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Over 60...and Getting Younger: August 7, 2009

Remembered Meals

As I grow older, I am occasionally snapped back by my youthful memories. As a boy growing up in the East Bronx, my experiences were limited. My apartment house, my block, my school and my friends were probably my total world. Today, I can look back and try to remember certain highlights that led to my present life.

My first Chinese meal was an unequaled moment. At the crossroads of Boston Road and Southern Boulevard, not too far from Pop’s Poolroom, was a Chinese restaurant. Basic Chinese food was a revelation to me. Most of my meals were eaten in my mom’s kosher kitchen. She never served fried rice, spareribs, egg rolls, Chinese vegetables. All were exotic to my palate and wonderful.

By my today standards, it was just passable, but back then it was heaven. The hot mustard was nothing like the Jewish mustard of our local Bucknoff’s kosher delicatessen. Mixing it with duck sauce turned into a sharp, pungent but sweet taste. Wow!

My first Italian eating experiences came from a place under the elevated train on Westchester Avenue. It was called Luigi’s. It was close to James Monroe High School and the pizza was delectable. Imagine, red Italian tomato sauce and cheese on this thin crusty wedge of baked bread. My mother’s spaghetti sauce was a couple of bangs on a Heinz bottle of ketchup. You could even pour grated cheese, garlic powder and red pepper on your slice of the pie. The pie was usually shared between a couple of guys. Pizza was 15 cents a slice but now it has gone to over $2, but I still love it, plain or loaded.

All my life I have always had Greek buddies. Teddy Eliades in elementary school and John Larounis in my later life. Chicken, lamb and beef kebabs and hummus and salads with loads of feta cheese have entered my diet. Astoria, Queens is a favorite eating ground. Uncle George’s and Omania’s (for dessert) are an ethnic experience close to paradise.

Continental dining is not to be scorned either. French food with its various sauces came to me in later life. Spanish paella with seafood is also a hearty experience. German sausages and dark beers in large steins likewise have a hold on me.

This remembrance is not meant to denigrate American food. Hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, New York steak, fried chicken, lobster, apple pie, etc. are all wonderful treasures of American cooking.

Thanks for joining me on this nostalgic trip to the great meals and gastronomical highlights of my youth.