I am an eater of all kinds of food. International is my middle name when it comes to eating, from crickets to mondongo to stinky tofu, I welcome the experience that is global eating. But you know what’s really exotic? Eating something in a different city or country that you wouldn’t normally eat when you’re at home.
My most recent exotic eating experience was centered around a burger. My first In-N-Out Burger, in fact, near LAX. Part of the exotico was watching the organized chaos behind the counter: the well-staged line of burger assembly and hustle-bustle to keep straight drive-in vs. walk-in orders. Yes, it’s fast food, but fast because they make it right in front of you in real-time.
When I visited Puerto Rico some years ago, my friend took me to a place known for their burgers. It was a dump with huge cockroaches crawling all over the walls (speaking of bugs!) My friend was a vegetarian, but her compadres vouched for the deliciousness of the burgers. I can’t recall anything remarkable about that San Juan burger, but I’m sure I liked it enough…
But I was keen on eating “authentic” local foods during my visit (which mostly turned out to be chuletas w/rice & beans), as I tend to be when I am a-travelin’. Of course, I can eat AUTHENTICALLY at any time because I do live in New York City. So why focus on the burger?
Is it because the hamburger represents more to this child of immigrants than she realizes? Is it because her mother took her to Burger King as a special treat when she was a fat, squat kid who looked to food for comfort and solace? And lest we forget, the burger, invented back in the early 20th century, is Americana to the core. So to embrace the burger is to embrace America. Which I do.
But let’s be clear, the experience of muy exotico is not transferable to the act of eating trendy burgers like the ridiculous “kimchi bulgogi burger”. Because, though kimchi complements and elevates the flavors of many foods, it doesn’t need to go in or on top of everything. Show some respect and don’t needlessly make kimchi ubiquitous. It’s not ketchup, for christ’s sake.
I did not want to remain,
but I soon had to weaken
when a dark Puerto Rican
gave me the come-on.*
–– Irving Berlin, “In Old San Juan”
*Better if it was a burger…