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Zox Kitchen

Zox Kitchen: August 29, 2013

Lobster Feast, Chinese Style

Every region of the country is known for certain culinary specialties. The Midwest, which formed my roots, is known for its grain and flour, popcorn, cereal and beef. The South is known not only for Paula Deen but for its pork and grits and the curry brought to our shores by English traders. New Orleans created a Cajun cuisine of Creole, French, African-American, and native Indian flavors. And down-home barbecue cooked at low temperature, all afternoon, brought us the culinary art of many regions like the Carolinas, Tennessee, Missouri, Iowa and Texas.

Doc’s was the name of our favorite barbecue pit master in Des Moines. You could smell the smoke a mile away which was the fragrant sign that Doc was in business again. One never knew for sure if he would be open since he spent as much time “playing craps and the ponies,” (that is gambling illegally), and avoiding the local police. In those days legal casinos were only found in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. But when Doc’s was open, we all knew where we’d be getting dinner. It was the best meal in town, especially on a warm summer night.

Summertime is better still and that much sweeter when we start harvesting local squash like zucchini, or pumpkin and tomatoes. But buying second rate is a tough decision to make when the highest quality can be bought elsewhere. It’s difficult avoiding “the best there is.” Similarly, nothing seems to compare to clams, oysters and lobsters from New England and the Northeast, or abalone, oysters or wild salmon from the Great Northwest, or the shrimp of the Gulf of Mexico.

I have come to enjoy these many foods even more when combined with the spices, herbs and exotic vegetables of new communities that have sprouted up all over America and not always in the best of circumstances. Barbecue was given birth with the growth of slavery in this country. The Irish brought their recipes when the potato famine drove them out. Jews brought their Bylo-Russian and German cuisine when able to escape the concentration camps of Europe.

Today circumstances have changed for the better. And we all benefit from the large communities of Afghans and Japanese in Los Angeles; Mexicans in Chicago; Cubans in Miami; Dominicans, Haitians and Puerto Ricans in New York, Iraqis in Michigan, and Vietnamese along the Gulf Coast.

These geographic regions bring all of us a world of delicious flavors that growing numbers of Americans relish more than ever. And we experience our tastes changing as more and more people across the country are becoming “foodies” — or people who are infatuated with food.

Many elements are stimulating the interest in food of all kinds. These include the popularity of food shows on television, food columns like this one that appear virtually every Wednesday in our local newspapers and the growth in schools of culinary arts that teach many of these new cuisines. I think another element that’s no less important is the growing awareness about where our food comes from that has become a responsibility that more and more of us recognize.