At a party up in Hillsborough on September 8, 2001, I said to someone, "The world is a mess, but food has never been better." It's a thought that became embarrassingly trivial a few days later, when it was suddenly obvious that the world was far more of a mess than most of us could possibly have imagined. Going on six years later, though, with the mess even bigger, the notion lingers.
When, a couple of weeks ago, I took Paul on a sentimental tour of places I used to live--Capitol Hill, Old Town Alexandria--it occurred to me that I was telling my life in food: there was a Greek restaurant along about here where I discovered white pizza, but that place in Alexandria, where as a tribute to John Fowles I tried ouzo (what a mistake), was the best Greek restaurant of all; here is where I had Scotch eggs, there is where I first tasted powdery muesli and yogurt, at the European Bakery on King Street (amazingly, still there). I can still smell the little Indian restaurant just off Dupont Circle that I would walk to for dinner when I lived on 19th Street. There was Ethiopian food up in nearby Adams Morgan, tuna Nicoise in Georgetown (served by waits on skates), Turkish (with belly dancers!) on Capitol Hill. Northern Italian was everywhere, as was the new American cuisine (large plates, small portions). Quality fresh bagels were welcome news to me; so were French croissants (Vie de France). Freshly ground French roast coffee beans set a standard for a lifetime.
My son will never experience such an awakening, for his own started with his first solid foods. He takes Harris Teeter sushi to day camp for lunch. He will never know culinary surprise on the magnitude that I did, coming out of the chicken-fried South where, even after a few years in an urban college setting, my idea of an exotic meal was Joe T. Garcia's. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) All of that's just as well I suppose. His world will serve up its own surprises.