Home, eat, home
To be an immigrant is to live in a perpetual state of gratitude mixed with longing.
You love your adopted country, are thankful for its opportunities. You get to a point where a place that once felt like another planet is home.
But you’ll always be bound to the place where you grew up, too. Sometimes its pull can hurt pretty badly. And all you want is to taste the food you grew up with.
Sometimes all you want is a meat pie. They sell them everywhere in Australia. Palm-sized pockets of pastry filled with beef and gravy sit in warmers at fancy cafes and convenience stores, their golden tops beckoning.
But nobody here knows what a meat pie is. And so every time you visit home, you gorge yourself on this fast-food totem. You start at the airport, going on to ingest an obscene number before rolling back onto the plane to pielessness.
Relief from this unhealthy cycle of absence and excess arrived for me in South Boston on Tuesday morning, when KO Catering and Pies opened its doors for the first time.
One bite, and I was home. Two days later, I’m the cult member who can’t stay away. The pastry, buttery and hand-rolled, is gorgeously flaky. The filling — lean, not too thick or runny — is perfectly seasoned.
As of this writing, I have been to the little cafe on A Street four times. I wonder whether I’m starting to creep them out. But chef and co-owner Sam Jackson claims there are others.
“I’ve got a huge kick out of how many people have come in and said, ‘Finally, this makes my life in this country [a lot] better,’ ’’ he said yesterday morning. Instead of “a lot,’’ he used an unprintable expression that made me feel even more at home. (My people do not mince words or spare profanity.)
“I can talk to my family on Skype, I can watch Australian sport,’’ said Jackson, who grew up in Wollongong, Australia, and has been in Boston for four years. “But you can’t transport food. From the moment you walk in and see them illuminated in the warmer, it makes you think of a good time in your life — being at the beach, or your first Aussie rules [football] game.’’
For me, the pie evokes those rare, glorious days when my mother gave me money to buy lunch from the school canteen, and I scarfed down my purchase under the trees in the schoolyard.
Yesterday, there were plenty of Aussie accents in the line for pies, and for sausage rolls, chicken-flavored fries, and Lamingtons (sponge cake dipped in chocolate, then rolled in coconut).
“Do you have mushies?’’ one customer asked, in search of a steak-and-mushroom pie.
Not yet, Jackson said. The guy got over his disappointment. He sat down at the communal table, bit into his pie, and his eyes rolled back in his head.
Sitting there yesterday with other transported souls, I thought of how often this scene is repeated all over this country.
In Polish, Lebanese, and Korean restaurants, immigrants taste some of what they left behind, having millions of Proust-with-the-madeleine moments that make the pull of times lost less painful.
Jackson expected to sell 40 pies his first day. He sold 120, running out and disappointing late arrivals. He figures about 50 of his customers on Tuesday were Australian.
There were lots of Americans, too, though. Jackson offers plenty of other foods besides pies, and he’s planning to take it all on the road in a few months with a traveling food truck. That’s good, because this place won’t survive on a couple thousand Aussies and pies alone.
And if it doesn’t survive, I’m not sure how I will.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.