Probably the most difficult thing about moving to New Jersey some 20 years ago was the sudden absence of the delicious foods I grew up with, and the substitution of dishes — like ziti and bagels — that had me asking, “Why would anybody want to eat this crap?”
Growing up, we traveled a lot, but mostly in a westerly direction. And although there were certainly culinary differences between, say, Colorado and Texas, the differences weren’t so drastic that you felt like you were on a different planet. All that changed with our move to New Jersey, which made the migration of a paltry 1,600 miles seem more like a 1,692,662,530-mile move from Earth to Uranus.
So imagine my shock this morning when I opened the menu at our local diner and spotted a new entry: Bowl Of Grits.
Oh sweet and holy Jesus, I can’t believe it! After 20 years, I can finally have grits for breakfast again, and right here in my hometown diner!
Don’t know about grits? Here’s the dictionary definition:grits |ɡrits|
pl.noun [ also treated as sing. ] US
a dish of coarsely ground corn kernels boiled with water or milk.
• coarsely ground corn kernels from which grits are made.
Grits are a southern staple, and just might be the poster child for all the hard-to-find Texas foods in New Jersey. Not only were they tough to find, the very subject of grits is usually met with scorn. Now how could anybody hate grits? Add plenty of melted butter, a dash of black pepper, and you’ve got the gooey breakfast food of the gods!
You know, it’s just sad. I remember an office party several years ago, and I grilled some smoked sausage and onions and took it in. Let me tell you, the yankees went crazy for it. “Oh my god, how did you make this? It’s soooo delicious, I have to have the recipe!”
“Well,” I said, “There really isn’t a recipe, you just buy some sausage links, throw ‘em on the grill and burn ‘em a little.”
“Wait, you mean that’s it? There isn’t any, like, tomato sauce?”
“Uh, no, it’s just smoked sausage and onions, Texas style.”
“Oh my god, it’s soooo good!”
See, the thing is, a lot of these people up here just haven’t been exposed to good eatin’, and are suspicious of things that don’t have a hint of the Eye-talian. It’s unnatural to me that they’d turn up their noses at a chicken-fried steak, slathered with cream gravy, or a huge steaming mess of black-eyed peas, but they do.
I remember a different party we hosted years ago that had a Texas theme. We had a huge pot of pinto beans boiling on the stove, swirled with chunks of ham, onions and jalapeños. Someone asked about the “soup,” and we told them it was beans. You’d have thought we’d laid a turd in the middle of the kitchen floor. “Beans? Beans??? You expect us to eat beans??????”
Okay, pal, don’t eat ’em, leaves more for us! Why don’t you head on back home, and maybe stop and pick up some ziti on the way!
But grits in my local diner? Be still, my heart! This gives me hope for the future! If New Jersey is finally warming up to grits, maybe I’ll soon be able to find some of the other delicious foods that are nowhere to be found in this benighted state, foods like Tex-Mex enchiladas, black-eyed peas and puffy tacos.
One can only hope!