I crave

The first bite is nearly indescribable. On my fork is a piece of romaine, a crumb of blue cheese, a sliver of apple-wood smoked bacon and the money shot, a morsel of fried chicken doused in buffalo sauce. Mmm, delicious.

It’s not uncommon that I get asked about the food I crave from back home. Typically I just respond that nothing specific comes to mind. But it’s not until I step off the plane onto US soil and get the first grumble in my stomach that I hunger after all the foods, healthy or not, that I don’t have the opportunity to indulge in regularly here in Australia.

I’ve yet to taste the sweet and spicy combination of buffalo sauce, a hot sauce mixed with various spices, vinegar and butter usually poured over fried chicken wings, hence famous Buffalo chicken wings. A big salad with buffalo chicken or chicken wings with a side of celery and blue cheese dip is always a hot item (literally) on my list.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

Buffalo Chicken Wings

Then again, no visit to Philly or South Jersey is ever complete without a traditional Philly cheesesteak.  Thinly chopped steak on an Italian roll with provolone or Cheese Whiz, with or without (onions) is the customary way to go.  It’s quite contested who has the best steak in town but if I’m around for just a short time, I’ll take any I can get my hands on. Luckily for me on my last trip home over the holidays I had the pleasure of trying Campos Deli for the first time, voted Best of Philly.

Campo's Cheesesteak

Campo’s Cheesesteak

But no cheesesteak is complete without a Yuengling, my favorite everyday lager and the oldest brewery in America. Plus, you can’t beat the price of a 6-pack for $6 compared to the appalling price of about $18 in Australia for just a mediocre brew.

Additionally, nothing compares to the convenience, quality and sheer volume of Wawa convenience stores. Growing up, there were four Wawa’s in my town and I got accustomed to quality deli sandwiches made to order. Little did I know how rare it was to find such superiority. Nothing beats a Wawa hoagie, South Jersey slang for sub or sandwich on a long roll. I wouldn’t dare walk into a 7Eleven and order food from over the counter. Once you go Wawa there is no going back.

Wawa Hoagie

Wawa Hoagie

And if I could choose to be a kid again I would go to a Wawa and pick up candy that I can only find readily in the US, like Hot Tamales, Red Vines, Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish. I’m lucky that family and friends usually remember this bit and I’m welcomed with at least one of the above.

Swedish Fish

Swedish Fish

I usually split my time between Philly/South Jersey and NYC. The city that never sleeps doesn’t fail to offer a variety of cuisines but when all is said and done, nothing beats a New York pizza slice. Think every topping you can imagine in every combination. Imagine one slice is larger than your face, and all for the price of a few dollars. Even better, you can find a slice on nearly every block at all hours of the day or night.

New York Slice

New York Slice

And while in New York a few weeks back I walked out of the cold and into a deli and just stood there in shock for a moment. I then said out loud, “Wow, look at all of this!” My friend responded, “Are you serious? What? You don’t have deli’s like this in Australia?” How could I have forgotten about the excellence of a NYC deli Panini or bagel smeared with an inch thick splattering of cream cheese. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world.

New York Deli Panini's

New York Deli Panini’s

On the flipside, Australia has recently put their footprint on Manhattan. It started with one simple store and now it’s grown to many – Pie Face has invaded. The classic Aussie late night snack, the iconic meat pie, is now all over Manhattan. To my pleasant surprise the NYC stores carry classics such as beef and cheese, Thai chicken curry (favorite), and spinach rolls but also add an American twist by offering barbecued pulled pork and Philly cheesesteak pies. My worlds have collided.

Born in the USA

Sometimes I’m cautious when I speak. The complexities of responding to innocent, and what one would think are common questions, is overwhelming. You’d be surprised by how troubling this could be; speaking out loud.

I was at a bar I frequent called Black Bear Lodge a few months back during a local music festival. I stood at the bar, debated the two beer taps, then the red verses the white. The music came to a lull between sets and I just hung there for a minute. A nice gentleman standing next to me began to make conversation.

“Hey, how you going?” That’s Australian for, what’s up, or how are you. He was a Kiwi though. That’s slang for New Zealander. Regardless, I think the “how you going” is common language. Tomato Tomato.

“Hi”, I responded.

