In October 1978, as the season’s first frost descended on the Northeast, I announced excitedly that I’d found a great job in South Florida.
Robyn had two questions:
1) Is there an Armenian church?
2) Can I buy bulgur?
Luckily, there was indeed a church — no building, but a small yet enthusiastic congregation.
Bulgur, however, proved problematic.
Growing up in New Jersey, we’d both taken for granted all the wonderful things that come along with a large Armenian community: Fresh lamb. Church picnics. Armenian dances.
Moving to a suburb of Fort Lauderdale brought the rudest sort of culture shock. We spent many weekends driving up and down the coast, searching for suitable grocery stores. We’d find a Greek here and a Syrian there but not an Armenian store in sight.
We scraped by with emergency shipments from our parents. Even a small package in the mail signaled a feast to come: mahlab meant choreg, coriander meant kebab, and bulgur…well, bulgur meant we were home.
As for picnics and kef, life sometimes demands compromise: We had to settle for eating in the backyard while listening to Onnik sing over the hiss of cassette tapes.
Today, we marvel at the change in South Florida. The Armenian community here is vibrant and still growing. America has changed too, not only demographically but culturally. The interest in Near and Middle Eastern cuisine is so widespread that once exotic ingredients such as grape leaves, tahine and even bulgur require little detour from our regular shopping path.
It gives me hope that one day Americans will even come to love lamb. I don’t blame them for being hesitant because I won’t eat the stuff they sell at our local grocery store. Lamb should come to the table fresh from the abattoir, not after a leisurely cruise from New Zealand.
So we still go on occasional weekend hunts for meat, while listening to Onnik on my iPod.