Garlic. Lime juice. Edamame. You can find these three simple ingredients almost anywhere, but I never imagined that you could prepare them in the way I just experienced them. Mince fresh garlic and then cure those tiny flecks of flavorful tanginess by soaking them in lime juice until they’re soft and sweet. Then drench freshly steamed edamame with this garlic-lime mixture and serve.
I wonder if the first human to ever press steamed edamame with their tongue against their palate ever thought of the many other flavors that someday would be conjured up from the savory pods. I wonder how many travels around the world and how many generations of people it took for them to end up served this way at a delightful hipster sushi restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee.
My husband and I embarked from our hoosier home on a road trip down south through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana all the way to New Orleans. I yearned to experience firsthand a culture I’ve only been able to understand through its influence in music, food and aesthetics.
As I traveled through the country in search of pinning down Americana in all its shades and colors, I found both an amalgam and patchwork of culture. With each passing mile, as the flora changed and the cuisine grew hotter and smokier, I became more aware of the particularities of our beloved Naptown.
“This neighborhood was not so dangerous before all the Mexicans moved in,” a man once told me outside a liquor store at the corner of Michigan and Rural streets, probably not realizing I was one of the Mexicans who lived on his turf. It is true there are a lot of Hispanics residing on the Near East side of Indy, but I don’t always think about how people are upset by it.
Perhaps if my angry neighbor traveled more, he would know that our friends and families -- even ancestors in our home countries -- don’t think of us as one of them anymore, we are gringos now. Maybe he would think of us Near East side Mexicans more as neighbors or fellow Hoosiers.
For centuries, travel has enriched personal understandings of culture. In antiquity this is evidenced in the worldwide abundance of obelisks, staircases and government buildings reminiscent of Greek and Roman architecture. Today, you can see numerous restaurants serving foods from around the world and the variety of art collections from other continents in our museums.
Our own personal cultures have trickled into the most unexpected places in the world by the means of pork tenderloin sandwiches, Kurt Vonnegut books, Cole Porter songs, and Sasheer Zamata’s comedy. All people need to know is where we’re from and they will tell us what part of The Crossroads of America has become part of their own.
Many of our favorite artists and musicians all have informed their craft with their travels, because gaining perspective on your own ideas allows you to trace the path of how exactly those ideas are made. Sometimes we discover our ideas are shared collectively and realize we are part of a tradition, such as in the case of potters and quilters. Other times we learn our ideas and processes are similar to those of others around the world, as in the case of the modernist art movement or regional punk music.
Driving south on I-65, you can see the fields alternate between soybeans and corn. It used to just look like home, but now I know there are endless possibilities waiting to happen with these crops, which just might get soaked with lime and garlic from somewhere else in the world (or maybe the soybeans we eat are imported from China and Hoosier soybeans just make the ethanol that fills our gas tanks on these road trips).
From a distance we can see how things look from the outside and understand how the objects perceived as foreign fit into the frame -- such is the meaning of “fresh perspective.” And sometimes to get it, we must travel.