Letter from the Dining Guide Editor
On masking up, chowing down, and enjoying "the in between"
I can’t quite tell if we’ve returned to the land of precedented times. Last week, I babbled my way through a PowerPoint presentation in front of my political science seminar for the first time in a while—no screen sharing involved. But, barring the occasional water break, my mask stayed on the entire time. Penn’s libraries are open, but after a year of doing work at my bedroom desk, I’ve seldom sat down at my historic spot in the Van Pelt Reading Room. Every time I leave my apartment, I run through my usual mental checklist: wallet, keys, phone, mask.
There used to be normal times and COVID–19 times. After enough social distancing and vaccinating, the COVID–19 times would end and we would return to all the grimy, shoulder–brushing, close–knit behavior we used to love so dearly. Think beer pong, sneezing on the subway, and kissing strangers. But now, as the pandemic has dragged on for 18 months, the line between these two worlds is becoming less and less clear. No longer are we awaiting a return to the life we knew. Rather, we are stepping into a world unknown—a world informed by the collective, unspeakable trauma of a life interrupted.
Our relationship with food is no exception.
I can finally dine indoors again at all of my favorite restaurants. Lately, I’ve been tucking myself away in dimly lit booths over hot bowls of vegetarian ramen and platters of cheap, greasy nachos. I always have to be reminded, though, to mask up as I walk out the door. The makeshift outdoor streeteries and to–go margaritas that cropped up last spring haven’t faded from my radar. In fact, despite being fully vaccinated, I still often opt for outdoor dining. The people–watching is just too good to pass up.
For the first time since the pandemic, Street’s regular Dining Guide shenanigans are back. We reviewed restaurants across the city, from a Mexican–Chinese eatery located in an old Jiffy Lube to an unassuming yet delicious Ethiopian minimart to a brand new banana whip joint. We spoke with Penn alums who’ve turned their love of food into trailblazing careers. We shared personal essays about the meals we’ve had with others and what they’ve taught us about ourselves.
But, despite this taste of normalcy, we did it all in the lingering world of pandemic protocols, Zoom calls, and touchless menus. We ate, drank, chatted, and licked our fingers in this funny space in between then and now. It’s weird, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s hopeful. Maybe that's the beauty of it all.
Eat up. Read this beautiful issue about food, people, and life. And enjoy the in–between. I’m trying my best to.
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