Monday, May 7, 2012

Final Assignment: The 3 Most Important Aspects of New Orleans

The 3 Most Important Aspects of New Orleans

Diversity and Its Effect on New Orleanian Culture

As much as we hate calling New Orleans a cultural "gumbo", I think we would be fooling ourselves if we did not recognize the accuracy of this statement.  A gumbo can mean many, many things to many different people.  However, one thing they all have in common is the combination of a wide array of ingredients that produce an outstandingly delicious meal.  New Orleans is home to a huge African-American, Latino, Asian, and Caucasian population as well as a safe haven for people of diverse religious backgrounds and gays and lesbians.  Through the process of combining all of these cultures, New Orleans offers a sense of acceptance for all people.  Its hard to feel like an outcast in this city.  

This acceptance is evident in the "southern charm" many New Orleanians have and the way people nod or say "hello" when you pass them on the street.  If you need directions in this city, anyone and everyone will be willing to help (good luck with getting accurate directions, though).  Everyone in this city is here to enjoy life, enjoy people, and most importantly enjoy the experiences of living in such an awesome city.  

Food as Culture

In New Orleans, our food defines our culture.  The food in the city also represents the diversity of our culture.  We are a city known for French beignets, Creole and Cajun dishes such as etouffee, and German sausages.  The diversity of our food draws us together; we work towards creating dishes that encompass an array of cultural characteristics. 

Because of this emphasis on food, New Orleanians as a community often focus on the issue of hunger.  As we witnessed at the second harvest food bank, hunger is currently being fought with great effort.  Thanks to programs such as this one, we are able to work towards abolishing hunger in families of lower income.  This common goal also works towards pulling our community and citizens together and unifying us as a people.  

Food as Comfort

The thought of being raised on a typical American diet of pot roast and mashed potatoes makes me want to scream.  I consider myself extremely lucky to have been raised in an area where my childhood food memories involve crawfish boilsjambalaya, and Étouffée.  When I enjoy these foods today, the innocent memories and comforting feelings of childhood swell back.  I'm not the only one who experiences this, either.  If you ask any native New Orleanian about a comforting childhood memory, it will most likely involve food.  Food also ties into all of the social events we have down here in Southeast Louisiana.  A Mardi Gras party isn't a party without a king cake or a massive pot of jambalaya; Thanksgiving isn't quite right without a "Turducken;" and Spring time wouldn't be complete without the array of foods at St. Joseph's altar.    It's through these foods that we develop a community, and through this community that we develop a sense of comfort.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Weekend Assignment: Second Harvest Food Bank

I participated in the class field trip to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Harahan, LA.  At Second Harvest, the common goal is to eliminate hunger and to provide nourishing meals to children in need.  This particular food bank feeds thousands of children and families throughout Southern Louisiana.  At the food bank, many processes in food distribution occur.  This is the place where food is stored, cooked, packaged, and shipped to those in need.  The food is brought into this warehouse from either government funding or private businesses.  Most of the food brought here is nearing its expiration date and therefore there must be an efficient process in place to have a speedy turnover rate of items.  

The warehouse, pictured below, is absolutely massive. you can see in the distance the rows of flats containing canned goods waiting to be prepared for hungry mouths.  

Here is a close up of some of the items present in the warehouse: 

The food is prepared in massive amounts in large pressure cookers such as the one below.

There is also a "model kitchen" in which meal preparation is demonstrated to volunteers and cooks who need to know how to make the food they receive from the food bank.  
The finished product looks something like a frozen T.V. dinner, but if it gets the job done, who cares?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weekend Blog Assignment #8: Makin' Groceries

For this assignment, I decided it would be most interesting to visit two grocery establishments that serve the community in a similar, but very different, way.  The two stores I chose were Whole Foods Market and Winn Dixie.  Both of these businesses are super market chains that aim to provide the majority of grocery and household needs in one place.  However, they have two extremely different cliental demographics.  Whole Foods is known for being expensive, often labelled "Whole Pay Check" as a joke. Winn Dixie on the other hand is known as being the more casual, less expensive grocery store.

