Every summer, my Boston cousins laughed at me. “Park the car in Harvard Yard,” they’d demand that I say. Then they’d howl at my “Rs.” It seems like a cliché now, but my cousins insisted that the proper pronunciation was “pahk the caah.” In “Hahvud Yahd,” of course.
They giggled when I pronounced “aunt” – like “ant,” instead of “awnt.” And I had no idea what they meant when they declared something to be “wicked pissa.” But I didn’t care, since every summer, we got to go out for lobster. Egg rolls and chow mein were as exotic as it got in the small midwestern town where I grew up. No one ate “pasta,” unless you’d count macaroni with ketchup. And lobster? There weren’t many lobsters back home in Indiana.It was in Boston, where I first sampled Salvadoran pupusas, tasted Taiwanese-style duck tongues, and discovered Portuguese egg tarts.When I graduated from college, I moved to Boston, installing myself in a weary studio apartment out in Cleveland Circle. I had a long commute on the Green Line trolley to my first “real” job downtown. I couldn’t afford lobster, even a lobster roll, but for me, Boston was still all about the food.
Wandering around Boston introduced me not only to old New England and new high-tech, to the Freedom Trail and the Top of the Hub, to the Boston Symphony and the dark jazz clubs. I also met up with Brazilian barbecue, Haitian cornmeal porridge, and the buttery mashed plantains Dominicans call mangu.
I spent part of each paycheck on fried clams and Indian pudding. On dim sum in Chinatown and cannoli in the North End. It was in Boston, where I first sampled Salvadoran pupusas, tasted Taiwanese-style duck tongues, and discovered Portuguese egg tarts. Pad thai, pappardelle, and poori were no longer foreign words. They were lunch.
Years later, after I got married (in a restaurant) and our twins were born (fortunately, not in a restaurant), Boston still meant food.
After our family went ice skating on the Frog Pond or bicycling along the Charles, we’d wander over to Chinatown for some coconut buns. The kids would climb on the “Make Way for Duckling” statues in the Public Garden, then slurp down some Japanese udon.
We’d follow the Freedom Trail, too. From the gold-domed State House, we’d head to Faneuil Hall – and the snack stalls of Quincy Market. Then, on to the North End, where we’d treat ourselves to nutty-sweet marzipan shaped like watermelon slices or ripe strawberries.
After more than two decades, I never did pick up a Boston accent. But I’d happily “pahk my caah in Hahvud Yahd” – if I could stop for lobster and cannoli along the way.