Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophe’s ongoing series Meandering America’s Menus, where we explore the unique cuisines of the various American states, and discuss what makes them unique. Today, we’re tackling the “Cowboy State”, Wyoming.
Mixed Messages, and Meager Menus
You may recall a few weeks ago I discussed my particular brand of synchronicity, while discussing the Baader-Meinhoff Effect, where at random times I just run into the same topic multiple times in a short span, and decide to act on it. Today’s topic is one of the first times I’ve ever seen the REVERSE happen.
As will likely surprise no one, given last Thursday’s teaser, I had no real plan of what to write for today. I apologize for the lack of preparation: I’ve been cast in a play, and rehearsals have been eating into a lot of my food-related time and head-space. And Thursdays have so MANY options that it boggles the mind sometimes what to tackle next. As such, I decided “Let’s do another MAM segment, what’s the next state?” “Well, we could do California-“ “That’s way too complicated to tackle spur-of-the-moment. Cali’s gonna need some prep. Maybe two whole posts, one for Northern and Southern.” “Well, we’ve been trying to spread outward from Washington, so we can jump Cali and do Nevada or Utah, or we follow Montana with Wyoming.” “Hmmm. Nevada would be interesting. Maybe there’s a fun dichotomy between the extravagant and exotic offerings of Vegas and what the rest of the state eats.” “I don’t know. It’s pretty fucking cold, do we want to spend a few days researching a hot desert state?” “I see your point. Utah?” “Utah’s probably going to be pretty boring. And it’d really mess up the map continuity.” “Fine, Wyoming it is.” (In case you thought this was a simple, boring conversation, please remember that I make these calls on my own, so this has actually been ME talking to myself this whole time.)
And trust me, this can go on for some time.
I decided that, uploaded the post, and within an hour saw a meme on Facebook about how shitty Wyoming is. I brought it up to my brother, and he said “Weird, I saw a completely different meme about how Wyoming is completely fictional today!” And then I started researching the cuisine of Wyoming, and…ugh. It appeared the Universe had intended to warn me, but their warnings had come too late: Wyoming is…really hard to talk about, culinarily speaking.
The first reason is the most obvious: there’s not a lot of tables for things to be happening at. Wyoming is the least populated state in America. Alaska’s people are more spread out, but there ARE more of them. To give you a sense of scale: I live about an hour from Seattle, Washington, the 18th largest city in America. It has more people than Wyoming. ALL of the Top 30 cities in America are more populated than Wyoming. The city of MILWAUKEE has more people than the STATE of Wyoming. So of course there’s not a ton of culinary creativity going on: there’s little demand to be met for food at all!
And that note “culinary CREATIVITY” is kind of important: it’s not that Wyoming doesn’t eat, but rather that its eating habits are…predictable. If you search “Wyoming cuisine”, you get back pages that talk about steaks and bison burgers, elk and lamb, jerky and berries. And there’s nothing wrong with that…except that it’s also the same list I found for Idaho and Montana!
To be fair, though, they are quite alike.
God only knows which of them this picture came from, for instance.
So I was afraid I was going to be stymied by another post just talking about how neighboring states really influence each other, like I did with Oregon. It’s a fine idea to explore a couple times, but I’ve only gotten to my 5th state! Having to do it AGAIN by this juncture would undermine the idea that the state cuisines really do vary. (which, sure, might be a valid argument. But the fuck if I’m conceding it before I’m 10% into the topic!) One other thing motivated me, though explaining it may be a little weird.
The Past is an Unfamiliar Country
Take a look at this photograph.
That slumbering lummox there is Jon O’Guin, ten years ago. Back when he thought long curly hair was a good look. Three and a half years before he’d fuck up making a soufflé and decide to write about it on Facebook, starting a trend that would eventually bring us to this site. That picture is of a somewhat interesting moment in his life. He’s going to ACTF. At the moment, he’s at WSU as a Pre-Law major. But he’s been doing theatre as a hobby for about a year and a half now, and he got the opportunity to go on this trip to see the best theatre the region’s colleges had to offer. And it’s going to blow his mind.
That trip will take him to Laramie, Wyoming, where he’ll spend a week going to workshops, seeing great shows in the evening, and just immersing himself in the theatre culture. A comment by a hotel-mate will give him a phrase he’ll repeat many times over the years: “I don’t snore, I just breathe remarkably loudly. Or so I’ve been told.” In several ways, it will be this trip that starts to change his mind, causing him to switch majors and get his degree in Theatre.
So I owe Wyoming more than that. More than just casting them off as “Montana-lite”. So I dug deeper, and found…a couple things. Not like, a TON of stuff, but come on.
What does Wyoming have that the other states don’t? Well, no other state was the founding site for Taco John’s, that’s for damn sure!
Take THAT, South Dakota!
What exactly is a Taco John’s? I don’t know. It sounds a lot like a Taco Time to me, and looks like one that got soaked in hot sauce. Look, fast food chains aren’t universal. Like, I think I was in my mid-20’s before I learned that that “Hardee’s” place people kept mentioning in TV shows and movies was Carl’s Jr. The point is, they have SOMETHING.
And, while trawling through tourism links for Laramie, I found a restaurant that specializes in burritos and tacos with “American and Asian influences”. And the idea of a Deviled Egg taco, or a Mongolian Beef Burrito (both actual menu items) promises to ME that, while it may not be drawing a lot of attention to itself, there’s still some pretty sick culinary creativity going on over there. (Also, I am almost certainly going to make a Mongolian Beef Burrito later this year: I was already considering making a month of Culinary Mash-Ups, and Nate loves Mongolian Beef, so it’s probably a shoe-in.)
Alas, we may never know the name of the restaurant driving such culinary innovation.
And there’s the little details here and there: Fry bread and Soda bread pop up, and the wild game is treated with a little more flash (Elk Nachos, for example). Apparently, in the city of Jackson, there’s a popular summer drink of “Sloshies”, which are…well, exactly what the name implies: alcoholic slushies. They come pre-made in jugs for parties, a way of beating the summer heat in essentially the complete opposite of class. And there’s something to be said for that: the raw freedom of sipping a cold boozy drink poured from a plastic jug you bought at a mini-mart into a Solo cup. It’s a kind of proletariat reaction: this ain’t no high-class soiree, this is just some good old-fashioned day drinking.
So, is Wyoming a lot like Montana, or Idaho? Sure. But so are any siblings. Most PEOPLE are pretty much like one another. Similar goals, hopes, and fears. Sharing a lot of characteristics with someone doesn’t make you redundant, it makes you unified. And it makes the points of difference shine all the brighter, highlighted against a matching canvas.
MONDAY: JON TRIES FOR SOMETHING SIMPLE, TO CONTINUE HIS PASSIONATE PURSUIT OF PROLETARIAT…NOPE, DIDN’T HAVE A LAST “P” THERE. “PERFECTION”? LOOK, IT’S A WHOLE ROAST CHICKEN, COOKED IN ONE PAN.
THURSDAY: THAT PLAY THAT’S FUCKING UP MY PLANNING TIME? IT’S STILL HAPPENING. HELL, NEXT WEEK IS FUCKING TECH WEEK, SO MY SCHEDULE IS EVEN MORE BONED FOR THE NEXT WEEK OR SO. WE’LL BE LUCKY IF I CAN STRING TOGETHER A SENTENCE THAT ISN’T IN BLANK VERSE.