Prairie Fire
Marketing the Past

Food Makes a Place

Ca_road_trip_11"Mma Ramotswe leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She knew that there were places where the world was always green and lush, where water meant nothing because it was always there, where the cattle were never thin and listless; she knew that. But she did not want to live in such a place because it would not be Botswana, or at least not her part of Botswana. Up north they had that, near Maun, in the Delta, where the river ran the wrong way, back into the heart of the country. She had been there several times, and the clear streams and wide sweeps of Mopani forest and high grass had filled her with wonder. She had been happy for those people, because they had water all about them, but she had not felt that it was her place, which was in the south, in the dry south." (Alexander McCall Smith, in Blue Shoes and Happiness.)

I felt right at home today, almost, visiting the Farmers Market near downtown Los Angeles.  This is a place not on most tourist’s hotlist, and yet it is a great place to see the locals of LA, a real mix of race and ethnicity.  Here there are still farmers selling fruits and vegetables, as well as other small stores, and about twenty restaurants, that is, small grills.  At noon, we found ourselves in the smallish Kokomo Café, on a tip, eating their specialty, pumpkin pancakes with cinnamon and butter and a bit of maple syrup.  Delicious.  One table over a man is eating some type of Singaporean food, probably a curry dish, and I just passed an elderly couple having corned beef and cabbage, mustard all over the corned beef.  After the pancakes I had a caramel covered marshmallow.  Two firsts in one day.  Does this just mean I’m eating well?  No, I’m saying it because it’s the particulars of this place, part of what makes LA what it is. 

Inandout And before I’m done here, before I leave, I’ll eat at In-N-Out, the original fast food hamburger joint on Gayley Avenue in Westwood, because the burgers are homecooked and not frozen or microwaved, because I can’t eat there anywhere near my home on the East Coast, because Harry and Esther Snyder founded it in 1948 as the first drive-through hamburger stand in the country, and Esther still runs it, and they have scripture verses on the French fry cartons, and by golly some things just must be done.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ll make a stop on Olveras Street, a Mexican-American enclave, and eat taquitos, and then move on to Chinatown, past Koreatown, just because it’s all a part of what makes this place unique. 

And then, driving back to the beach at Santa Monica, I’ll realize, as I did today, that as much as this is enjoyable (all but the traffic, which hasn’t been too bad), it’s not my home.  Like Precious Ramotswe, I’m happy they have what they have here, and I can see why some things are attractive to them, why it may be like home to them, but it’s not my home, “not my place.”  It’s too dry.  There are too many people.  It’s too disconnected, sometimes too unreal.  And I can’t find any pork barbecue and sweet tea like we have at home. 

It always comes back to food, doesn’t it?  It can define a place, make it home.  I’m just about ready to go home.  I'm ready for some barbecue.  I'm hungry already -- for home.