The photo above is of a fantastic harissa that I had at lunch today at a Tunisian restaurant near my house called Cafe Zitouna. Harissa is a hot red pepper paste that's made with chili peppers, garlic and spices. And this is the best harissa that I've ever tasted. That, combined with a lamb stew couscous today, made for a fantastic lunch.
Was it made from local ingredients?
Not a chance.
The closest I got with local eating at this meal was that I was supporting a local, small business -- something that I believe is a core principle to eating local.
When it comes to eating locally-sourced ingredients when at restaurants, I really fall down on the job. If the restaurant serves Californian cuisine, or meat and potatoes-type dishes, you can be sure that I'm tracking down restaurants that source their food locally: Range, Delfina, A16, Zuni Cafe, etc.
But I've always had issue with ethnic food.
Long before I was a local food advocate, I was completely obsessed with food and flavors and dishes from other countries. And while I do a great job of sourcing local food when I am cooking at home, I have a need for, and an obsession with, the strong flavors of ethnic food. It's not an option for me to cut these out of my life.
As was obvious when I posted "a stellar 10 days of food," many of the foods that I love in this city are neither locally-sourced nor sustainable. This was pointed out by Aaron in the comments when he asked "How do you reconcile eating locally and sustainably with your love of ethnic food and eateries?"
Here's the honest truth: I don't think that the SOLE food movement has gone deep enough to truly penetrate the ethnic eateries in California. There are very few authentic ethnic restaurants that are paying attention to SOLE food.
Progress is being made in this area. Thimmakka is a non-profit organization that is working to certify environmentally-conscious Asian restaurants in the Bay Area. But it's a tough row to hoe -- many ethnic restaurants in California are run by immigrants who are already overwhelmed by what it takes to run a restaurant. In the meantime, what do those of us who want truly authentic ethnic food do when we prefer locally-sourced?
I don't know the answer, and would love to hear any solutions you've come up with for your own life.
As I see it, my options for my lifestyle include:
1) Reconciling that it's fine to do this because I am supporting locally-owned small businesses. And I am often supporting immigrant communities which are a crucial part of our society.
2) Only eating vegetarian at ethnic eateries (or pescaterian more likely). This option makes my heart hurt a bit, but maybe it's what I need to do.
Are there other options? How do you deal with it? As someone who cares deeply about supporting local food economies, how should I best reconcile this for myself?