One of the more interesting things I discovered was that the price difference was not quite what I was expecting.  Whole Foods' "conventional" ground beef was only 40 cents more per pound than the ground beef offered at Winn Dixie.  In addition, many of the organic or "specialty" items at Winn Dixie were actually more expensive then the same items at Whole Foods.  However, one thing that would set Winn Dixie apart from Whole Foods in the meat department is the fact that they offer a plethora of "buy one get one free" sales with the use of a Winn Dixie card.

On the topic of atmosphere, Whole Foods has Winn Dixie completely blown out of the water.  Winn Dixie has disgusting fluorescent lighting that made me confused on whether or not I was having a nightmare or had accidentally ingested LSD.  The lighting made everything less appealing and was especially good at highlighting the equally disgusting flooring.  In addition, the aisles at Winn Dixie are all completely identical and monotone.  For being a place that feeds people and gives life, it sure felt a lot like death.  Whole Foods, on the other hand, is somewhere in between art museum and farmer's market.  The lighting is soft and relaxing; the produce is vibrant and inviting; and the flooring has an "Old New Orleans" feel to it.  Even though I obviously disliked my experience at Winn Dixie, I can't honestly say which store is "better". They both serve a purpose; they both have their pros and cons; and they both are considered community establishments.
                                  Winn-Dixie                          Vs.                   Whole Foods

Finally, the last thing I visited in each store was the salad bar.  I chose to take a look at the salad bar because I feel like the freshness/turnover rate of the vegetables might be an indication of how much care is actually put into the appearance of each store.  Winn Dixie had a much smaller salad bar that only offered the bare essentials of a salad such as lettuce, tomato, cucumber, peppers, cheese, and chicken.  Whole Foods had a massive salad bar with an extensive variety of vegetables as well as finer cheeses, nuts, and berries.  

Winn Dixie                                          Vs.              Whole Foods

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Weekend Assignment #6: My Trip to the Farmer's Market

I decided to go to the Crescent City Farmer's Market on Saturday in Downtown New Orleans.  The hardest part of this assignment was deciding which vendor to select for my interview.  Admittedly, I was mainly just looking for the friendliest looking vendor.  I couldn't help but fear being scoffed at by an angry vendor simply trying to make his/her money for the morning. After spending about ten minutes walking through the rows of vendors selling goat's milk, grass-fed beef, and pasture-raised poultry I happened upon a sweet looking woman selling local, fresh-squeezed juices.  There were a plethora of juices on offer; however, I chose to buy the "honey-lemon" which was basically just lemonade sweetened with honey instead of white sugar.  It was delicious, but what I was really after was an interview with the woman selling these juices.  

I introduced myself and asked for one minute of her time; her reply was something along the lines of "your one minute starts now," which totally threw me off.  So I tore my phone out of my pocket and began recording on the spot.  Her name was Jillian and she was a local musician in New Orleans who played banjo.  She was a strong supporter of the local food movement and wanted to help anyway possible.

The following are her responses to my questions:

"My name is Jillian, I work in New Orleans as a musician."

"I play banjo for a few different groups in the area."

"I believe in local food because I believe it helps sustain a city form the inside, instead of relying on other parts of the culture for food and goods that you find here [in the market]."

" The farmers market, and the people here to support it, is more than just a place to buy and sell products. Its not just about the money, but the culture, too."  

"Without a place to exchange food you put love and care into, there would be a major void in the city."

I was extremely lucky to get the quotes I got because they were exactly the words I was after.  From Jillian I was able to reinforce something in my mind that I already knew.  Food is a major part of culture and it is through food that we are able to make connections, break cultural boundaries, and share ideas. The farmer's market serves this purpose within cities.  

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Weekend Assignment #5: Mardi Gras Images

 Taken during "Bacchus," this is a picture of the float named "Baby Kong."  It was one of my favorite floats in the parade.

This float, "Louisiana Music" was of particular interest to me in the context of the assignment.  I believe it was an effective representation of the musical culture of New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana.  

Apparently, these parade-goers thought a blow up doll would be an effective method for acquiring more beads.  Unfortunately, I did not stick around them long enough to see if they benefited from it.  

This LSU inspired throw is just another representation of how local culture makes its way into every part of Mardi Gras.  

