With any cuisine, there are comfort foods that can transport a person back to a nostalgic time of their childhood, or just feel mentally at ease as they eat their favorite meal. But mention the words ‘soul food’ to friends, and it’s almost like you can see their eyes start to dance with excitement as they’re ready to share with you vivid stories about family Sunday dinners, holiday meals, or special occasions that ate those delicious dishes.
Certainly, these stories will include their siblings, the parents, and even the funny uncle or inquisitive aunt that may ask a ton of embarrassing questions. Ultimately though, it comes back to food that is shared with loved ones. Listening to chicken being fried golden brown in a cast iron skillet. Cornbread fresh out of the oven with a small pat of butter on top. Macaroni and cheese, made from scratch, with the blend of various cheeses covering every surface of the pasta. However, don’t forget the greens! Whether they be collard, mustard, or turnip greens they are another staple that highlights the wistful experience of being together.
I recall at the age of 23, a Canadian friend and I visited Manhattan, NY. Of course, we did the standard touristy things (Central Park, Ellis Island, Rockefeller Center, etc.), but it was in our day long visit to Harlem that I got to have my first experience with authentic soul food. After literally having a private tour at the historic Apollo Theater, we asked the host where can we get some food that gives us a true feel of the Harlem community. He told us to go down two blocks on West 126th Street and then take a left at Malcom X Blvd/Lennox Ave and we’ll find Sylvia’s Restaurant. Once inside, we had a marvelous home-style cooking that you can tell had been perfected decades prior, and being enjoyed by people of so many different nationalities, which left me with a lasting impression.
Fast forward to present day, my focus as of late has been on finding great soul food within the Twin Cities. So, a recent event I attended entitled ‘Soul Bowl’ hosted by Chef Gerard Klass, (Facebook: @klassicsmpls) emphasized people gathering together to enjoy some soul food.
Described as being convenient, and customizable bowls that contained familiar soul food items, he prepared fried chicken, greens, candied yams, and more with an urban twist of unique flavors. The event setting offered long and circular tables for community seating, giving people a chance to meet, and engage in conversations in an urban setting while enjoying an elevated dining experience. This made me appreciate once again about the importance of food in our communities. That it’s not just for sustenance, but that it also serves as a vehicle to cultivate new relationships, having honest conversations, and always striving for progress in our communities.