Nigel @nigelsie gave me a tour of the latest food hall in Queens. Unlike the ones in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the food halls in Queens are raw and uncensored. They don’t have to dress themselves up to allay the xenophobia of the mainstream Americans because Queens has enough immigrants and their children to gobble up the supply.
I just binge-watched all the episodes of Street Food on Netflix @netflixfood and was surprised to see familiar-looking foods, thanks to the immigrants who brought them here. Each episode focuses on the story of one chef. This appears to be the modus operandi of David Gelb @thisisdavidgelb who directed Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s an interesting contrast to Anthony Bourdain who generally focused on the story of a community or culture. The underlying theme of Street Food is human struggle. As it is a universal theme, the cultural differences feel incidental. We could say Gelb celebrates our universality whereas Bourdain celebrates our differences.
Although the subjects portrayed in Street Food live in different countries, they all seem to share the same core value: No matter how hard your life is, don’t compromise your art, because if you do, your life would be over anyway, if not literally, then spiritually. I’ve met some people whose plan in life was to make and save a lot of money first so that they can make art without compromising. In the end, none of them did. Ironically, it seems that the art that moves us is a result of overcoming what appears to be a Catch-22 in life.
Most of the chefs in Street Food had struggled to feed their children. They worked hard so that their children wouldn’t have to, which is a common sentiment among the immigrants in New York also. But the irony is that the kind of beautiful human stories they’ve experienced in their lives doesn’t exist in the corporate towers they look up to. The higher we go up, the lonelier we get, which necessitates insurance of all sorts because we are on our own when misfortunes befall us. This is why the stories in Street Food is compelling. Once we realize that there is nothing up there, we look down to the street to find inspirations in life.
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