Argentine context. Wasn’t really all that much to write home about, but made me think what I had in the States, probably was not what folks in China ate.
I was a man who’d been places, done interesting things and believed he knew what good food was. The woman to whom I would profess undying love quickly demonstrated that I didn’t know jack. First, she turned me on to Korean food, a completely alien cuisine to me at the time (late 80s). Then she held my hand as I ventured forth into deeper uncharted waters: sushi, African, and real French food (not the frou-frou stuff, but what people normally ate). Little did she know that she was creating a monster. It is I who now tries to coax her into trying new things. “Babe, do you want to share the pork intestine and blood soup with me?” I’m having less success with the passage of time.
There is so much to see and do in this city, but I’d forsake it all just for the opportunity to eat. And I’m not just talking about French cuisine. You can find excellent Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, African and a whole variety of Middle Eastern options here, and they are usually not adjusted for local taste. Heck, even a hotdog or a crêpe with Nutella from a street vendor is amazingly good. The thing is, though, you have to put some thought into it, not only because of the numerous options, but because quality is not uniform. There is some crap here, especially near the touristy stuff. However, do your home and leg work and you will not be disappointed. And don’t look to just the restaurants. This city taught me what a great meal a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese and a cheap bottle of wine can be.