Before Covid-19, I Road-Tripped Across America to Cook With the Nation’s Grandmas

This is what I learned

Anastasia Miari
Heated
Published in
12 min readApr 13, 2020

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A grandma sitting in between two young women. They’re all holding up glasses of red liquid with lemon wedges on the rims.
From L–R: the author, Grandmother Sharon from North Carolina, and Iska Lupton. Photos: Iska Lupton

Unsure of what to expect beyond burgers and squelchy macaroni cheese, we set off in our tiny Ford Fiesta, two women with a very specific mission: We were in the U.S. from the U.K. to hunt down grandmothers. More specifically, American grandmothers who can cook.

It’s part of our quest to share stories and recipes of matriarchs in the Grand Dishes cookbook, for which Iska Lupton and I have been traveling the world to uncover the culinary secrets of each nation through its grandmothers’ cooking.

Just before the Covid-19 outbreak, the final leg of our mission culminated in a Great Granny Road Trip through the USA to bust the myth that all food in America is “fast” and not as good as food from Europe. It ended up being a much more revelatory trip, opening our eyes to modern America and its people: People I worry for, in light of world events, knowing what I know now.

The trip began on a crisp winter’s day in New York. Jet-lagged but excited to take in the city, we headed for our first stop, Enoteca Maria in Staten Island. We coasted past the Statue of Liberty and on to our destination, a restaurant that employs only grandmothers to cook up its ever-rotating menu of world cuisine.

An elderly woman wearing an apron gesturing with her hand as she talks to someone off-camera.
Nonna Adelina.

We soon found that Nonna Adelina, a bolshy Italian grandma with plenty of attitude and wild gesticulations, is a permanent fixture at the restaurant. “I moved to New York 40 years ago but I only eat Italian and serve Italian — still,” she punctuated this point with an unexpected slap of the table.

We dined on spinach-and-mascarpone-filled ravioli topped in a thick cream — insanely tasty and exactly what we needed on a cold day. Also at work at Enoteca Maria that day was Hakima, a Moroccan grandmother from Casablanca. On her menu, turmeric-infused chicken and aubergine dip lit up our palates and painted our plates.

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Anastasia Miari
Heated
Writer for

Freelance journalist writing about travel, the environment, food and life for The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times and The Telegraph.