The Good News: It was this time a week ago, Sunday, that I stood waiting for “The World’s Greatest Latke!” in Little Rock, Arkansas.
That’s what our Latkerista, Barry, announced, about to serve the first batch to a small group forming around a mini “latke-dome” at the annual Jewish Food Festival in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Wait. Rewind. Let me enjoy rewriting that bounty of ground-breaking text all over again... the annual Jewish Food Festival in Little Rock, Arkansas. Surreal to me, as I write it again.
So, what’s the bad news? (Must there always be The Bad News, anyway?) Okay, okay! Here it comes…
The Bad News: The World’s Greatest Latke. Sorry, Barry.
However! Barry, and all the people I met at the festival made up for the mediocre Jewish food I tasted there… and I’ll admit, I wasn’t able to give all the dishes the tasting attention they deserved. For this, I will blame my new Jewish Food Festival buddy, Zhao.
Yes, it was all Zhao’s fault… had he not been such a “Chatty Kathy," (those who know me or Zhao might find reason to argue this description) I would have had more time to try the kugel and the blintzes and the corn beef and pastrami. But, then again, Zhao had nothing to do with the falafel snafu at the festival, so he claims… but now, all of a sudden, he decides to take The Falafel Fifth? All I know is, I never saw any falafels at the festival, as they were apparently en route from another location. Yet, Zhao’s backpack looked suspiciously puffy.
So, who in the world is Zhao? Does he actually exist or did I simply dream him up?
Some might say, yes, I invented him right out of thin air, because I wanted to experience a Jewish food festival in the South through an unlikely set of eyes and taste buds... a student from Beijing who now makes his home in Little Rock, Arkansas.
It sounds a little like a scene from the final season of Lost. Imagine Jin asking Sayid to pass the sour cream at Sawyer’s house on Hanukkah, while Ben fries up another round of latkes for Locke and Charles Widmore.
I first noticed Zhao in the crowd, not necessarily because he looked noticeably different, but because of the amount of items he was toting. He seemed ready for anything and everything, camera in hand, rain jacket tucked under his arm in case he got caught in a torrential Southern downpour, hauling a very large pack on his back ~ a soldier prepared for a long trek in unfamiliar terrain.
The next thought I had was that his tour bus driver took the wrong exit off Interstate 430, landing him at the Jewish Food Festival instead of The Waffle House, the scheduled lunch stop on his tour of the South.
“Have you tried anything yet at the festival?” I asked him. He nodded no, politely.
“Would you like to have a latke with me then?” He couldn’t help but look startled and a little worried that a strange woman was asking him on a semi-lunch date at the Jewish Food Festival in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Have you ever had one before?” I continued.
He shook his head and then spoke with a thick, broken English accent, “Have no tickets yet…”
“Oh, I’ve got plenty. Let's go? They’re almost ready,“ as I whisked Zhao away and turned him into, The Latke Candidate.
~ Stay tuned for, The Latke Candidate, Part II