Monday, November 1, 2010

"in the beginning, there was miracle whip, one kind of cheese, and fish came in sticks"

Pho Comida Tipica

Earlier this year, I met with a group of community members who were very concerned about the still-ongoing Kensington Sector Plan. The average age of the ten or so people there was well over 50, and they were uniformly white. They all lived in Kensington, except for one woman who lived in neighboring Capitol View Park - "We have a Silver Spring address, but we're really more like Kensington," she insisted.

Though many of them lived a few minutes' drive from downtown Wheaton, none of them could admit to having been there in years. "There's nothing to eat there," one lamented. "It's too crime-ridden and multi-ethnic," another added.

Of course, anyone with the sense of sight or smell can tell there are lots of restaurants in Wheaton. Most of them, perhaps with the exception of the new Wendy's at Westfield Wheaton Wheaton Plaza, do not serve American food. But for many people in Montgomery County, who grew up eating Wonder Bread and meatloaf, the dining options in Wheaton may seem strange, even scary.

This video from Kids in the Hall, one of my favorite sketch-comedy shows, reminded me of that mindset. Even though it's nearly twenty years old, it's still reflective of how some people in Montgomery County think of food and, by extension, their neighbors who don't look like them.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I wonder if there's an opening to introduce the mono-cuisine crowd do some diversity. Start small, explain how some of the meals are similar to things they already like.

It'd be an odd sort of awareness campaign, but I think it might have more of a chance at success than most. After all, if you introduce people to food they like and show them a cheap place nearby to get it, that could permanently change their shopping habits. Seems like local businesses would have an obvious incentive in funding that sort of thing.

The toughest part would probably be figuring out the hook. Maybe work with local places of worship? I just checked and there's already a taste of wheaton, so obviously that's not getting through to these people.

Anonymous said...

If only there were some sort of blog that posted regularly about Wheaton's excellent, diverse restaurants...

I especially like the Pho/Comida Tipica storefront, this is the ethnic equivalent of the KFC/Taco Bell combo restaurant (only better).

Karen said...

Also, some restaurants aren't particularly friendly to newcomers. I like trying new food, but I'm rather shy and find it uncomfortable when people shout at me. When I first moved to the area about a year ago, I tried a couple of restaurants in Wheaton, but I got yelled at because I didn't speak Spanish and evidently I ordered the wrong thing, or didn't use the correct ordering protocol, or something. Maybe I picked the wrong restaurants, and maybe I'm just too wimpy, but I never went back. Maybe someone could recommend restaurants who are more newcomer-friendly.

dave in wheaton said...

Hope they won't be using Miracle Whip or frozen fish, but the Limerick Pub will be opening soon a couple doors down from the Royal Mile in downtown Wheaton. That will effectively double the Anglo/American sit-down dining options.* I can't wait to have a Scottish Pub, Irish Pub and the best Thai restaurant in the area all within a stones throw of one another. That's bliss.

Karen - Nava Thai is unbelievable and the service, if not perfect, is friendly. Sergios and Los Charros are also really good and while English might not be your server's first language I've certainly never had anyone yell at me. Likewise, Woomi Garden (Korean) and New Kam Fong (Chinese) are great - language barriers may apply.

Maybe GoodEatin' should be paid by the county for community outreach and marketing services.

Can't let "crime-ridden" comment go unanswered. I've lived in Wheaton for 6 years, eat dinner out in the downtown all the time, and have never once felt unsafe. Just saying.

* mall and IHOP not included

Cyndy said...

It would be great if the multicultural diversity of Wheaton's restaurants could be even more diverse. I love eating at the various restaurants in Wheaton in spite of having been raised on Chef Boyardee pizza and Chung King chop suey, and um, Wonder Bread - in Kensington during my first ten years.

These days there aren't many restaurants that seem to appeal to people from Kensington other than the several nice Hispanic and Asian places, the Royal Mile, and Moby Dick for sushi. The nearest French restaurant is La Ferme in Chevy Chase. There's no steak house, no Indian, Middle Eastern(except for Max's sort of), Greek, German, Caribbean, or Ethiopian restaurants in Wheaton that I know of. There's not a super excellent pizza place, a "brew pub", or a hamburger joint. There's plenty of other stuff and I'm okay with what's there, but there could be so much more!

