Sashimi at the Pod, Philadelphia
Last summer I had a chance to try out some of Philadelphia’s best eateries (courtesy of my dad), and was pleasantly surprised to find that the city is quite the foodie’s paradise. Much of this is thanks to Stephen Starr, the chef behind many of Philly’s classiest restaurants (e.g., Butcher & Singer). Pod is his attempt at Asian fusion; positioned in the University City neighbourhood (home to UPenn & Drexel) it is decidedly modern and hip. For someone who grew up blocks from Toronto Chinatown, an Asian restaurant with this kind of decor was certainly something novel:
But eating here felt strange for other reasons. Mostly, I felt a disconnect between the familiar food items and the unfamiliar dining experience. Like seeing five dumplings artfully placed on a small plate and billed at ten dollars. Or a bowl of pho, a bit more picturesque than what you’ll get at your typical Vietnamese place, but half the size at triple the price.
I don’t mean imply that Asian cuisine can’t be classy. Every time I visit China, it’s a cycle of banquets and feasts, and I realise that our stereotypes of Chinatown eateries—the less polished service, the average decor—aren’t indicative of national restaurant cultures. But I’m not sure how I feel about seeing the dollar items on my dim sum cart or Vietnamese fast food on pricier small plates. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend a lunch at Pod (if nothing else, order the sashimi pictured above—unlike other Asian cuisines, Japanese food lends itself to small plates quite well). Still, there’s a certain feeling of comfort that comes with eating these familiar foods in the hole-in-the-wall establishments I’ve grown so used to. It’s similar to how I feel about H-Mart: it’s clean and organised, yes, but does an Asian supermarket really feel right without that omnipresent fish smell?
Does anyone else feel this way? Or am I just strangely sentimental, or bitter about the price of pho?