Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How To Cook - Dallas Food

"What is Dallas food?" is a question that has been knocking around my head for quite some time, and certainly it means different things to different people.  Perhaps it is a favorite dish from a restaurant, or a recipe that typifies a specific era.  Maybe it's a dish your Bubbie cooked every year for the holidays, or one you taught yourself while growing up in Dallas. 

In Dallas Is Cooking, by Renie Steves, Caroline Rose Hunt's foreword lists the restaurants she remembers from the 1930's and 1940's
"To be assured of fresh fish, we went to Vincent's Seafood Restaurant, which was established in 1898 at 101 S. Poydras Street.  They brought their fish packed in ice by truck from the Gulf of Mexico; there was no plane service in those days.  Their cole slaw was wonderful.  I wish I had the recipe."
 as well as what was occurring in the current restaurant scene (1992):
"many different ethnic groups have settled in Dallas bringing their distinctive types of food and the peoples to appreciate them.  Dallas is famous not only for the diversity of its cuisine, but also for the creativity and quality."
I grew up outside, in DamYankee territory on the 1947 map of Dallas, and after moving here in the early 1980's tasted my first Red Velvet cake, Tex-Mex, and Pimento cheese spread.  I remember going to dinner at Stephen Pyle's Routh Street Cafe right before my (then) boyfriend was leaving for a year of culinary school and having the Tornedoes of Beef, each twin tenderloin dressed with a puree of either red or yellow peppers.  Or having business lunches at the former Agnew's up on the tollway when Dean Fearing was between Mansion gigs, at the beginning of Southwest cuisine's explosive popularity.

But several of us "DamYankees" have moved here in the last half century, and part of us has influenced what Dallas food has become, from relaxing liquor licensing in the 1970's to allow for more individual restaurants, to adding beans to chili, to helping the metroplex expand to it's multi-suburb neighborhoods.  And this movement of people to Dallas has over the years combined with other food influences to become the historical crust of Dallas' food pie.

My hobby of collecting historical cook books has taken a life of it's own, because I'm searching for the answer to "what is Dallas food?" and I know part of the answer must lie within.  We can't change history, we can only choose to ignore it, and in ignoring our past aren't we permitting the future to forget our todays as well?

So in the spirit of the holidays, I ask you to share.  What does Dallas food mean to you?

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