From the Editor: On Food and Familiarity
Reflections prompted by this month's guide to ethnic restaurants.
As I was editing writer Eric Ruth’s great big roundup of ethnic restaurants, I chuckled when I read the section “Chicken Tenders on a Stick.” There, the owner of Semra’s Mediterranean Grill in Rehoboth Beach explains his attempt to disguise, essentially, the ethnic-ness of the kabobs so the name wouldn’t scare off kids.
Perhaps there was no need. Semra’s has been a favorite of my family ever since No. 1 discovered dolmades at the ripe old age of 30 months. Semra’s, our other regular places and our not-nearly-regular-enough places are favorites for good reasons: They’re different, unpretentious, fun, affordable, delicious and, most important, places where memories are made.
I’ve never enjoyed a meal as much as when No. 1, then 16 months old, stole all the pieces of octopus out of the family-style seafood salad at a little mom-and-pop place in Rome. Or when he, not quite 3, asked, “What’s that?” as he reached for a piece of yellowtail sushi at Le Shio, ate with gusto, then proceeded to devour my whole sushi-sashimi platter. Chomping on papdums and onion chutney during a visit to India Grille last summer, he—by then a world-weary 6-year-old—declared loud enough to benefit everyone in the dining room, “This is the best food I have ever tasted!” His 2-year-old brother, meanwhile, mixed together every chutney on the table and ate his concoctions happily.
These were no grand occasions, just spontaneous nights out, yet the memories are as special as memories of holiday meals and other big family celebrations—which is what we share with families the world over. And it’s what makes “foreign” food so familiar. Places like Semra’s, The Olive Tree, Pho Nu Vu, Stoney’s and almost every Italian place in the state serve food made according to recipes handed down through the owners’ families, and they take a special pride in sharing. That’s not true of every restaurant, of course, but it is true of most of our clan’s faves. Whether you are breaking naan, nachos, pita or foccacia together, dining is an act that unites the tribe, contributes in a small way to cultural understanding and makes this big, wide world a little cozier.
So use the dining guide as a backyard travel guide. Eric’s vast knowledge of international cuisine makes him a perfect adviser who capably explains the basics and the nuances of everything from Thai to Mexican, which has been around so long, it hardly seems ethnic anymore. And as the country and the world change, that’s likely to soon be the case for many of the foods profiled here. If you haven’t started your big food adventures yet, it’s time.
—Mark Nardone • Executive editor