As an American, especially one living in the Midwest, it’s very easy to forget the rest of the world as you go through your day to day life. However, sometimes the outside world comes crashing in, affecting you in ways that can’t be calculated.
Some of you may know that relations between Greece and Albania have not always been cordial. I quote a Wikipedia article on the subject, “After the fall of the Albanian communist regime in 1991, relations between Greece and Albania became increasingly strained because of widespread allegations of mistreatment by Albanian authorities of the Greek ethnic minority in southern Albania and of the alleged Albanian minorities in northern Greece.”
I have to admit, I had not given the Greek / Albanian conflict much thought… in fact I hadn’t even known there was a conflict until last week when I went to Nick’s Restaurant.
Nick’s is a new place. It’s on the bypass between Belvidere and Rockford. It used to be a windowless pillbox of a building, featuring (so I’ve been told) topless dancers. Now, windows have been punched through the concrete walls and the whole place has been painted bright white. Nick’s follows that tradition of those places that have nestled next to bypasses since the fifties (at least). You know the kind of place: it has a novel length menu featuring all sorts of stick-to-your-ribs style meals that could be better described as stick-to-your-arterial-walls. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available morning until night. Liver and onions. These are the only restaurants in the known universe that still offer liver and onions.
Normally, I call these places “Greek Restaurants”. I’m not sure why; something in my upbringing. However, Nick’s is most definitely not a Greek restaurant, it’s Albanian.
Nick’s serves up a salad. You have probably seen this salad before; you may have even ordered it yourself. My wife had it. She says it was good. It has a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil and crumbles of feta cheese on the top. Generally, this is described as a Greek Salad.
At Nick’s, it’s an Albanian Salad.
We noticed this Albanian nationalistic trend when it came to pretty much everything that I would normally consider Greek on the menu: spinach pie, gyros; anything involving a pita was transformed into an “Albanian Sandwich”. I half-expected to see a “Zorba the Albanian” movie poster plastered to the wall.
Okay, in terms of the outside world crashing in, this was hardly 9/11. Still, it made me think. It made me think enough to look up said Wikipedia article and a few others and gain a better understanding of that area of the world. Considering the second biggest impression a meal has made on me was heartburn, I think that’s a pretty big achievement.