When immigrants come to their new country and get established, the first thing they do is go to a restaurant. Usually, it’s a restaurant that serves food from back home. Food nostalgias are the strongest of all.
Twenty years ago, Russian-speaking immigrants in Montreal didn’t have any restaurants from back home. I have no idea which eateries today’s immigrants from my part of the world go to but in 1998-2005 fresh-off-the-boat newcomers always went to the Greek restaurants on Prince Arthur Street. Greek food was the only available in the strange new place that we recognized as food.
Today’s Ukrainians probably have more developed palates but back then we are fresh out of the USSR and had a very limited understanding of what constitutes food. For years, I would go to Japanese restaurants or pizza places with friends and sit over an empty plate trying not to look disgusted with the weird stuff they were putting in their mouths. Once I followed a group of friends into a Thai restaurant and had to excuse myself to the bathroom as soon as food appeared because the sight of it made me retch.
Greek food was exotic to us but at least it was food. Not anything adventurous like grape leaves or moussaka (those terrified us) but grilled meat and potatoes. Or even rice. It was unusual – whoever just eats rice? That’s simply weird. Rice is to put into soups or tefteli, not eat it up straight – but we felt adventurous.
It took years in the new country for me to try pizza. I was at my office on campus with other graduate students. We were grading papers and felt ravenous. Pizza was brought, and I sawed at it with a fork and a knife feeling scandalized by the people who just bit into it. (You should have seen how I ate hamburgers, stunning people in roadside diners around the country. I’d take the whole thing apart, spread it around, and then eat each ingredient separately with a fork and knife. I have a feeling this had the same effect on other patrons as the sight of Thai food still does on me).
I really didn’t care about that first pizza. Unlike with sushi, which made me realize I’d been missing something great the first time I stopped picking them apart and just stuffed one in my mouth, pizza took a very long time not to be puzzling and even longer to be enjoyable. I never eat it more than 2-3 times a year but at least I now enjoy it when I do.