A quick picture of Bourbon Street before things got too out of hand.  Shortly after this picture was taken, the streets were overcome with a huge mass of drunk men, women, and (probably) children.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rashi Sharma: Food, Ethnicity, and Community in India

Rashi Sharma: Food, Ethnicity, and Community in India

"Hi my name is Rashi Sharma and I'm an international student from India.  Food is a pretty important part of the Indian culture, uh, we eat it and like-everyday, obviously haha- but in all the festivals, the food changes depending on which god you're celebrating and like what time of the year it is. So its pretty- like say- if the economy is doing well, the amount of food and the type of food will be different than what you get at other times so it reflects the economy a lot. Um, when the economy is like down or people don't have as much faith in it-like kind of how America is right now- well the food is more based around starch, and cheaper vegetables but when, say, the economy is going really well, you see a larger amount of meats or seafood and dairy dishes such as paneer.  My mom's the main cook and most of the food we eat is form the North of India so it's got more to do with the bread like the bread that you guys have- like the naan that you know of- and like vegetables and lentils and not so much as the rice which is from the south part of India. But things are getting stretched and mixed together now so its all becoming one.  My mother's name is Venita (Sharma).  No, like in India its usually just the women cook. I mean now things are changing obviously and the guys are trying to cook as well but my dad has like no skills in the kitchen.  I mean I guess before people started Westernizing, the women were mostly the people who stayed at home and looked after kids and took care of the house and like stuff like that. Now, they're earning and they're going into all the different professions- like before it was just restricted to nursing and teaching- but now lots of them are going into the business world. We have Holi, the festival of colors and its coming up in March and we have Devali, the festival of lights and its like the Indian New Year and it celebrates basically a god coming back from exile- well thats the history behind it.  There's also a festival- and I'm forgetting the name behind it, sorry there's just so many- when you take an entire week to take a god home and you look after it and you put it out to sea and its really intense, oh my god I love it.  At festivals (as opposed to everyday fare) its usually a lot more sweets, like I actually don't know the name of it but um sweets is the only thing I can think of like its not chocolate and its not dessert but um- yeah like pastry! wait no, well i don't know. Its like lots of fat and its so good though and you have different kinds of it. And the food, you have variations in that depending on the god. Like you have these things called Murti, like they're for the elephant god. Yeah, everything is more gluttinous. And you also have these things like coconut. Like whenever you have a festival you have to break a coconut like as a means of showing respect to the god, I mean I'm not exactly sure what but yeah you like break the coconut in front of them so that happens a lot during festival season.  Um, what do you mean? Oh no, you buy food at the festivals, no one is expected to bring anything from home. Yeah like a fair in America.  Yeah, during festival season you have like evening or morning -depending on the family's preference- like prayers.  You have this one festival in which you celebrates older brothers, well like the older sibling, so like my sister would tie a little band around me that show that she loves me and then I have to eternally promise  to like look after her in like life and stuff. So thats there and its more of like a family thing, not really a community thing.  Then there's another festival in which the community hangs a pot from one of the floors outside and the community has to get together to make like a huge ass pyramid and break the pot, oh its so much fun!"

Monday, January 30, 2012

Weekend Assignment #3: Reviewing reviews

This assignment was more difficult for me then the last two week's assignments.  Reading reviews of a restaurant and dissecting them can be a challenge! I decided to post about a little Ethiopian restaurant on Magazine St. called Cafe Abyssinia.  I've only been to this restaurant once, but from reading the 23 reviews on "Urban Spoon" I have concluded that my experience was very similar to the experiences of other diners.   Overall, the reviews reflect a similar notion, and one that I agree with: the food was pretty good, the atmosphere was "awkward", and the service was awful.  It's also worth mentioning that most of the Urban Spoon posters, similar to myself, had never before experienced Ethiopian cuisine and therefore were basing their judgements of the food quality on how it tasted to them, not how authentic they believed it was.  However, judging from the decor, seating, and smell of this place, they aren't trying to fake anything.  Let's jump into the comments, shall we?

