Member Profile - Cuisine SafariJun 04, 2015 04:31PM ● By David Maynard
Cuisine Safari is a local Meetup.com group that explores ethnic food from various restaurants in the Central Pennsylvania area. This is a monthly profile on the members who are a part of the group where they can share their experiences and insights. For this first profile, I will talk about myself and share the inspiration for creating the group.
To start with, I am originally from Massachusetts. I have lived in Central PA since November of 2008. I moved with my wife who is originally from the area for family reasons. I have a tech background but recently transitioned into the financial industry and work for the Department of Transportation.
My interest in ethnic cuisine started through my family whose roots hail from Barbados, a small former British colony in the Caribbean. I am first generation to the US, but still have strong ties to Bajan (Barbadian) culture. Growing up, I typical Bajan fare such as Jerk chicken, Cou Cou (mixture of cornmeal and okra), Curry chicken, Pudding & Souse (pudding paired with a seasoning mixture using pig parts), and other dishes primarily found in the Caribbean islands. I didn’t have as much of an appreciation for West Indian food until I brought an American friend over for dinner one time. He was truly amazed by the dishes and the different flavors that they created. From that exchange, I started to become aware that not many people outside the West Indian community are exposed to this cuisine and my appreciation started to increase. Later on in my adulthood I would cherish going over to visit my aunts every Sunday and enjoying a West Indian meal with them.
This same friend from my childhood started to expose me to other ethnic cuisines. His mom’s roots were from Italy and she use to cook a lot of Italian dishes that were passed down through the generations. My friend had an interest as well in authentic Asian cuisine so he would take me with him when he would visit the Boston Chinatown and we would feast on some amazing menu items. At one point we became interested in Thai food and ended up making a trip to Thailand a few years later. The Thailand trip yielded one of the best eating experiences of my life since the conversion rate of the currency was pennies on the dollar so we were able to eat very cheaply and try different dishes that would have been more costly in the states. There was one place in particular located in Chiang Mai that was off the beaten path and was a small, little, unassuming restaurant. At the location the owner greeted us daily and even though we didn’t speak Thai and he didn’t speak English, we always ended up ordering some delicious dishes.
I moved around a few times to different towns and cities while living in Massachusetts but one of the areas I missed greatly was the city of Quincy. Besides being twenty minutes away from Boston and easy access to the MBTA train transit system, it had a lot to offer in terms of ethnic cuisine. Outside of the Boston Chinatown area, Quincy also had a large Chinese population. Within the last twelve years, there have been many restaurants that have popped up to accommodate that population and provide authentic Chinese food. In addition to Chinese food, they were other options such as Indian, Brazilian, Filipino, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Lebanese. There were also supermarkets and numerous mom and pop stores that catered to the various groups in the area. It was in Quincy that I had my first exposure to Chinese and Japanese hotpots, an eating style where participants cook meat and vegetables in a broth.
So the move to Central Pennsylvania presented some challenges for me with access to the variety of ethnic cuisines I was exposed to. There was no lack for Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese food in the area but I wanted a greater variety as well as explore some off the beaten path. I also missed the communal dining that I had with my relatives. I decided to create a group and use the Meetup.com platform to help manage it. During the first month I had about fifty people. We started out with a potluck dinner. Since then the group has grown to about two hundred and eighty. In addition to attending restaurants, we also do buffet nights where the menu consists of items not easily accessible here like Macau Portuguese Chicken. If this all sounds enticing, come join us at the link below. We look forward to having you.