Food and the City

I made the mistake, my senior year of high school, of reading Sinclair’s The Jungle a week before I was to journey to , busy city of Chicago. And, as you can imagine, I thought long and hard about cancelling the trip. I would think to myself every night about my love of beef and about the horror of finding a finger in my chili fries. I was terrified quite rightly. But then the day came when I set foot on northern soil. We stopped off at our hotel to drop off our things. Luckily for me the hotel that we stayed in is notorious for their homemade cookies (The Double Tree). I grabbed about ten cookies and swore to my friends that I wasn’t hungry nor was I willing to accompany them to dinner. However, my girl friends persuaded me otherwise. 😦

Before I had a chance to eat my cookies in the car, we had arrived at our destination. JOHNNY ROCKETS…need I say more. The smell alone was enough for me to forget the dead man minced in my burger patty. Not only was the food amazing but they received a 98 on their health inspection. This burger led me on a taste bud journey that would allow me to discover Chicago one bite at a time. The next day we ate hot dogs and the day after that deep dish.

It is easy to think of about a city in terms of its architecture, its history, and its public transportation systems but if you really want to get to know a city…try its food.  It is through food that we can easily examine the cultural influences on a particular area. I love Anthony Bourdain and his television shows on the Travel Channel. It’s so interesting to see how the food of a particular area is influenced by the various people of that area. In New Orleans is influenced by the both the French and African slaves. This fusion of culinary influence directly parallels to the cultural merging that can be seen in other aspects of a city such as architecture and the religious institutions as well.

I think it’s really cool, that a lot of cities now, like New York, Chicago, and New Orleans are using food as a means of tourism. These cities, and many others overseas, are promoting their food in order to teach their culture. While I was in Chicago, I had no idea about food tourism. I wish that I did. Most of the restaurants that are being promoted in these tours are small, non-franchise restaurants and they depend heavily on their surrounding communities in order to stay afloat. In New York, there is also a food tour that centers around the shops in the village.

Food is an essential part of life. We need it to survive, jive, and multiple. It would only make sense that we would need it to explain city cultures.


Here are some links to some food tours around the world   (New Orleans)    (New York)      (France)



Filed under City Cultures

6 responses to “Food and the City

  1. I definitely agree that you can figure out a lot about a particular city’s culture from its food. It’s a really good way to gauge the migrant populations in the city; I love that Huntsville has a lot of German restaurants, for instance, and that East AL and West GA have good Korean food. That’s definitely something that can be connected to Burgess and his discussion of migrant zones within cities.

  2. tinyopinions

    I’m totally in love with this idea for a blog post! One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to experience the food of a different city. I think you can really learn a lot about a city from the atmosphere of a restaurant, diner, or street vendor. I was in New York City back in March and my favorite meal was at a place called Ellen’s Stardust Diner. The food was amazing, but the best part of the experience was that all the waiters were aspiring theater stars and they sang Broadway songs the whole time! It was an amazing experience, but the fact that the food was absolutely delicious made it even better. The experience also showed how people come to a city to follow their dreams… the staff passed around a tip bucket that they used to fund their acting and singing lessons. If you’re ever in NYC, you should definitely check it out!

  3. You’re so right about food being a means of tourism. I’ve heard people say that food is one thing that will definitely bring people together. Types of food, eating styles and habits, etc. are all heavily influenced by culture, and being in America, we have quite a spread of cultures which originated in various places all over the world. It would be interesting to find out how the food that is enjoyed in various cultures comes together to one place to create what defines the “flavor” of a city, so to speak.

  4. Food tourism is one of my favorite ways to explore a city–If left to my own devices, I might have five or six meals a day when I’m in a city. I thought it was interesting that you brought up Johnny Rocket’s… Even though it’s a chain, it provides a very specific retro vibe, and that degree of specialization is very difficult outside of large cities. I first experienced Johnny Rocket’s in LA, and I thought it was hilarious that even though the place had 1950’s decor and cuisine, all of the servers were very contemporarily dressed. On top of that, the jukebox was playing nothing but 1990’s pop. So I had my malted with a side of Mambo Number 5.

    Even though you could ostensibly have the “Johnny Rocket’s Experience” in almost any city, the experience is invariably flavored by your specific locale. There might be a nice essay in chains like this and how homogenization is engendered or hindered in franchise restaurants.

    I also think that mobile phone culture plays a really fascinating role in food tourism. A restaurant can be made or broken by its reputation on yelp. And sites like yelp make finding the local’s favorite nooks a piece of cake, pardon the pun. You can also look up the opinions of all sorts of food critics with the touch of a button, if you don’t want to rely on the judgments of the hoi polloi.

    Glad Upton didn’t totally ruin your Chicago dining experience! Next time you’re in the Windy City, check out the Chicago Diner on North Halsted… No fingers in their burgers, since everything’s 100% vegan (although you’d never know it).

  5. Not only did your title “Food and the City” intrigue me, but the further I read into your blog post also captured and kept my attention as well. I am extremely interested in the idea of food representing a city. Now that you have brought it to my attention, it does seem rather obvious how connected the two are. I love that you began by depicting your anxiety towards new or foreign foods after reading a novel. It allowed me to see your connection with food and cities and how you became interested in the idea of food and cities. Though I have not traveled to many places, I have been to New York and New Orleans, so I can identify with you on the food in those areas being extremely unique and something they are known for (more so with New Orleans like you stated).
    Since I will basically eat anything and everything, one of my favorite things to do in a new city is try out the different food options it has to offer. I completely agree that a city’s food is a representation of its rich heritage or culture. Each city was influenced by some culture and many can find through the food there. Personally, I see food, recipes, etc. as one of the easiest ways to continue cultural traditions. Though many “foreign foods” in America are “Americanized” from their authentic versions, they still hold cultural value and tradition from where the foods or combination of foods came from originally. One of my close friend’s great-grandparents are from Mexico and whenever I visit their home, his parents still make authentic Mexican food (which, by the way, tastes uniquely different from say, a Taco Bell or any other Mexican I’ve ever been to). Though my friend nor his parents have ever been to Mexico, they still eat the same foods and use the same recipes from the family members who did live outside of the U.S. It is a part of their culture and easily passed down from generation to generation.
    I also agree that food plays a large role in tourism. Not only does it attract immigrants that may have a tie to the type of food, but simply curious U.S. tourists as well. For many, food alone is a good enough reason for families to drive hours across states to get a taste of a certain culture. But hey, you know what they say, “food brings people together.” Really enjoyed your connection between food and the city. I think it would be neat if you elaborated more on what cultures/traditions are depicted through food and how it affects cities, or even surrounding cities. Also, since obesity has become such an important issue in the United States, I think it would interesting to see if you could tie that into this discussion as well. Just a few suggestions though, great ideas!

  6. cmb0030

    To be blunt, this made me hungry. Wonderful post idea! I would love to see this expanded into research! Are there any scholarly articles on this? I may be setting myself up for judgement by making this next statement but, hey, I find it relevant so I’m going to share! Because it is summer there is nothing, literally NOTHING, good to watch on Hulu so I have had to resort to watching the Simpsons. Horrendous, I know. I much prefer Family Guy or Parks and Rec but, alas, they have no new episodes.

    One of the most recent episodes Marge (the lady with the blue hair) tries to find a way to bond with her children and they find themselves exploring their city through exploring cultural foods from all around the different parts of the city. Cities can offer food choices ranging from Humus based smoothies to the classic American hotdog. Exploring a city and understanding a city, and therefore culture, is easily achieved through the expansion and exploration with ones pallet.

    Here is the link for the episode I was talking about! Enjoy!

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s