I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail which posed the question, “Is fast food the pinnacle of civilisation?” My knee jerk, visceral reaction was “Absolutely not!” I thought “what crazy writer asks such a question?”, as visions of Whoppers, Big Macs, and KFC reverberated in my head. But I calmed down as he described one of the best meals of his life as the three fish tacos he bought for $0.79 USD in East LA.
His description of the meal, and I quote, was an “exquisitely fried piece of fish, warmly couched in white Mexican crema and something red and smokey, brightened with tomatoes and surrounded with airy tortillas. He went on to say “It did something to your mouth, that I cannot begin to describe.” Now this experience I can relate to.
Some of the best food memories I have centered around fast food:
- tacos of conchita pilbil from Merida, Mexico
- bahn mi from Eden Center (Virginia)
- anything from the hawkers of Singapore
- dim sum in Hong Kong
- burritos from the Mission District in San Francisco
- pizza slices from just about anywhere in New York
- fish and chips from a vendor in London
- pomme frites in Amsterdam
- last, but definitely not least – gelato in Italy
If I were asked what food defines the culture of the location I am in, I would be hard pressed to attribute it to a high end restaurant. While I have swooned from some incredible gourmet meals in my time, I would never say the tasting menu at Restaurant Eve’s or Komi represents the cooking of DC Metro, nor would I describe the food of Gary Danko or the French Laundry as traditional Northern Californian cuisine.
I propose fast food fits the bill. Fast food crosses all social and economic strata. This food unites – you catch the eye of a fellow eater and grin as you wipe the sauce dripping down your chin and you share in the delight of good food that reflects where you are. I’m off to grab a mushroom piroski from the neighborhood Russian bakery, feeling downright civilized.