Everything Tastes Better When It’s Local (Including Paw Paws, Big Jones)
Last week, I made an emergency visit to Dominick’s. I really hated shopping there. The dinginess, the poor selections and quality, I realized what I like more than anything about eating local, I liked shopping not at Dominick’s. Luckily, when I shop at farmer’s markets, I find some awfully tasty food. I find that everything tastes better when it’s local, even the local food not purchased at farmer’s markets. I find food better in two ways. One way, when you explore various cuisines our “ethnic” foods, you do better when you make the food with local food. The other way, you can still explore unique foods while eating local. I thought about all of this finishing an early lunch today.
I happened yesterday to pick off a shelf, of the many hundreds of cookbooks around the Bungalow, a book on Provincal cooking. It made me want to eat a tuna sandwich for lunch today. I built my tuna sandwich in that style, adding sliced tomatoes, two types of peppers, and a big handful of rocket (arugula) to some canned tuna*. Squished between a crusty roll from Angelo Caputo’s and a few minutes wait for all the flavors to mingle, man, it all tasted good. It tasted especially good because of those local ingredients, the Genesis Grower’s rocket, whose blast of flavors suggests, perhaps, the nature of the plant’s real name**; the sweetness of heirloom tomato against the chile heat. Who cared where I got the tuna and the olive oil, because that sandwich tasted like the South of France.
For dessert, I ate a paw paw. For a short stretch, if one can make it to the Green City Market on a Saturday or Wednesday, one can eat local and eat a tropical fruit. Paw paws are the only tropical fruit that prosper around here. With it’s sticky-soft flesh, musky aroma, and exotic flavors, paw paws do taste tropical. Paw paws taste slightly like bananas, but not a whole lot really. They are sweet, with a tinge of bitterness, very nearly like eating burnt caramel. More over, the fruits contain a strong dose of vanilla. In fact, because you have to eat the fruit well ripe, there is also a good whiff of fermentation too, so it’s more like a good vanilla extract. You know, the booze. You get to eat some pretty interesting stuff when you eat local.
A few weeks ago, I ate at Big Jones for an Edna Lewis Tribute tasting menu. Big Jones Chef, Paul Fehribach, cooks from the Low Country (with little forays across the South). He makes very good food, and he makes food that tastes of a place. Like I (mostly) transported myself to the Riviera with my locally sourced tuna sandwich, Chef Fehribach transports you to the South because he uses his local ingredients. As Big Jones states on its web site, “Our use of local and artisan farm produce has become so central to our cooking.” Big kernels of hominy never tasted better than when they started with 3 Sisters Garden corn. Edna Lewis would have recognized her tribute because of the tomatoes or peaches served in honor. Everything tasted better because it was local.
Being a locavore does not mean giving up alternative cuisines or strange fruits. We can cook up Asian stir-fries with the tofu and other vegetables found at Green City, and we can follow that with a paw paw that tastes like it came straight from the Malay jungle. We can visit France or the South with local foods. It always tastes better.
*I’m pretty parial to Italian tuna packed in oil, but I recently learned about a better tuna product. Look soon to the pages of the Local Beet for more.
**Not really, as I believe the English term, rocket is probably derived from the French roquette or the Italian rucola. For additional background, see here.