A number of years ago we were in Italy for a long delayed and much needed family vacation. I’m sure I probably looked just like so many others I was amidst as we ambled around the markets and then ate in the cafés and trattorias. iPhones had yet to be invented so I had a bulky camera. I really had no idea of the depth of history surrounding me. Now I’m older. And I look at experiencing food in a different way. Recently I was listening to a podcast featuring Dr. Lucy Long who is the Director and Founder of the Center for Food Culture at Bowling Green University.
She spoke about the differences between a food tourist and a food pilgrim. She explained, “after all a pilgrimage was something originally assigned by the church so that an individual might go through a transformation. So it’s not only about the taste… its about something deeper… something soulful yet with an intellectual connection. Ms. Long doesn’t judge… she just offers this advice. “Just be aware… know the differences between the two”.
This got me thinking of how food tourists became so swept up in the frenzy of consuming Blackened Redfish they nearly decimated the stock of the Gulf of Mexico’s waters entirely. It began with an innocent moment one day while the great New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme prepared the species in a fiery black iron skillet while working at the iconic ‘Commander’s Palace’ restaurant. A market economy boomed .. and not long after fishermen were plagued when they ran out. Miami is possibly too big to be subjected to any one food becoming so dominant as to cause it’s extinction. And really… could we all ever reach a common conclusion here in our magical diversity? Let’s hope not!
But I once did live in a very tourist dependent place that became nearly a victim of caricature regarding a single dessert. As you might have surmised by now I speak of Key Lime Pie.
Food tourists have have not recently wiped out locally grown key limes. Nope. That was done long ago! The small, thin-skinned limes grown on Key West and a few places to the north could never render enough juice to satisfy the tourists bound to get their slice .. or three.
It got me wondering… what foods do people make a pilgrimage for if they consider making one to Miami? I guess it makes sense that for one to make a pilgrimage you would need pre-knowledge of a food to go in search for it. I came to South Florida largely ignorant of what I quickly came to experience once here. But if I were to advise future pilgrims of our food culture you can bet I’d speak of Conch Chowder, Mojo Pork, Guava Pasteles, Flan con Coco, Jamaican Patties, Rabo Encendido, Haitian Pikliz, Maduro Plantains, Mamey Batido, Shrimp a la Plancha, Stone Crab from a one hundred year old Miami Beach restaurant, and I’m just getting started!
An example of a food being one a food tourist must experience if visiting Chicago would be a Deep Dish Pizza. Although we grew up just to the north of the Windy City… I’m not a fan.
But I’m always sure of a meal I’d stand in line for. And that is a Chicago Hot Dog.
With the works.
I’d even make a pilgrimage for it.
I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s… My Word on Food