The first time someone said, “Hey, you wanna go get some falafel?” to me back in 2002, just after my initial move to the Dominican Republic, I remember thinking, “What the falafel is falafel?” I had never heard of such a thing and wasn’t quite sure if it was a food, a drug, a drink or the latest bank of sandal. After discovering it was indeed edible, the various descriptions that friends were giving did little to inspire confidence that I would enjoy this falafel.
“Oh, it’s fried, mashed chickpeas,” said one. Uh okay. What’s a chickpea?
“It’s good. It’s weird because it’s green on the inside. But it’s good.” Right. Using weird in a sentence describing food is never a good idea, unless you’re the Bizarre Foods Guy from the Travel Channel. Or the Food Channel. Or both.
It was several invites later before I finally agreed to go to this little hole-in-the-wall falafel place in the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo. A plate was brought out, I hesitated, then tried one. And was instantly… okay about the whole thing. I mean, thirteen years later I enjoy falafel. I’ve had enough to tell the difference between a good falafel and a bad one. I probably could’ve lived my whole life without tasting one, but I’m glad I did. At the time of my falafel discovery, no one in my home town circle knew what it was. Aside from just moving out of the country, I was eating strange and exotic things. I was so cultured.
Four countries later, I can say I’ve definitely eaten things I might never have tried if I hadn’t left the US. I’ve had refried black beans for breakfast, CHINESE food for dinner. various fried this and that for lunch, street food, stall food, local food, imported food and variations on everything from Spaghetti Bolognese to fried chicken.
The travel snob in me likes being able to say, “Ooh, I love Thai!” and “Hell yeah! A new Indian restaurant is opening down the street!” I like knowing the good places to get hummus and that American Chinese food does not actually taste like Chinese food. But sometimes, you need food you know, food you grew up with. Comfort food. And in most of the countries I’ve been in, that’s been the hardest thing to come by. Sure, there’s McDonald’s and Chili’s and KFC and Papa John’s. Kuwait boasted an Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings that we frequented. In Shanghai we went to Blue Frog for burgers and wings. It was never quite right, however. Never ‘home’ food for me.
|Oh, it’s true alright!|
Until Bahrain. Bahrain has Ric’s Country Kitchen and an IHOP. We took L out to Ric’s for her birthday last night- she’s from the south(ish) as well and had never been. We ordered pulled pork sandwiches with mac and cheese and coleslaw. When she bit into the sandwich, she stopped and said, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that. This is uh-mazing!” And she’s not wrong. Ric’s offers all-day breakfast, including grits. I have had to bring grits with me or have people ship them to me since I left GA in 2002 but here is a restaurant in Bah-freaking-rain that serves them. And just as good as any Southern diner (or Waffle House) that I’ve ever been to!
They serve pulled pork and fried turkey legs and peach cobbler, the likes of which your granny might be jealous of. They have sweet tea. For real sweet tea, brewed in one of those big ol’ industrial sized coffee makers and poured steaming hot over a cup-full of ice. There are free refills as well, in case you were wondering. Country music blasts from the speakers. And it’s decorated to look like a Folks restaurant back home. I can’t feel anything but ‘at home’ when I’m in there.
The IHOP is an IHOP, but without the grits. The menu is a little smaller and they only serve beef bacon (eww) but they still have the large glass of orange juice, the unlimited coffee and the four types of syrup on the table. It’s familiar. It’s comforting.
I don’t need to go to these places often. In the two plus years I’ve lived here, I’ve only been to Ric’s maybe four times, and three of those have been this year. I’ve been to the IHOP two or three times since it opened last spring. Both places are about 30+ minutes up the highway (depending on traffic) so you kind of really have to want to go to make it happen. Or already be out in town.
It’s nice to know they’re there, though. On the days (or months) when I’m missing home and all things Southern, it’s nice to know that I can at least find a little taste of home in the Middle East. It makes it feel like it’s not quite so far away.
Do you have a restaurant that feels like ‘home,’ wherever you live? Or have you ever traveled somewhere and found an unexpected place that reminded you of home?