“There aren’t many restaurants that have as long as history as Tahou’s, so growing up in Rochester, the plate has been a part of the lexicon forever. Night shift workers eat them for breakfast, they’re perfect for lunch and dinner, at a ball game, and they’re a staple after an evening of partying. It’s not glamorous. It’s just good.”

Naomi Silver, president of the Rochester red wings

If I had to say the thing I miss most about home, besides the standard answer of friends and family, it would have to be the food of Rochester. Sure, I really do love to eat new foods, and living here in Japan has given me the opportunity to try some incredible food so far, but, as with all places, there are special dishes, soul foods, that I can only get there. I can always make them here in Japan, but there is a magic that is lost when they are made so far from home. I finally came to realize this earlier this week as I told my classes all about my home, and I described to them the piece of cuisine that is truly unique to Rochester and my personal favorite food:

The Garbage Plate

To those not from the Rochester area, the name is beyond strange. Why would a food be called such a thing, and why would I love it enough to distinguish it as my favorite food? This was the dilemma I faced as I told my middle school students about the dish, but I was more than happy to educate them about the food. And to start that, I began by explaining all of the refuse that makes up the dish.

The Original Garbage Plate, first made by Nick Tahou’s in 1919, has a base of macaroni salad, baked beans, and home fries, all of which are piled upon a thick paper plate or a to-go styrofoam food container, the latter of which I personally consider the “proper” apparatus for containing the food. Atop this mound of high cholesterol is then placed either a hamburger or hot dog, after which the heap is covered in ketchup, yellow mustard, onions, hot sauce, and meat sauce; that final ingredient, the “meat sauce,” is the keystone in the architecture of the plate.

When I describe this component to the uninitiated, I find that the description of “an amalgamation of multiple grill greases with some added meat bits” to be the most effective way of surmising the flavor profile of the sauce. In culinary tradition, I suppose a gravy may be the most appropriate analogy, but the “meat sauce” is in a league of its own, just as the Garbage Plate itself is.

The Garbage Plate is easily the greatest drunk food on the planet. It draws its origins from drunk university students asking for “a plate with all the garbage on it,” and it wholeheartedly lives up to its genesis. However, I have eaten more Garbage Plates sober than I have drunk, but it is not to say that I have eaten few. I have easily shaved at least five years off my life span from the amount of fat I have taken in from Garbage Plates over the years, but I have no regrets about any of those times.

Groups of Garbage Gobblers

Most of my garbage plates have been eaten in the company of good friends, be it in high school when one of us finally got our license and we christened the occasion with a trip to Empire Hots, or when we found ourselves hungry at 2 am on a Friday during winter break from college and drove over to the hot dog shop where we knew we could talk freely and stuff our faces as we enjoyed each other’s company and the deep fried delicacy in front of us.

Garbage Plates were used as a means to celebrate our time together, and I can even now recall my friends and I getting Garbage Plates at University Hots in Geneseo the week of graduation, a proverbial “Last Supper” to commemorate all of the time we had shared, both drunk and sober together during our time at University. The night before I left Rochester, my final meal was a Garbage Plate because I knew I was going to miss them more than anything else about home.

All of these thoughts and more have been present in my mind both before and after I came to Japan, and talking to my students about Garbage Plates, explaining the history, composition, and cultural relevance of the dish really brought all of those things to the forefront of my thoughts. After the lessons were complete, I had my first proper spell of homesickness.

Generally speaking, I don’t get homesick much, and this was the most potent sense of it I have experienced thus far. Yet, as I was feeling homesick, I had a realization: just as Vienna will wait for me, Rochester will as well. I am fully intent on returning home in the next year, and when I do, the Garbage Plate will be there.

And when I finally do sit down for that Garbage Plate, I fully expect to have my friends by my side with their own. Almost as if nothing had ever changed.



Song of the Week

Memoirs of a Gaijin Playlist

“Miasma”  by Ghost

I mention in the “About Me” section, I love anything 80s, and another great appreciation for me is killer instrumentals with loads of drum fills and guitar riffs. And “Misasma” has all of those in spades. The song opens with a mid-80s style synth instrumental, before it eventually adds in the guitar and drums, with the synth both accompanying the new instruments as well as creating new developments in the melody of the song. As the song progresses, the depth and speed of the instrumental gains momentum, and by the end the guitar and drums are racing along at a frenetic pace, with the synth maintaining the melodic backbone, though each instrument gets a moment in the spotlight.

In the final act of the song, a saxophone is added, and I love the way that the unexpected addition of the woodwind creates a different sonic dynamic in the composition of the song. I began listening to Ghost this summer, and I really enjoy their work. However, I feel this song is my favorite from their catalog simply for the sense of energy that I gives me. I have been listening to it as I have been going to the gym, and it always energizes me for whatever I want to do. In the end, all I may leave behind is a miasma, but “Miasma” makes me feel confident enough to go out an leave behind more than that. I guess only time will tell in regards to that though.

If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!

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