Sometimes I think I was lucky to be born late enough not to remember most of the eighties, culinarily speaking. Certainly I don't remember eating out in the years we lived in St. Louis. (What I remember is New York, with its bagels and meals at the Russian Tea Room, and Taipei, with breakfasts of fried crullers and steamed buns and bowls of hot soy milk). Dinner out meant Chinese restaurants where I got to eat potstickers and steamed fish, or Italian joints with spaghetti and meatballs, red-and-white checked tablecloths covered with white paper, which I would draw on with the black Uniball pens my father always kept in his shirt pocket. (He still does). I was born in 1980, which means I came of age in the 90's, and I happened to grow up in Seattle, with its wealth of seafood and an emergence of a cuisine that would begin to take shape in the nineties and come to fruition, so to speak, in the noughties.
Most of what I know about American cuisine before I was old enough to remember it (that is, up to the late 80's), comes from either my parents, who have a distinct prejudice against it, or from Calvin Trillin, who looks with disdain upon what he referred to as La Maison de la Casa House, that dismal Continental cuisine which brings to my mind the sort of food served on cruise ships by white-jacketed waiters hoping for a generous tip at the end of a week, reasonably attractively arranged, moderately tasty. By the time I was grown-up enough to dine out with my parents at restaurants with luxuriously starched napery and battalions of crystal stemware and silverware, the landscape had changed; I missed nouvelle cuisine and cut my teeth on the faintly Asian-inflected French-trained style of cooking that ran rampant through the 90's. But I digress.
When I read Trillin, I feel like I am at dinner with one of my best friends, or my parents' friends, one of those witty and educated people who can talk about anything, but most of all they talk about food. It is like being drawn into a conversation that will go on all night. He writes about things I have no knowledge of - chili in a Cincinnati chili parlor - I had no idea that places like this existed - or things I love, like fried chicken, eaten in towns I'll never visit. But then it comes to me, when he describes the pleasure of food, that he reminds me of my father, and his wife Alice, his constant companion and voice in his ear, is like my mother, particularly with her "weird predilection for limiting our family to three meals a day." (Actually, I think my mother believes two meals are all that any person needs, perhaps with a small snack to tide you over the gap). I would follow the Trillins anywhere on their gustatory adventures, and in Trillin's writing, I can.
Trillin, Calvin. The Tummy Trilogy. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1994. p 117.