letter to a city loved

Dear Syracuse,

I regret not taking the time to say a proper goodbye. When I left for the bright lights of D.C., I bid you a brief farewell, and then let other things distract my mind (and stomach!) I wasn’t sure if or when I’d see you again, and so left the goodbye—as so many others in my life—pending.

So I’m back to say thank you for (among many other things) nurturing my love of food. Some people will be surprised by this, especially my friends and fellow eaters in D.C., New York, and L.A. But you, quiet Syracuse, gave birth not only to this blog, but to many of my culinary discoveries and triumphs. It wouldn’t be right to leave without paying tribute to you and your surrounding Upstate lands.

Looking back over those early entries, newly transplanted to your Northeastern soil, I can’t help but smile at all the firsts I experienced with you: cooking my first free-range chicken, en cocotte, making the foods I missed the most about home (like this coffee cake), and perfecting my never-the-same-way-twice granola method. You’re where I had a unique gift of time: time to learn to bake a proper loaf of bread, time to experiment with homemade energy bars until they were good enough to share, time to ferment things like kefir, kombucha, and kimchi. Time to try things like triathlon, which upped my need for tasty fuel.

I’m going to miss a lot of things about you. First-time experiences, like fall apple-picking and sauce-making.

And though everyone’s promised unparalleled farmer’s market here in California, all your little gems, tucked away in alleyways. Shops like Samir’s on East Genesee Street, where we bought fresh halwa, cheap olives, and excellent cheese of all varieties on a regular basis. (When I asked at an international grocery store where we could find fresh halwa in San Diego yesterday, the clerk pointed us to the packaged stuff—boo!) Oh yes, and the Oriental House of Syracuse on Erie—the only good thing the boulevard had to offer—where we found this syrup that was better than any bottled ginger beer out there. (Add it to soda water and you’ve got your brew!)

My new farmer’s market might be five blocks from the coast, but I’ll miss my weekend trips to your Regional Farmer’s Market, where we could stock up on free-range bison meat—something I have yet to see here—and where I got the ingredients for my first adventure in canning. And the Syracuse Real Food Co-op, a tiny place that was always bright and welcoming and only a few blocks away? I’ll miss that too, where I could always discover cool new everyday ingredients like this slab of tempeh.

And, of course, your restaurants. You may not have the French Laundry or an Alinea, but you have Eva’s for perogies almost as good as my great-grandmother used to make. You have Lao Village for deliciously fresh Thai. And you are home to our mainstay, Alto Cinco, which I never posted on, but who’s burritos and beer fueled my first triathlon.

You delivered so many new experiences, like eating a whole fish at China Road (a restaurant I stupidly only visited once), and my first life-changing BBQ at the oft-patronized Dinosaur—home to many pig-out nights with friends (exhibit A) and family (exhibit B).

And your little hole-in-the-walls that only friends could turn you on to, like the Mexican restaurant in the back of a Tipp Hill bar called Steve’s and the greasy breakfast joint, Mother’s Cupboard in Eastwood. It’s these little spots that made me feel at home in your streets in a relatively short period of time.

Yes, North County San Diego is pretty. The ocean is a nice thing to wake up to, and I wouldn’t trade that bike ride for a thousand walks down Euclid. The temperature here is a calm glass lake to your turbid temperatures, and there’s more variety being near to a big city than I’ve yet had the chance to explore. But it’s not home here yet, and while I’m in that frame of mind I wanted to thank you for all the unexpectedly memorable experiences you provided. You were a stop along the way, but also a signpost, and I will look back on my time with you as I do all the other great places I have known.

With fondness,


5 responses to “letter to a city loved

  1. *sniff sniff*

    We’re visiting Syracuse this coming weekend, and two days will hardly be enough for me visit all of my favorite haunts in the home-I-begrudgingly-grew-to-love. (OH, the whole fish at China Road! And Simon’s noodles! And doughnuts from the Farmer’s Market! And…and…!)

    Thanks for this, Jen. Beautiful as always!

  2. Wow…even brings tears to my eyes! I will miss it too…visiting you there 3 times was wonderful. Syracuse will always hold a special place in my heart, for it held my daughter in its arms for a season too.

  3. Thanks for the blog and the very heartwarming send off. My brother-in-law and his wife lived in San Diego for several years, and were then (and still are) triathalon nuts, so i guess you picked a good place to do your editing. I hope you keep writing, as you have lots of fans. All the best,

  4. As a Syracuse native who returned after living in a much bigger city, I’m glad to see how much you were able to appreciate this area. It’s a great place to live. Enjoy the West Coast!

  5. Great post, Jen. It’s amazing how much we need a sense of closure when moving on to something new.I am looking forward to reading about your California culinary adventures.

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