What defines a place, a city, a region? Nashville has a long history as a home of country music, something I first realized when I was a kid and at some family gathering up north and a man asked me where I was from. When I told him he said, “You got a lot of country music down there, doncha?” and I imagined my typical suburban neighborhood, completely devoid of banjo pickers and fiddlers, and yelled “No!” and he and I were both equally confused. Not long after that we took one of our summer trips to Opryland and my parents dragged me away from the rides and made me sit through one of the shows. It started with a woman who came out and said, “When folks think of Nashville they think of country music” and I felt like a schmuck.
Nashville has also become a food destination with innovative restaurants like The Catbird Seat where a chef will create food right in front of you and twenty-one other diners creating a custom meal based on your personal tastes, although I can create a custom meal based on my personal tastes at home for a lot cheaper.
Globalization and global communication mean that foods that were once strictly regional can be found far from their original destinations. Nashville now has three Ethiopian restaurants which I think is a really cool thing. It means we can get a taste of Ethiopia for much less than the cost of the trip, not the mention all the associated risks. And yet what is it that makes it Ethiopian food? It may have originated halfway around the world but now it’s part of the mosaic of this community, which makes it a little more beautiful. Also while KFC has stopped serving “Nashville hot chicken” now Red Lobster is advertising “Nashville hot shrimp” which makes me yell “THAT’S NOT A THING!” every time the commercial comes on, but that’s another story.
There’s also the time, shortly after my parents were first married, that my mother cooked okra for the first time. She’d made broccoli with cheese sauce and my father said, “This would be good on okra” and she took him seriously and the result was a slimy, cheesy mess. I told that story to an African American co-worker who laughed and said, “Your mother must be white!” Yeah, although there were other clues to that.
Anyway another thing that defines a place is public art, and while you won’t necessarily taste the food in a place you might see the art as you’re passing through, and that can be pretty sweet.