A few years ago when we were visiting the city of South Bend, Ind., my brother stood up at the back of the tour bus, pointed out his window and shouted, “That is where I had the single best cup of hot chocolate I have ever had in my entire life.”
Then I stood up at the front of the bus and went, “Where?”
And at the exact same time I was doing this, my other brother stood up in the middle of the bus and went, “Where?”
So there we were, my siblings and I, all springing to our hind legs so we could pay homage to a place where one of us had once had a great cup of cocoa.
OK. On the surface this isn’t much of a story. Still, it’s a defining one for my family of origin, because it says so much about who we are. As my brother’s wife once said, “You guys remember everything in your life by what you were eating at the time.”
And, of course, we all just stared at her and went, “So what’s your point?”
I’m still not sure what her point was, to tell you the truth. Why wouldn’t you want to remember that you ate a bag of barbecue potato chips right after delivering your second child? Potato chips are awesome! And so is giving birth!
I not only remember events by what I was eating at the time, but I also remember important “food firsts,” such as the first time I ever ate a bagel. Now that we live in a country where people can buy sushi at gas-station food marts, it’s hard to believe there was a time when certain food items (such as bagels) were a lot more regional.
You just didn’t see a lot of bagels in Utah County when I was growing up. English muffins, yes. And English muffins were great because they were from, you know, England! Like the Beatles! But bagels? If they were around, then they were incognito, like people in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
So when I actually ate my first bagel in Toledo, Ohio, at age 19, the Earth moved. Heaven! (Incidentally, there’s a food-related story related to this event. I was out buying sodas for dinner when I stumbled onto the bagel shop. And by the time I got back to the hotel room with our Cokes, my youngest brother and mother had eaten all the pizza. Not that I’m bitter.)
In addition to fondly remembered food firsts, I have a list of “benchmark foods,” certain things I’ll try wherever I go. And this is the real point of my column. Do you have a similar list? Because you should. That way you can tell people where to buy life-altering hamburgers, if hamburgers are on your list. And who doesn’t crave a life-altering hamburger every now and then?
Anyway, here’s my list. Please feel free to tell me where the best of these is to be had. Local suggestions are especially welcome.
• fish and chips
• steak salad
• potato salad
• (And speaking of potatoes) french fries
(Which reminds me of a potato-related pet peeve — breakfast places that don’t serve hash browns. Cottage potatoes? Seriously?)
• cole slaw
• chili rellenos
• Key lime pies
Meanwhile, if you ever find yourself in South Bend, Ind., I know where you can get a great cup of hot chocolate.
Ann Cannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/columnistcannon.