One of the latest food trends in North America is based on regional “Soul Foods”. As with every culture, the time-honored traditions of the dishes “Grandma used to make” (and her Grandma before her) are becoming more de rigueur in our local eateries and kitchens alike.
The reasons are many, but I think that one of the main thrusts is that through the last few decades of “Fusion” cuisine, we long for the simple, tasty and traditional meals that simultaneously make us salivate and fondly reminisce.
Modern gastronomy techniques have their place, and I commend all of those chefs and restaurateurs out there who are following their passions to take food to a cosmic level. However, I think more and more people want to pare back the approach and expectations of our food — we crave ingredients that are not eclipsed by layers of overtly clever pretense.
We want a simple demi-glaze or pan gravy, not a liquid nitrogen reduced foam that has essences of lavender and cinnamon. We want to recognize all the vegetables and other sides on our plates. We want to eat, enjoy and let the meal bring us together in a familial way, rather than requiring a virtual map or helpful suggestions from our restaurant servers of “which rendered fish globule precedes the single dried chip of some fruit that has been made to taste like another fruit”.
We want honesty from the pantry, and purity on the plate.
Soul Food is exactly as it represents: food for your soul. It conjures images of backyard barbecues on hot summer days; slow-cooked single-pot stews on cold winter nights. Ironically, the notion of Soul Food offers up some of the most exotic of global cuisines by keeping true to each dishes’ roots: A Caribbean Jerk chicken dish is Soul Food as much as well-cooked Scotch Haggis.
By delving into the world’s Soul Food recipes, we can gain a deeper understanding of the cultures the dishes come from. (So, please refrain from putting Ketchup on the Haggis!) And, I think the world would be a better place if we could all sit and dine together, regardless of the Soul Food on the menu. Chances are we might just realize that religion, politics and historical differences aren’t quite as important until AFTER dessert!
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