Down south.

Is cultural influence reciprocal?

As 2009 begins many reflect on what has happened this past year. I’ve read many reflections, updates from last year’s resolutions, countless thoughts on World events, and some have jotted down a list of the places that they traveled to in 2008.

I had the privilege of traveling to many places inside of the United States over the last year. Something that I always find fascinating is that, even though I didn’t leave the country, I have experienced many different cultures. Every city I’ve been to felt very much American yet each had their own history, traditions, and of course food woven into their cultural tapestries.

Being that I’ve lived on the east coast of North America, both northern and southern, for my entire life no other city “feels like America” to me more than New York City. Whenever I travel I feel as though New York City is my barometer for how much a particular area “feels like America” to me. I expect those of you from other parts of the country can relate.

This past year I found myself in close-to-home areas like Philadelphia, New York City, the Finger Lakes region in New York, and even small towns that don’t register on Google Maps unless you zoom way, way in. You know, until all you can see are blocky images of what should be trees. I also visited Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and the island of Oahu, Hawai’i. In each of these places I never felt as though I left the United States — though I knew that I wasn’t home.

Me eating a Puka dog

During a recent trip to NYC I had lunch with a few friends at Thai Basil, a restaurant no wider than a large hallway, on 9th Ave. and W 56th St. The food was extremely good and the tea service was a welcomed warm-up from walking the windy streets in midtown Manhattan. In Philadelphia I chose Pat’s over Gino’s every single time. Visiting my brother’s family in North Carolina resulted in my having the very best onion soup of my life during a day trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. In Las Vegas, of all places, I had an incredible italian meal with some friends from all over the world. In Hawai’i, between the Luau on the beach and the highly Japanese-influenced culture of Waikiki, I managed to scarf down a delicious Puka Dog (pictured) in the very same place that Anthony Bourdain did in the Hawaii episode of No Reservations.

No matter where I traveled this year the culture was always slightly different, being influenced by innumerable factors. I wonder though, does the various cultures that make up the America that I know ever end up influencing the very cultures from which they all originated? This country is incredibly young after all. A new year has begun and I’m very much looking forward to doing some traveling outside of the United States. Maybe I’ll be able to answer this question myself by the time the next year rolls around.

On Monday a new season of No Reservations is starting that will take us, by way of the magic of television, to Mexico. When I first saw the promotional videos for this season and saw that the first episode was Mexico, I immediately wondered how much Mexico “feels like America”. Being one of only two of our mainland neighbors Mexico is about as close as you can get geographically without actually being in the United States. I’ve been to Texas. I’ve seen the influence that Mexico has had on the culture there (Not that it hasn’t had a major influence all over our country.) On Monday, while I’m watching the season premier and eating a gordita filled with some sorta of greasy meat (thanks to my newly-married friend Josue Salazar for the suggestion), that is what I’ll be looking for. Is the influence reciprocal? Is it even palpable? Will Anthony even mention it? I’m excited to find out.

The rest of this season will bring us to Venice, Washington, D.C., the Azores, Chicago, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. For posterity I’m going to say that I’m most looking forward to the Venice and Sri Lanka episodes. How has Sri Lanka recovered from the Tsunami in late-2004? It seems so long ago now. Was the No Reservations crew drowned in Venice?! All these questions, and more I’m sure, will be answered in the latest season of No Reservations.

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Season 5: Episode 1 – Mexico! (travelchannel)