A corny, tired, but true “we are what we eat” shtick

For better or for worse, we are shaped by the food around us. It defines who we are. It can represent key moments or periods in our lives—the good and the bad. And whether it’s that spot you used to go to with your friends in high school after class or Hillside at noon on weekdays, it’s hard not to get attached to the places we go to. Yes, we are mainly drawn to these places because of the quality of the food—or at least I would hope so, particularly in the BC case—but there’s always a more significant connection there, beyond the food itself.

“We are what we eat.” Yes, I know it’s a pretty tired saying, and I’m sure you’ve all heard it before. But I promise you that I’m usually not this sentimental—at least not for no reason.

I live off-campus by Cleveland Circle. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve had a meal on campus this year. It’s not a lot. Instead, I often find myself wandering off on Beacon Street searching for nourishment. Yet, time and time again, I keep on finding myself at Pino’s Pizza. Open since 1962, Pino’s is never closed. Whether it’s 11:10 on a Tuesday morning and I need something in my stomach before class, or it’s 9:45 on a Sunday night and I want a nice, slow Italian meal, Pino’s is always there. And you couldn’t miss the bedazzled, lit-up PIZZA sign if you tried. 

When you enter the restaurant, you are introduced to a romantic mural of the Italian countryside, which stretches the entire left wall. On the right wall, there is a mural of a woman preparing pizza pies in an oven. As you walk through the double doors, you’re greeted by a shiny wooden bench to your left. Tucked above the register and to the left is the TV. If there’s a game on, you better bet there are people—happily eating or happily fed—with their eyes glued to the screen. Every now and then, you’ll even catch the people in the back peek over the counter to catch the last score or the big play. You should have seen this place during the World Cup. 

Perhaps it’s a bit dated on the inside, but more than any of the other restaurants on the block, there’s something very homely about this spot. Maybe, it’s because Pino’s attracts everyone from the neighborhood. From T operators to nurses and from families to high school kids, I’ve spotted everyone at Pino’s. 

Earlier this year, there was a kid who worked the register. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen years old—and I never got his name—but I always enjoyed having him take my order. He wore a Celtics cap and we’d talk basketball and the C’s. He called me “sir,” which always got me because a) I’m 21—it’s not like I’m that much older than him and b) I’ve never taken myself to be a “sir.” Still, the kid always made me feel welcome, and I’ll always appreciate that. I hope to have him take my order again. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the food itself. This is a proper pizza place but you’ve got your pasta courses, salad options, and sub-varieties too. I’ll focus on the pizza though. The other day, I overheard a customer tell the owner’s son that he’s kept on coming back (for over thirty years!) because of the quality and the prices—and I can attest to both. The slices are large, like any good East Coast pizza, and it’s your call whether to fold it in half. Personally, I am team no fold. I came for a pizza, not a calzone. But the thing that stands out the most about the pizza is the cheese. It’s gooey—but not too gooey, which in my eyes is what makes a good pizza a good pizza. Maybe that’s a truism when it comes to pizza, but still. It more than gets the job done is what I’m trying to say. Be warned though, these pizzas are a bit greasy. I don’t mind and it doesn’t take away from the pizza itself, but you should probably grab a couple of napkins or so before you sit down. I almost ruined a pair of jeans the other day.

Is Pino’s the best pizza place in Boston? Probably not. It’s up there, though, but that’s not the point. Although Portnoy gave it an 8.8/10 for what that’s worth. Ultimately, Pino’s is great because of the atmosphere and the reliability. Mixed with the pizza itself, this spot is tough to beat. For me, Pino’s is even more valuable because of the connection I have with the place. I’ll never forget the first time I stepped inside Pino’s. It was the dead of winter last year and I was more precoucciped with finding somewhere warm than I was with finding food. I ordered two slices of cheese and a Pepsi—not really concerned with the order itself. I was in and out in about 15 minutes. Yet, it was one of the best meals of my life (no exaggeration). And afterward, I raved on and on about it to my friends and my family. 

I want to keep on coming back to Pino’s again and again. And it’s going to be a very sad day when I move out of my apartment next September. While I will certainly come back to Pino’s, I’m afraid it won’t ever be the same. But if there’s anything I’ve figured out over the last few months, it’s that if there are places like Pino’s scattered around in unpredictable places, then there have to be other spots—similarly cozy and reliable and good. And I hope to find them all.

