I am not sure how I discovered Calvin Trillin, but it was probably in the pages of Gourmet. I remember that he was rhapsodizing about the virtues of pain bagnat, or maybe it was fish tacos (it seems that there have been two different articles, but I cannot remember which came first), neither of which I have ever tried. He has a great fondness, a reverence, for the kind of local food that can only be consumed in situ and loses its meaning away from its birthplace. The pain bagnat I remember as a sort of salade niçoise re-imagined as a sandwich; the fish taco was simply fried fish minimally dressed and wrapped in a tortilla without too much other filling to distract from the perfection of the fish. But I remember thinking that here was someone who knew food, who was funny and interesting and didn't give a damn about the latest new restaurant that served tiny portions of weird food with competing flavors clashing with every bite when he could go somewhere and eat fish tacos. In short, my kind of guy.
I had the great fortune to grow up with a grandfather who not only lived in New York City most of the time, but lived in an apartment conveniently located right about a subway station and even more conveniently located next to a bagel shop. I have said this before, about other foods, but there is nothing I love more than a bagel. A good one, chewy and substantial without being doughy or bready or fluffy, with the crunch of poppyseeds or the tang of onion. Maybe a smear of cream cheese and a slice of smoked salmon, or a little sweet butter. But a real bagel doesn't need anything at all. I haven't had one in a long time but I hadn't realized how long it has been until I read the first chapter of Feeding a Yen and Calvin Trillin begins talking about how he tried to entice his daughters back to New York (one was in San Francisco, the other in Los Angeles; serious eaters both) with bagels.
As a child, one daughter would always go to Chinatown with a bagel, "just in case." The other once asked her father (while eating a bagel that was, as Trillin remarked, "an honest effort that had simply fallen short of the mark"), "Daddy, how come in Kansas City the bagels just taste like round bread?" Still, as little girls tend to do, his daughters had grown up and moved across the country and while it was unlikely the pumpernickel bagel of their childhood would entice them to move back, Trillin figured it wouldn't hurt to look for them. He didn't find them, of course, and his daughter was still on the other side of the country. But the more I read Feeding a Yen the more I think about my own relationship with my parents, how they fed my own yen for bagels and foie gras and salmon and tofu and xiao lung bao (it was my mother who taught me, in a crowded restaurant in Flushing, Queens, how to eat a xiao lung bao properly, without leaking soup all over my plate) and how food is as much a part of our relationship as everything else.
Trillin, Calvin. Feeding a Yen. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2004. pp 4-5.