“Have you seen them before?” (Referring to the band.) “Nah”…

“Are you in the industry?” An appropriate question considering the evening was part of the Big Sound conference. “Nope…”

So right when I thought things were getting quite awkward due to my one word responses, BOOM!

“So where in North America are you from?”

Seriously?! Seriously?! One word responses, was not in the mood, thought I could trick you. Ahhh, he’s good.

So this is where it begins to get even fiddlier. Perhaps if you’re a fellow comrade from New Jersey you can relate, however, for those who aren’t you will begin to see how this question could potentially have one debate their very existence.

A typical response could be, and get ready:

New Jersey; South Jersey; Philadelphia; New York; New Jersey just outside of Philadelphia; New Jersey/New York; or even just New York , but then I get “what part?” and that’s when I respond “the Jersey part”; or “like New York, New York?”, and I say “just across the river from Manhattan.”

Whew, see what I mean? Complications. Now you may be asking yourself, what’s with all the fluff? Again, I bring you back to the statement two sentences up; perhaps this is something that someone who’s only lived in both North and South Jersey can attest to. Here we go…

It basically comes down to who’s asking. I wouldn’t expect a non-Australian resident to be familiar with every state or city in this country, so it really depends on who’s asking about mine. If I assume they’re going to go the Jersey Shore route, I avoid the word “Jersey” at all costs. Then there’s the whole phony “joysy” nonsense if I do decide to speak the word, and I normally respond with, yeah, because clearly that’s how I talk. The whole Jersey Shore fiasco, have I been there? Is it really like that? Are your friends like “the Situation”? My response is, I grew up going to the jersey shore, however it’s not like that, but that does exist.

I feel like I’m back in college in Baltimore, or should I be more specific to avoid any further confusion, Towson, MD, defending the fact that I’m from South Jersey, not North Jersey and they’re totally two different worlds! Anyone can tell you that. But that was also at a time that anything north of Trenton was considered North Jersey and all of Central Jersey got left out of the equation all together.

Then I moved North. I think I wrote a blog about it back when MySpace was still an active medium of communication, and that was when I first moved to <insert relative excuse for living in North Jersey>, I’ll be more specific, Hoboken, that I felt inspired to write about that fact that yes, I actually now live in North Jersey. Perhaps you don’t feel the impact yet.

Let me clarify. South Jersey is where people who support Philadelphia sports teams live. Suburbia is filled with summers “down the shore”, but to be more exact, the Atlantic City to Cape May coastline. South Jerseyians eat cheese steaks while watching the Phillies, get hoagies from Wawa before going to concerts in Camden, the 2nd most dangerous city in the whole country, and get fresh produce from roadside farm stands. In South Jerseyian eyes, North Jersey folk speak with funny accents only seen in TV, they’re filled with muscled up Guido’s, and support New York Sports teams, the enemy. I will admit that some of the above is stereotypical, and some of the above is also reality. These worlds are vastly different, and both think the other has it all wrong. This is coming from a state whose population is a bit under 9 million however you can drive the distance top to bottom in less than 5 hours.

Having newly famous, thank you reality TV, Cake Boss’ Carlos Bakery a block from my office and the birthplace of Frank Sinatra under my doorstep (not literally) didn’t help my cause. And get this; rumors are that the Jersey Shore cast is coming to Jersey City – stop ruining it for us all, please!

Now, I’d like to disclaim that I’m not saying I’m not “proud” of growing up in New Jersey. I had a fun filled childhood in middle class suburbia on a street with a kid around the same age in every house on the block and summer nights spent playing jailbreak, however, what I am left with while traveling the globe is the sour taste of the only association with the word Jersey is Jersey Shore; Philadelphia, poor sportsmanship; and New York, tourist haven Time Square. For example, I just Googled the statements “Jersey”, “Jersey quotes” and “famous New Jersey phrases” to be inspired for a title for this blog, and the first two pages of entries were specific to the show Jersey Shore. See what I’m getting at? What happened to Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi people?

So the conversation will typically start like this: Where are you from? And, to keep it simple before all of the above comes in to play, it’s a darn hard task of responding awkwardly “America”, “the US”, or “the States”. Regardless of which association I choose, I am undoubtedly greeted with, “Well obviously, but which part?” Yes, my accent usually gets me brownie points.  I’m just grateful when I don’t get the “Oh, I thought you were Canadian”, because, don’t get me started there.