Cover photo courtesy of Pino’s Pizza

Essays Uncategorized

Watertown: Boston’s Most Underrated Food Town

Watertown, Massachusetts is nestled just over the Charles in what is to some an unassuming residential area. Like many of the other outer ring Boston suburbs, there isn’t really a whole lot to do here—or at least that’s what I thought. From Chestnut Hill to the North End, from Cambridge to Fenway, I have done, seen, and eaten a lot of cool things in and around Boston. Yet, Watertown is one of the more fascinating places that I have visited during my time in college.

If you like food, you’ve come to the right place. But before I get to the food, let me set the stage: Watertown is a rather quiet, bedroom community home to many Greek, Turkish, Armenian, and Persian immigrants. On a personal level, I find solace in Watertown. My mom’s side of the family is Persian, and I am very proud of my background. When I am out of the sanctuary of my mom’s kitchen—where I am served more Persian food than I could ever possibly eat—I am uneasy. Luckily, I found Watertown, which has quite a few Persian restaurants to speak of.

 I have an immense amount of respect for all the people who immigrated to America. In a way, I am a part of that story too. Immigrants bring a lot to our country, and they help make places like Watertown unique. So if you’re ever bored and think you’ve seen it all, stop by. Go to Shiraz Persian Cuisine. Step inside. I’d recommend the Chicken Sultanti. The koobideh is the softer chicken and the kebab is the tougher, meatier option. Both are skewered, but whereas the kebab is made up of chunks of meat (kind of like a steak), the koobideh is minced ground meat. Both go great with the rice, which by Persian tradition, is lathered in saffron. Persian cuisine, unlike American food, is not dominated by dishes high in salt. I’d recommend salting up your rice if you need an extra kick. If it’s cold or you’re a bit under the weather, maybe you should go with the Gheimeh. Gheimeh is a stew made up of diced mutton, split peas, and signature thinly cut fries. This is a thick, onion-forward stew. The lamb meat here isn’t very tough, and it is less meaty than the kebab, but that makes no difference in the quality of the dish. It’s all great. I grew up on Persian food, so I could go on and on about what more you should get from here or from any other Persian restaurant for that matter. I will say one thing though: never order Doogh. Doogh is a drink, served mainly in Iran, consisting of sour, fermented yogurt and mint. It’s frothy like a smoothie—except it doesn’t taste any good! I’d argue that Doogh is to Iran as what coleslaw is to America. Order at your own risk!

An hour later, you’re going to step outside. Down the street, you will spot an Armenian church, which happens to be next door to the Greek community center. Then, start your car, skip a couple of corners, and park next door to the local Greek food market: Sophia’s Greek Pantry. Little English is spoken here, and everything from cheese to meat to nuts is marked in Greek Cyrillic. If you’re broke, imagine this as your trip to Athens or Santorini. Get some halloumi cheese, try some Greek Baklava, and go tell your friends all about it. Maybe, even give them a treat and grill some of that halloumi you just bought in the tiny confines of your apartment. Call it “Halloumi Night”. There’s never too much olive oil or balsamic, and it goes great with tomatoes too. For those uninitiated to halloumi, it is truly divine. It is salty, chewy, and meaty all at once. I know the French and the Swiss love to talk about their cheese, but Greek halloumi is just as good as any kind of French or Swiss cheese out there.

Armenian and Turkish food also use a lot of the same ingredients as Persian and Greek food. Oftentimes, there is bitter contention among people in the Mediterranean and the Middle East about whose baklava is best or whose dolma is better. I’m generally partial to Iranian food, but you can’t go wrong with Armenian dolma or Turkish kebab. 

Watertown is by no means trendy or chic, nor is it exactly enticing to college kids who want to go out on a Saturday night. The restaurant interiors are not necessarily with the times either. There aren’t any plastic stools, metal countertops, or iPads with which you pay. But that’s okay. It’s a lowkey, best-kept-secret kind of deal to people who like tasty Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. It’s different. And if you didn’t grow up eating this food, it’ll make you feel as though you’ve been missing out. But it’s not too late. In a sea of chaos on Earth, the Greek community center across the street from the quaint Armenian church in Watertown, Massachusetts gives me hope. So if you feel as though you’re running out of places to go, come here. If you want to see the best of what greater Boston has to offer, come here—because I promise you that it’s worth your time.

Cover photo courtesy of Sofia’s Greek Pantry