What Foods Define Your City?

For the sake of discussion, let’s say that someone approached you with a simple question. “What foods do you think best represent the city where you live, and can you give a good recommendation on where to find such food?”

Such a question was asked of me recently, under the guise of an iPhone app writen by the great people over at Rama. The app is written for tourists and travelers, and allows them to find places that allow them to feel as if they’ve gotten to know the city where they are visiting.

My first instinct was to simply send them a list of my favorite restaurants – there. Job done. But I quickly came to realize that the good restaurants tend to have this level of similarity about them. The trait they share is that they tend to be more about the restaurant, chef, and owner, than they are about the city where they reside. I could write about the restaurants that have gotten great press in Food and Wine, or have been made mentioned by the likes of Jeffry Steingarten, but would a person truly have gotten a feel of Seattle?

To address this, I sat down, and try to find a dozen or so places that serve food that represent Seattle, the neighborhoods that make this city great, and the underlying ethos one can find in the way food is approached here.

Then I realized that this is the underlying quest that I have when I travel. I don’t (necessarily) want what I can get back home. I want something that provides a special experience, either unique (if possible) to that location only, or at least known for its take on a well known type of dish. As cliched and touristy as it sounds, there’s something fun about having haggis in Scotland, toasted ravioli in St. Louis, or deep dish pizza in Chicago.

In a country that’s somewhat being defined by a generic “sameness” foisted upon us by the likes of franchises and supermarkets that provide that same food in Seattle as they do in Miami, it’s worth it to ourselves to find the foods that set us apart from one another, and allow us to be different. Then we need to celebrate them in some manner or another.

So, what foods define where you live? For the record, here in Seattle, I chose coffee, microbrewed beer, oysters and mussels, chicken teriyaki, and some other items that you’ll have to read on the app.