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Ethnic foods find a place in Richmond's expanding

Global Warming


It wasn't so long ago that being an exotic eater here meant switching from butter to mustard on your ham biscuit. Vegetables were supposed to be cooked to a simmering, hog-greased death, and the city's culinary world revolved around the precious familiars: fried chicken, sweet potatoes, pecan pie. Then came foreign foods: Italian and Chinese. Hold the spices. Hold the ingredients, unless they're very recognizable. Forget unpronounceable flavors, just give us some sanitized adaptation of what we already know. And give it to us in a place that's tarted up with travel photographs and tinny music — there's really no need to go to Beijing or Rome because we've already tasted them in the comfort of a plastic booth on Broad Street.

So, what's with the steady infusion of ethnic eateries in a town that's known for clenching its teeth at the very idea of something so ... so ... different?

This year alone, three noodle houses, one African restaurant, several Vietnamese and Thai and Indian spots have sprung up around town ... and Ukrop's — at least a few of its stores— has sushi. (Of course, they still have those "bagels," too.) Can it be that alongside our favorite flavors of the past, new world cuisines can coexist?

The answer is a tentative, qualified yes. If Richmond can stretch its tastebuds just a bit more to try the unagi donburi or the Jollof rice or even a sesame-tofu sandwich, then, we can safely say the city is on the verge of a slow, steady conversion.

Herewith, some ideas to consider as you ditch that quivering meatloaf platter and head uptown for an adventurous meal that — no matter how exotic for Richmond — is still tame by world standards.

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