First, my favorite review (bolding done by me):
"I came here wanting to love this place. I have been to ethiopian restaraunts and have always enjoyed the experience and the food. My wife and I ordered a lamb dish which was very good and the samabas(?) which were amazing.
If we had to do it again, we would probably want to come with a group of 6 to 8 as one dish and one serving of two samabas serves two people. I feel Ethiopian food is best enjoyed in large groups so you can try a bunch of different things.
The restaraunt really needs to work on its service. Our waiter was doing the congenial NOLA thing of being nice and talking to everyone which I don't mind. However, there is a fine line between friendly and OMG get me my check. He crossed it. He was a nice guy but I wish he would have just been a bit more "rushed."
I would give the place 3 out of 5 stars that could have been 4.5 out of 5 stars with better service.
Anyway we will return

This poster comments on a number of things.  He remarks that Ethiopian food should be enjoyed as a group.  I tend to agree with this.  Just like traditional New Orleans food (read: jambalaya, gumbo), Ethiopian food is often prepared and served family style.  This makes eating with one or two people kind of awkward because its a large amount of food meant to be shared, relished, and enjoyed over loud conversation that has now been reduced to "just a meal."  Eating this kind of food without a large group almost detracts from the authenticity of the food itself.  The poster then goes on to state that the service was slow and the waiter, though Ethiopian, was participating in "the congenial Nola thing of being nice and talking to everyone."  This is the second parallel in this relatively brief post that relates NOLA food with Ethiopian cuisine.  The waiter was being friendly and talkative; however, many people find this as an annoyance.  The poster obviously found this to be irritating and therefore may not have gone to this restaurant looking for a true Ethiopian experience along with his true Ethiopian food.  

The commenter had a very similar experience to my own experience, making me feel like I understand what this man wants when he goes out to eat.  He ends his post with "we will return", which can be seen as his way of letting people know that despite the small issues with service, this place is worth going to more than once. I tend to agree. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Birthplace of My Sushi Obsession

Shogun Restaurant in Metairie has managed to reserve a spot in my life as the root of my love affair with Japanese cuisine, and specifically, sushi. I first came to this restaurant 13 years ago, when I was 5, and yes, I remember the entire experience.  While I wasn't munching on raw fish at such a young age, I distinctly remember enjoying the fatty texture of a crunchy roll, a delicious combination of deep fried tempura batter wrapped in the traditional sushi nori and rice.  Since then, I have probably visited this restaurant over one hundred times and I have never had a bad experience.  Unlike many "oriental" restaurants, Shogun does not try to capture your attention with ridiculous lighting or other gimmicks.  In fact, aside from the traditional asian lightbulbs  on the porch, the restaurant does not appear to be any different from most standard American restaurants.  However, the restaurant pulls you in by the hospitality of the elderly Asian lady who greets every customer, and the extremely friendly and interactive staff that operates the sushi bar.   The restaurant is located right behind a large neighborhood and has a very popular following among locals. Its not uncommon for the waiters at Shogun to greet their customers by name, or to know what they want to order.  I ordered a bean sprout salad, a spicy tuna roll, a salmon skin roll, and a natto roll.  As an appetizer we ordered the panfried gyoza dumplings, as pictured below.  As per usual, the dumplings were cooked to perfection and were not at all gummy which I find to be common in Japanese restaurants.  They had a buttery flavor that was offset perfectly by the umami flavor of the dipping sauce.   
 I left Shogun extremely satisfied with both the quality of the food and the quality of the dining experience. I will soon be coming back!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Breakfast at a Thai Place?

I spent my Saturday morning enjoying this satisfying steak and egg breakfast at Chill Out Cafe on Maple St. in New Orleans.  This small cafe boasts serving a  "Breakfast and Asian Fusion" on its sign.  The word fusion made me think I would be consuming some kind of bacon and hash brown spring roll. However, this is unfortunately (fortunately?) not the case. Instead, Chill Out Cafe offers a plethora of mainstream Thai dishes ranging from the classic "pad thai" to more sultry dishes such as eggplant curries as well as a nice selection of classic American breakfast options.  While my breakfast was comparatively simple to most dishes served at the restaurant, it was done quite well.  The steak was seared perfectly, giving it a nice charred crust while still maintaining tenderness, a trait uncommon for most breakfast steaks.  The eggs were a beautiful bright yellow hue, and had a buttery velvet texture that made me hate my mother for all the years I ate dry scrambled eggs.  The bread, toasted lightly with a dab of butter, was a nice starchy way to fill out the meal and prompted me to make a delicious steak and egg sandwich which seemed to confuse our young thai waitress.  The meal was a nice way to start my morning, and I will definitely be coming back in the future.