Saturday, February 03, 2007

Spice of life...

Making our way to "Little India" in Artesia for some authentic Indian food last night (we had to turn around the traffic was so bad), I spotted a license plate that said simply: "XB."

This reminded me of the many Russian Easters I experienced as a child (my mother is Russian Orthodox and grew up in a Russian community on Long Island). XB are the Cyrillic letters that stand for "Kristos Voskrese" or "Christ is risen" (or "Christz vas Crazy!" to my young ears). You come to learn this is because XB is written in raisins all over the towering, white ziggurats of delicious (and artery clogging) "paskha" a sort of cheesecake they make in boatloads for the holiday. Paskha gets spread on "koulichy" (cakes) and together it's a very distinct flavor. Deeply Russian, I'd say. And of course, all of this eating was of grave importance to a husky little boy intoxicated by NYC suburbia.

In retrospect, the food was my "in" to the "otherness" of it all - the fact that these people had their own day for celebrating Easter, their own language for singing about it, their own iconography, and their own customs that were completely foreign and, frequently, hysterically funny to my limited sense of living. I was reminded, looking at that license plate last night, that this early exposure to a completely foreign culture must have been the thing that sparked the acute wanderlust that nags at me every moment of every day. What else is out there? How weird and wonderful is it? Who am I in other contexts? And so on...

I will wrap up this bit of nostalgia with a tip for my fellow wanderlust sufferers who are handcuffed in one way or another to a single geographic point. Ethnic cuisine. Seek it out. The real stuff - not the stuff they water down for "Gringos." If you can't find it in a restaurant, try to meet the people who make it in their homes (even better!). Always dinner, never lunch or breakfast. This is key, as fine ethnic cuisine always produces the most vivid and fantastic dreams. You want those unfamiliar spices and secret ingredients swirling around your system as you sleep. It's the most exotic (and least costly) form of travel there is.

("Istanbul Spice Market" photo by Rod Hoekstra)


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