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Wed Nov 2, 2016, 08:39 AM

Writing about food: Angelo Pellegrini, "The Unprejudiced Palate"

"I was not immediately impressed by the skyscrapers, the automobiles, and the roaring trains of the metropolitan centers along the eastern seaboard. ... What was immediately impressive were the food stalls; the huge displays of pastries and confections, the mountains of fish, flesh, and fowl; the crowded cafes, where the aristocrat -- or so he seemed -- sat beside the drayman in overalls, gulping coffee drawn from huge urns and soberly eating ham and eggs; eating such fare without any visible display of joy, as if in obedience to some distasteful duty -- as if it were yesterday's polenta! Ham and eggs! ... Ham and eggs with fried potatoes, stacks of buttered toast and coffee -- that was my first acquaintance with American food. It remains to this day my favorite dish. I would pay dearly for a gulp-to-gulp moving picture of myself, seated in a New York restaurant, a hungry immigrant urchin to the core, trying to counterfeit nonchalance as I wolfed my culinary cares away. And as I remembered the boot of earth across the water, where eggs had been too precious to be served with any regularity, and where coffee had been hoarded against the bellyache ... I said to myself ... America is good.

"Several years later I heard those identical words spoken by an Italian grocer to whom I had gone for provisions. It was in one of those intimate shops, none too tidy, crowded with sacks of beans, peas, lentils, ceci, barrels of olives, huge wheels of cheese and stacks of salami and dry cod, where the opulent and inefficient operator is more ready to chat than to sell. He took me into his dingy office, rolled back the top of some late executive's desk, as if he were about to show me his ledger or perhaps a recent issue of Practical Merchandising, and revealed loaves of bread, slabs of cheese, and several salami. He then pulled out a drawer, which in any sensible establishment would have catapulted a typewriter into view, and several bottles of wine emerged from the darkness. He locked the door to the establishment, sliced the salami, uncorked a bottle, and opened a can of olives. As he sat down and reached for the cheese, he mumbled, in his own version of English language, 'America ess gude. Today, leet the paesani spend the mawney in the safetyway store.'"

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