Adriana Gradea


She felt new love for the streets of New York City. Like in the place she'd come from, they were made to be cherished by the people who walked them. People wanted to see and be seen, she thought sprinkling some sugar from the square white pack into her steaming Starbucks espresso. Lunch break was short, too short for hot coffee. The cafe was bustling with people---the new-found energy emanating from the New York crowd made her feel like she belonged. She was ready to label the city as "most American," or even more, to label all America as "New York." After all, placing labels is only human. She fixed her bangs and loosened her scarf she thought she'd wear for her new job, the first one on the American continent.

Across the table, her new coworker had curly long hair and a suede jacket on. Her coffee was ice-cold. Her smile was about some other time and place.

"So, what kind of food do people eat in your country?" the curly-haired woman asked suddenly taking an interest in food. Someone had told her once people usually had a pastry for breakfast in continental Europe. Never bacon and eggs.

The other woman stared at her coworker with some surprise: she’d never-before given a thought to describing the way she or her family cooked, let alone how the people ate in the whole "country." Eating is one of life's little pleasures, though in an intimate sort of way. At the time of this conversation, she wasn't eating out much. Food is food, right? One eats when one is hungry. Hunger is the best cook, they say.

So, at long last she answered quickly with whatever went through her mind:

"Oh, I don’t know. Nothing specific; normal, usual food, I guess. You know—"

With the look of a connoisseur on her face, the other one said, revealing perfectly white teeth in a smile: "Oh, I see. Meat and potatoes, huh?" She sipped from her coffee. She was clearly thinking hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and fries; Big Mac, Big Whopper, BLT, hot Buffalo wings with celery and Ranch dressing; tuna salad with celery; chicken nuggets in a bucket; Popeye chicken; beef steak and baked potatoes with sour cream and chives; biscuits with gravy; pork chops, barbecue ribs; rib eye; roasted turkey; roasted potatoes; sweet potatoes; corn or potato chips; honey ham steak, hickory smoked ham; stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce; greens; hotdog in a bun with ketchup, mustard, mayo, and relish; macaroni and cheese; corndogs; corn on the cob; barbeque pork; hamburger helper; pizza; crab cakes; nachos; chili; smoothies; cobbler.

"Meat and potatoes? Hm. Yeah. Of course," said the girl with the scarf suddenly bemused. Her new American coworker had an inkling about the food in a far-away country—a place so hard to define in every sense that from New York seemed to be on a different planet. Though she’d never heard the expression until then, she thought it was the perfect label. Sure. Why didn't I think of it before? A series of images unfolded in the back of her mind: Veal schnitzel with mashed potatoes; pork brains fried in batter; tripe soup with sour cream and garlic; mutton soup with the sheep’s head in it, eyes looking at you; garlicky or blood sausages with mustard or pickles; cow tongue stew or cool cow tongue with mayonnaise; roasted lamb or mutton in red-wine sauce with black, shiny olives, hunter-style; chicken or beef goulash with potatoes, dumplings, or spaetzle; cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and ground beef and pork; green bell peppers stuffed with rice and ground pork, roasted in the oven in a tomato sauce; boiled, sliced potatoes with sour cream and hard-boiled eggs, au gratin; pork and potato stew with winter savory and bay leaves; boiled potatoes sautéed in scallions and paprika; rice pilaf with chicken gizzards and hearts; roasted eggplants, roasted peppers, baked apples; fish roe; cherry, apple, or gooseberry soup; potato dumplings stuffed with sugared plums and rolled in breadcrumbs and sugar; pasta with ground walnuts and sugar, pasta with poppy seeds and sugar; rose petal preserves; walnut preserves. You know—the usual. Meat and potatoes, alright. How did she know?

"Yeah, pretty much, meat and potatoes." Simple and accurate. How easy to explain it turned out to be; how nice of people to take an interest in the culinary culture of her country of origin. It became clear to her that people are not so different, after all, now that her New Yorker friend revealed such insight into her life-before-America. Aren't we all just meat and potatoes eaters. Maybe America was indeed the right place for her: she'll fit in, people would get her. She was gonna make it one day. She finally took a sip of her cooling coffee.

In the early afternoon, wearing smiles of hope, the girl with big bangs sipped coffee at a maple-wood table in the cafe imbibed with exotic aromas. Outside, the crowd was moving in every direction, yellow taxis were honking dissonantly, people were rather oblivious to most things, but the City was alive, in the country where dreams are only waiting to be dreamed.

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