Who decided what "comfort food" in Pittsburgh means? | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Who decided what "comfort food" in Pittsburgh means?

It's more than pierogis, pickles, and fries on salad.

The hardest part was always waiting for the samosas to cool. 

Sitting in my friend Maitreyi's kitchen, I'd watch her mother, Dr. Sita Mazumdar, place the bubbling samosas on a plate of paper towels. I can't imagine how much time I spent in the Mazumdars' Point Breeze kitchen, waiting for those fiery hot mini comets to cool off enough to eat.

The inside would still be hot, but not too hot to eat; the potatoes, peas, garlic, and spices sat inside the perfect dough, soft right against the filling, flaky in the middle, with the perfectly crisp golden brown crust on the outside.

As we'd wait for them to cool, Dr. Mazumdar would speak to me in Bengali. I don't speak Bengali, something Maitreyi (who is now also Dr. Mazumdar in her own right) would remind her mother.

“What, Tereneh? By now you should know some Bengali,” Dr. (Mom) Mazumdar would say. She was right. Maitreyi was my best friend, from Falk to Allderdice, and after so many dinners, sleepovers, and events, I really should have picked up some Bengali. 

What I did pick up was a love of samosas and other Indian foods, which make them my comfort food, my Pittsburgh comfort food. 

The beauty of samosas is you can get them just about anywhere in the world. London, yep. Nairobi, Kenya, yes. Malaysia, Singapore — check and check. India —of course! So I could always find that familiarity and warmth, thousands of miles from Pittsburgh.

It is one reason why I get surprised when I hear Pittsburgh described the way it is, the celebrated icons and images we use when we talk about Pittsburgh.

So often you get pierogis, pickles, and French fries on salad. 

Now I love, love pierogis, I do. I don’t like pickles. But I am not sure, given the rich multicultural heritage of Pittsburgh, why we limit ourselves to only some, usually European icons to describe who we are. We’re more than pierogis, pickles, and fries on salad. 

Recently I talked about my experience growing up in Pittsburgh. Ballet classes at both Bidwell in Manchester and Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School; my family’s African-American female dentist and white female pediatrician; my first high school boyfriend who was Jewish; two weeks a summer in the Appalachian Mountains as my dad taught art classes; my atheist experience with religion and spirituality; going to Hindu temples, Pentecostal services, Buddhist meditation sessions, and synagogues. 

I described the many bridges crossed and buses transferred. But then I was told that this is not a “typical or average” Pittsburgh we-don’t-cross-rivers experience.  I wondered why anyone would want to be typical or average? 

Why should my experience be erased or dismissed? Because it does not fit into a razor-thin narrative of what we talk about when we talk about Pittsburgh? 

I take pride and comfort in my very real, valid and authentic Pittsburgh experience. 

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