No passport required

Two of the most influential culinary lights have gone out. First, Anthony Bourdain in June and now Jonathan Gold a couple of days ago. You probably know Bourdain. You may not know Gold.

Gold was the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times. He was the only person thus far to ever be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for restaurant criticism. And the reason for that is he didn’t write about the food. He wrote about the people who made it, the farmers who grew it and the dishwashers who cleaned up after. He spurned high-end restaurants in favor of holes in the wall piloted by immigrants.

His friend and fellow L.A. Times staffer, Gustavo Arellano, perfectly summed up Gold’s unorthodox approach to criticism.

“He challenged well-heeled readers to drop their skittishness and snack on Oaxacan fried grasshoppers, on Thai pig-uterus soup or fermented Peruvian drinks in restaurants where they might be the only white folks…He was an amateur anthropologist of Southern California like few others, documenting rising ethnic neighborhoods and new immigrants long before his colleagues took note. While our presidential administration believes immigrants negatively affect American culture, Gold celebrated not just the new waves of people who came to the region, but also explained how their food served as a bridge for all of us to learn about one another.”

Fried chicken from Salvadoran Reina La Bendicion

Tony Bourdain was his blood brother. “If I am an advocate for anything,” he said, “it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

I took some Millennials on a tour some of my favorite Nolensville Road restaurants. One of them asked me why there were bars on the windows of a Salvadoran joint. “Because that’s the mark of where you find the good food,” I told them. I don’t think they believed me.

My world is so much larger because I have enjoyed pupusas at that place with the bars. I have swooned over goat curry at an authentic Indian restaurant. The Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches I love are sold at the most fantastic Asian grocery store I’ve ever seen. No passport required to learn about cultures all over the world by seeing them through the lens of their food right in my own backyard.

And what’s the best taco truck on Nolensville Road? The first one you see.

Spicy pork taco and chicken mulita from El Dollar #2 taco truck

I literally do not understand people who drive by these restaurants to get to a Burger King. I guarantee you the guy behind the counter doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t give a flip if you like the food. The folks behind the counter of virtually any global restaurant are happy to see you, thrilled that you’re interested in their food and take an enormous amount of pride in what they put on the plate.

Goat curry and naan at Biwarchi

Maybe I’m getting more passionate about this as I get older. I am realizing I don’t have that many meals left. I don’t want to waste a single meal on crappy food. Not that regional American cuisine is all crappy. But some of it, mainly served in chain restaurants, sucks.I have a gift card to Red Lobster that is molding in my purse. I literally don’t know what to do with it.

I have never had a bad meal at an global restaurant. Not ever.


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