The parking is sometimes inconvenient and the streets can be a little sketchy at night. A lot of people don't want to put up with that.

Cyndy said...

And this has nothing to do with restaurants, but I've been to the Montgomery Royal Cinemas back behind Wheaton Plaza several times and I highly recommend it. The parking is extremely convenient, the place is immaculately clean and tidy, and the people who run it are the nicest movie theater operators I've ever encountered.

This theater used to be a total dump so I was shocked and amazed when I first went there. It doesn't have stadium seating or surround sound, but the seats are clean and comfortable and very generously spaced. The decor is a little different because it is independantly owned, I think. It also seems to be a tiny bit less expensive than other theaters in the area.

Although it's kind of nice to be able to go see a movie in a completely quiet theater (often there are only three other people there) I really hope this place succeeds because it is so much more convenient than driving into Silver Spring or Bethesda. I hope it doesn't close due to lack of business. It's a nice place and it really deserves your support.

Anonymous said...

Why all the race baiting? Does it get you noticed? Your statement that "...people in Montgomery County think of food and, by extension, their neighbors who don't look like them" is kitschy pop-psych. It's my observation that almost everyone is conservative when it comes to eating and prefers to eat that which they are used to eating and will initially reject the unfamiliar even when it is food that should be comfortably within the confines of their particular cultural envelop.
Mostly, I think, people tend to eat food that they believe is safe and that 'safe' food is that which that has been demonstrated to be safe over a longish period of repetitive consumption. So when someone says, 'yuck' to a bowl of curried goat they're rejecting the dish because they don't trust that it is 'safe' to eat and not because they suspect it was prepared by or symbolizes someone of a despised race. Tasting strange/different foods is an acquired activity. People will find what they want in anything - racist behavior, an image of Jesus on a potato chip, Sasquatch, UFO's, Aliens... etc. Stop being a divider...

Terry in Silver Spring said...

"do not serve American food"

Well, actually, pho and dim sum and empanadas and injera etc ARE American food, just like chow mein or hot dogs.

jag2923 said...

Good lord, I hate every comment Pablo has ever written. Which is saying a lot since his second job appears to be yelling at SS area bloggers.

retgroclk said...

Since Ferdinands left- we lost a good steak place. There use to be an Ethiopian restaurant across from Christinas(Italian) but I do not know if they are still there.
There use to e a good Indonesian Restaurant also- I really miss it.Your right about not having a good pizza place,although Anns House of Nuts has a good vegetarian pizza, they are Kosher, so their meat pizzas are not real meat.

Anonymous said...

How sad for you jag2923. What hate group are you associated with?

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan Reed wrote:
[I]t's still reflective of how some people in Montgomery County think of food and, by extension, their neighbors who don't look like them.

Someday someone will explain to me why the closest thing to generic or traditional German food remaining in Wheaton is the Nut House Pizza place, and the only reason that qualifies is because the menu caters to people who keep kosher. If I want a nice traditional German Potato Salad I have to drive to frackin' Laurel and beyond, to the Amish place.

I'm not trying to suggest to anyone that German food is superior or anything. Clearly the cholesterol content of everything not smothered in vinegar is too high. It's just that if you wanted to have that kind of ethnic dining experience, you'd think that Wheaton would be where you'd find it. Yet with the ongoing festival of hatred for everything of European (or anglo-American) origin, I'm almost surprised to find that you can still get authentic Italian cooking at Marchone's.

Cyndi has a point; the so-called "diversity" of Wheaton's ethnic eateries is decidedly not all that diverse. I'm still rarin' to try some Indian food. Thai is great but peanut products are not my favorite thing. For Persian/Iranian and "generic Middle Eastern" I can always head out to Kabobi in Rockville, and the House of Gyro in Norbeck was nice while it lasted, but the original owner went out of business. In any case, Aspen Hill has some good Chinese places so it's not like I'll be limited to eating fish sticks on wonder bread lathered with pasteurized process cheese food product. I can get decent bread at Panera and they even have a few English-speaking people on staff.

As for Karen's remark about getting yelled at, I've been hearing that story more and more of late. One of my friends tells me that he tried to go bar-hopping in some of the "latino" joints in Wheaton, and was pretty much told "you won't have a good time if you stay here" when he got served. For what it's worth, he's very mixed race and part of that is Puerto Rican.