When I tell people I’ve eaten bi bim bap in Barcelona and shawarama in Dublin, I’m looked at as if I have multiple heads. The best was a bemused reaction from D’s dad when I told him that we had gone to a Chinese restaurant for dinner one night when in Paris as opposed to feasting on foie gras and coq au vin. (Granted it turned out to be a sub par meal, mainly because it was catering to busloads of Chinese tourists, so the two non-Chinese speakers were one step shy of being ignored the entire meal.) The same people who regard me with such looks are usually the ones that haven’t traveled to these places recently, or at all. It is because of this that they are not aware of how much a global melting pot Europe has become.
Europe is not the same place it used to be when affluent travelers such as the characters from E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View toured the continent. When the institution of colonialism collapsed in much of Africa and Asia during the 1950s and onward, many of the former subjects of those colonies left their native countries behind to go and live in the “mother country,” the country whose language, culture, and customs they had been taught for decades. As such you had the culture and customs of dozens of former colonies mixing in with the culture and customs of the mother countries, thus producing a rather interesting blend.
It was only in the last five years that I developed a liking for Indian food. On my last visit to London I hadn’t yet developed a fondness for Indian cuisine, due to the deep rooted fear that my mouth and stomach would never be the same following a meal; therefor I never visited Brick Lane. It is a street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in the city’s East End which serves as the heart of the city’s Bangladeshi-Sylheti community. The street and the area surrounding it have always been home to an immigrant population beginning with Huguenot refugees in the 17th century, followed by Irish, Ashkenazi Jews, and in the last century, Bangladeshis. Now, Brick Lane is famous for its many curry houses with Tayyabs, Aladin and Clifton being among the most popular and well known.
One of the best meals I had during my semester abroad in Spain was actually at a Cuban restaurant in Madrid, El Tocororo. Although I adore croquetas and tortilla espanola (Spanish potato omelette) and paella, nothing beats a plate of fried plantains and lechon asado (roast pork). What’s ironic is that at the turn of the last century, countless Spaniards (it’s estimated that more than half a million Spanish people immigrated) left their homes for Cuba, which at the time was a relative bastion of wealth and prosperity. Today, Cuban people are desperate to flee the island nation with many coming to Spain since the language is the same (minus the extreme dialect and accent differences) and it’s somewhat easier to immigrate there as opposed to the United States.
Although the Europe of the history textbooks will always be the most prevalent feature for visitors, slowly rising is the Europe of today and tomorrow, a continent that is a mixture of old and new with its populations. Nothing beats French food in France or Italian food in Italy, and yet it is nice to know that other dining options exist should you ever tire of Neapolitan pizza and instead develop a craving for chicken tikka masala.