It’s as easy as it is common to talk about the food of a place and use it as a barometer of culture, to throw around broad-sweeping, ambiguous phrases that elude only to a knowledge of some 60’s sociology-vocab (‘socio-economic reflection’ et. al are as clunky as they are unhelpful) is viewed by far too many people as an easy way to get to the heart of a people without actually getting to the heart of them.
And while we’d be remiss to mention that we did the same thing in a way, our goal with an ‘eating different food’ was not some half-hearted attempt to try to better understand the neighborhood we were covering. It was never to uncover whatever truths about the harmonious existence of the multitude of cultures that people claimed they were receiving by doing similar projects brought them- I think what made our quality of life so enjoyable, and dare I say it, culturally enlightening, was that our motives were purely superficial- like Hamlet’s play, our mindset was always that the food was the thing, any perspective gained is a casualty of curiosity.
But we did learn something other than chicken when smoked for a long period of time is so soft that it practically melts in your mouth; I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but contrary to everything I just said, it’s time for some community reflections by way of food.
Olney and Logan are first and foremost working class neighborhoods. More than 90% of the properties in the neighborhoods are residential. The houses are not ornate, the cars are several years old but well maintained, visually and the streets have minimal litter. It’s not as ethnic as South Philadelphia, as gaudy as Northern Liberties or as pretentious as what Kensington seems to be turning into. I can’t keep the notion out of my head that Olney and Logan are the neighborhoods that the 21st century mindset forgot- they’re blessed with 21st century advances, but still maintain Leave it to Beaver-mindsets. You can see that in their food. It’s not the small plates of Jose Garces’ Tinto, for the first time in a very long time I could remember walking around, taking active notice of restaurants and not noticing anything Asian-fusion and no one eating there cares who is standing next to them in line or sitting two tables away.The food is simple- there isn’t a reduction sauce to be seen in the place. Instead it’s a culinary tradition passed down through generations- you get the impression that the food someone cooked for you is the same food that their mom cooked for them. There are always less ingredients than more, the portions are always less is less and most places are cash only- and the cash is minimal: most meals, with drink, are less than $10.