MY ETHNIC FOOD, in our global marketplace.
My Ethnic Food in my Corner Store..
I love food, whether it is my African ethnic foods, Indian foods, Chinese foods, Palestinian foods, Italian foods, Thai, any food. I especially love my ethnic African foods, and I miss it very much. I have missed my African foods since I came to the US, and I use every rare trip home as an opportunity to indulge.
While this may sound very strange to some, most people know that nothing can take the place of the ethnic dishes they grew up eating. Most of us were raised to enjoy and celebrate certain ethnic dishes, and some of these dishes were symbollic of the season or the occassion. I remember eating Rice, Beans, Plantains, FooFoo, Melon soup, Egusi soup, Bitter Leaf soup and Okra soup; I remember cooking these with Fish, Cow meat, Goat meat, Chicken or Antelope meat depending on the day or the occassion. I remember that Crawfish, Dried fish, Snails were a delicacy that appeared on my dining table on very special occassions.
A few days ago, I was taking my morning walk in downtown Leominster Ma, when to my pleasant amazement I stumbled upon a store that sells African food produce. I use the word amazement because I was not expecting to find my continents ethnic foods, next door to a realtor and jewelry store in a US downtown. You have to know how difficult it used to be to access and transport African food in order to appreciate this find. I have had food that my mother and sister painstakingly packed for me seized upon my arrival at US airports.
Market places in Africa are renowned for the one stop shopping that they offer their patrons (this Leominster, Ma store reminded me of this). African marketplaces are renowned for offering packaged foods, raw foods and Meats and Fish in the same outdoor or indoor space store as clothes, shoes, wigs, hair products and other miscellaneous items.
The Leominster African store had all the elements of an African marketplace. In many ways, you could say this had the feel of a modern Wal-mart, but you have to have seen an African market place to understand the difference. I am not sure how the model for Wal-mart was developed, but I know that African markets have used the same model of trade for centuries.
I went into that Leominster, Ma African store and was greeted by the aroma of dried fish, Dried meat, Canned Foods, Spices, and other African produce. I was also greeted by the familiar personal attention of the store owner. The owner talked to me about the commodities he had to offer, and he did so with great detail. It was as if he wanted to remind me of all I have been missing since I left home many years ago. I saw hair products of all types, from extensions and weave products to wigs. I also saw those very familiar African fabrics like Damask, Lace, Ashoke, and many different kinds of shoes. I was very impressed to see Snake Skin shoes, Leather Hide shoes and slip-ons that reminded me of my teenage years in Africa.
That Saturday morning, I was able to get in my exercise and pick up some FooFoo (yam powder) at the same time. I had not eaten FooFoo in months, and I was excited to buy this at this store. I was able to engage in small talk with someone from my homeland about our ethnic foods and other experiences. I enjoyed the kind of shopping experience you do not get at a large chain grocery store; I got good information about how the vendor gets his merchandise and when the next shipment of choice food products will be arriving.
I exited the store with my purchase in tow, but I could not quite get over the fact that I just had an experience akin to walking down to the marketplace in my city block in West Africa.
The world has truly become a globalized marketplace; you can shop for anything under the sun in a store in any corner of the world. I no longer have to travel for 1 hour to Shop at the tropical food stores in Roxbury, or for 30 minutes to shop at the Mekong market and Santiago's in Worcester.
Before I discovered this Leominster store, my big highlight was discovering the Mekong Market on Main St in Worcester; who knew that the Chinese and Africans eat similar foods, have similar produce and have similar market places. Since that discovery, I have become more open-minded to visiting stores with other ethnic themes. I will walk into Vietnamese stores, Thai stores, Brazilian, Palestanian stores and i will try whatever food that grabs my interest. I feel that trying other ethnic food gives me a greater understanding of the people. It is pretty tough to have a negative impression of a people, if you eat and enjoy their food (unification by food-interesting concept).
I am happy I discovered my little African store in my US downtown; I can now walk down my street for my ethnic foods, and that feels great. I have a content palate, and I am a lot less homesick.