When I first landed on the Northwest Side four years ago, my sister quickly planned a trip to visit Chicago for the first time. And one of the ways she and I get our bearings in a new place is to dig in to the traditional foods of the area. So, naturally, our first foray into my new hometown’s offerings included a pilgrimage to Superdawg.
There was also much sampling of pizza, Italian beef, giardiniera, and — Chicago being the largest Polish-populated city outside of Warsaw — a healthy dose of pierogies and paczki. But the one item she chose to make room for in her luggage on the return trip? A jar of the neon-green Chicago-style sweet relish that had adorned her hot dog.
Some food items are so particular to a region that they’ve become edible icons representing a tradition and a way of life – points of personal identification for residents, almost as sacred as a national flag. One of these, out of France, is the beautifully-colored biscuit rose de Reims, or rose biscuit.
Rose biscuits have been produced in Reims, France, since 1691. Once, dozens of bakeries made them, but production took predictable hits during World Wars I and II. Now, the only remaining producer of rose biscuits in Reims is Maison Fossier.
I am a Seoul-born American; I was adopted when I was a wee thing and came to Chicago before I was six months old. Raised in a white, Midwestern suburban family, my only exposure to Korean culture were annual Korean adoptee picnics and the occasional trip to the late Bando restaurant on Lawrence Avenue or Sam-Mee in Lakeview. My folks would order chap chae and fondly watch me eat bulgogi and kimchi like I was an exhibit. Genes, they’d say – that’s why she likes it.
These familial dining scenes are great memories and stand in such stark contrast to my adult experiences, now that ajummas (ladies of a certain age) at any Korean eatery greet me with “Annyeong haseo!” as I walk in. I either answer back and get a string of questions in a language I don’t understand, or feel guilty for not being more Korean and fight the urge to explain why. Sorry, Korea! No hard feelings, though – it doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy my meal. Especially my banchan.