Friday, February 20, 2015

Food notes after 2 months in North Carolina

I would have said the South, but the South is big. And Alabama is very different. See- I am assimilating- I am taking on the disdain of a native North Carolinian for her less advanced neighbours.

Here are some assorted notes on the food from here (not comprehensive in the least). Some of it is delicious. Some of it is inscrutable. Most of it is very bad for you. All of it will make you miss a good hit of sour like in a good kadhi, or sambar. It is very much like Punjab here- a purely butter based civilisation. The predominance of vinegar in meat preparations does not count, it leaves an anaemic tang in the mouth that is far from satisfactory.

i) I have been introduced to pork ribs. We ate them dry rubbed St Louis style (which apparently means something specific because every city has a style and they all compete with each other about how much sugar to put in their food- St Louis mercifully puts very little) and they were fantastic. I am now a convert, even though I approach most barbeque with suspicion. I do not think people should get points just because things have been cooked over charcoal. I am from India. This lack of modern equipment does not impress me much.

ii) I have eaten fried chicken. Chickens here have breasts bigger than many humans do- and you have to worry about this, but it is all the same after a good frying. And fried chicken is very good.

iii) When Southerners say sausage what they mean is spiced pork made into a patty of any shape, called a sausage just to cause confusion as there is never any casing to be seen. They eat these frequently, often on a biscuit- also called so to cause confusion with a native English speaker (ha! see what I did there?). Here a biscuit is not a crisp thing to pick up and dip into tea but a fluffy mound of cornmeal, butter and cheese that disappears easily in the mouth, only to appear almost instantly on your electrocardiogram.

iv) Pecan pie. Now as a woman in a bar in the middle-of-nowhere Georgia told me- it is not pe-can like pee-can which is a thing that sits under your bed, but pay-Kahn like the Dominique Strauss. How ever you say it pecan pie is wonderful. Red velvet cake, key lime pie, pound cake, brownies and blondies, something with funfetti because the stuff is everywhere, will also often show up on the same dessert table, but the pecan pie is best.

Now a small note about pound cakes. This is not a sponge cake. It is a plain cake, with flour, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. I have not understood why this cake is so beloved.  My husband and his parents think it to be the height of culinary achievement, and they are not alone in this. Nothing in which you put equal parts sugar, butter and flour can fail if you ask me. Most American baking has so much butter and sugar that it must be very hard to make it taste bad. To me pound cake seems the most boring thing. It is not sublime in texture, it is not a showcase for excellent vanilla like an ice cream can be, it is not a particular test of skill, but it often inspires a devotion that is difficult to comprehend for those of us coming to this food in our adulthood. It will send grown men into raptures, and is more mystery than food.