As the child of an expat, and wife of an immigrant, I have a certain fondness and skepticism toward the import food stores and foreign delis and bistros. I grew up eating not-from-here dishes as special treats and everyday food, and watching friends and family experience the bliss of eating something flavored with nostalgia. (Nostalgia is a special seasoning that can transform the most awful concoctions into delightfully tasty things. Kippered mackerel, rose-flavored turkish delights, horse meat, pixie stix powder washed down with a slug of mountain dew.. it's all much of a muchness.)
Without the special seasoning of nostalgia, I was underwhelmed by most of the things that got passed around and hoarded by adults in a manner eerily reminiscent to my treatment of trick-or-treat candy. On the other hand, it's not hard to become awfully fond of McVitties Digestives with milked and sugared tea, and barley water on a hot summer day is wonderfully refreshing, leading to its own nostalgia flavouring when I grew up.
On the other hand, when I got my own car keys and credit card, I started to understand a lot of the sarcasm expats vented at delis and bistros, and "European Bistros" are usually the hardest hit. They're often operated with people who are in love with the image of some alternative-reality Europe they have in their head, where socialism is hip and communism won, and want to sell you a quarter of the food at twice the price while proclaiming their anti-capitalist bona fides and sneering at each other about coffee. In their minds, everything they don't like about America is of course not done by the Europeans, who are creatures of utopia.
...yeah. I'll spend my capitalist dollars elsewhere, thank you, while they play 70's protest songs and cater to an increasingly greying crowd who wants to think they're fighting the man while terrorizing their students and not realizing they're "the man" the college students who escaped indoctrination hate. Except when my husband gets a serious craving for a properly European pastry or dessert, in which case I'll try not to be too loud while pointing and laughing at the Hillary Clinton shrine. Sigh.
On the other end of the spectrum, today we took a chance and swung into a parking lot in the hinterlands of Nashville's metro sprawl (Mt. Juliet) to check out the "European Market and Deli" sign in the window. On a nice cold (for the south) day, we walked into a store where the owner clearly felt there was no need to turn on half the lights when it was sunny, and the obvious solution to a cold day was for customers and owner to wear sweaters, not turn up the heat.
This is like pulling up to a small airport and hearing the loving growl of a radial engine; you know you've got something good! Now, mind you, I deny any report of Calmer Half squealing in glee when he spotted quince preserves. Like a girl at a Justin Beiber concert. Low carb diet be damned. I cannot deny we met at the end of an aisle to find we'd both grabbed the same selection of pate... hey, he has good taste! We lingered lovingly over the meats, and could not pass up real Polish kielbasa made by a butcher who knew how they should taste (and yes, we both checked for the USDA inspected stamp. Not slow, children of expats or American immigrants.) This stuff isn't going into soups or stews, oh no.
The owners are Romanian, and like any small import store, the taste of home has the heaviest representation. The cheeses (goat and sheep, mostly) were Romanian with a small sprinkling of Greek, and if you like a cheese with a strong sharp flavor like the best cheddar or feta, I highly recommend the Romanian "sheep cream cheese." The prices are very nice, not the usual import-store-high, and I even saw a couple common biscuits (cookies) and Jaffa cakes at prices lower than the trendy stores that also carry import versions.
The owner, who clearly had dealt with Americans expecting her import "sheep cream cheese" to be as bland as philadelphia cream cheese, tried to warn me until Peter spoke up in his lovely British Colonial accent, at which point I was deemed quite knowledgeable enough to make my own adventurous food choices. (It is absolutely delightful with the real kielbasa and pickled onions, by the way.)
They chatted, as expats do, of how long you've been in country, and from where. She mentioned she'd come to the USA in the very early 80's, and I tried to rack my brains about important historical points in Central Europe... not my strong point. Calmer Half is much faster at being on the ball on that, but then, people were shooting at him in that time period. He was paying very sharp attention to world politics. His eyebrows flew up, and he responded in a very impressed tone. "Oh, you got out the hard way."
"Yes, yes I did." She straightened up with a fierce pride, and they glanced over at my still puzzled face. She helped by spitting a name out as though it were the foulest curse ever to touch her lips - "Ceaușescu" - and things suddenly became very clear. (I'm slow, not stupid.)
Yeah, I was definitely the privileged one in the store, for which I thank my parents and ancestors very much. The other two became Americans the hard way, and they're likely better, fiercer, prouder Americans than I can ever be. Thank G-d for the people like that who help keep our nation and its ideals strong.