Oregon is one of the few states in mainland USA that enjoys the best of both worlds. It is situated in the scenic Pacific North West, surrounded by immense natural beauty in the form of ocens, snow-capped mountains, rivers, volcanoes, gorges, rock formations and even a high desert. It enjoys mild albeit wet weather dominated by the Pacific Ocean, is close to big-populous states of California and Washington and is unknown for its unbelievably friendly, dog-loving, outdoorsy population. It has had its own share of controversies, with events such as banning African-Americans owning land to more recently, the siege in a National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. But for recent settlers like me, the city is paradise indeed.
Oregon also has the largest settlement of a semiconductor behemoth which brings a large educated work-force here. Portland, boasts of a large Indian-origin population (like many cities in the USA) and hence is dotted with plenty of eateries, grocery shops and entertainment venues (movie theaters, temple halls etc) serving the south-Asian population. The sprawling Patel-brother empire, synonymous with stocking Indian food items all around the USA is nowhere in the vicinity, but the local population is enthusiastic about global cuisines and surprisingly embrace vegetarianism more fervently than Indians themselves. The gastronomic scene, the friendly people and the plethora of some amazing vegetarian or vegan restaurants is nothing like anywhere else in the USA.
The suburbs of Portland where a majority of the Asian population (like me) live, have a couple of small Indian grocery shops which stock almost all required items – paneer, atta, varieties of rice and dal and some Indian vegetable staples – lauki, karela, okra, curry leaves and the like. There are even larger Asian food centers which carry an amazing variety of fruits, greens (hello, bok choys, napa cabbage and arugula), fresh noodles, dim sum wraps and aisles of all varieties of tofu, tea, hot and soy sauce. Portland is a city where you’d find every global ingredient in its authentic form from brands native to the respective country – gulkund from Armenia, less-popular and local Turkish coffee brands or preserved haloumi cheese from small cheesemakers in Cyprus. But what I love is that you can find almost all these items in the local grocers like Market of Choice or New Seasons. These grocery shops carry local, fresh, seasonal produce and also stock up on paneer from local dairy farms (yes, local farms make paneer here!) or local brands of basmati rice. Restaurant choices for vegetarians and vegans abound, with every restaurant and I mean it, every, single restaurant carries vegetarian options eliminating the dilemma of ordering food for vegetarians when you step out with a diverse group. Even Killer Burgers makes some killer in-house black-bean gourmet burgers!
Milk and eggs are where Portland really surpasses everything else. The semi-rural borders of these urban settlements are dotted with farms which stock farm-fresh milk and eggs. You can drive in and pickup a freshly bottled, pasteurized galleon of milk and lift your spirits by venturing into the barn and petting the young calves. You see the cows grazing in unending lush grasslands and chicken coops scattered around with horses and goats in extremely idyllic settings. The baby cows and goats are friendly, love pets and greet you with a mischievous twinkle in their eye, making you forget that you are actually just a 15 minute drive from a huge metropolitan area and not in rural farmland. The Portland farmers market is one of the most famous nationally, and every summer hordes of people throng the lawns of Portland State University weekly, converted into a large market with stalls of salvadorean tamales (with plenty veggie options), taiwanese buns, fresh coffee, cherries and apples, berries, hazelnuts (national export of the state), lavender, pizza and even Indian food! Really, being here spoils you.
The coffee, craft-beer and food scene overall is one of the best in the country and there are plenty of blogs/videos/lists listing these amazing spots. The availability of such fresh food suiting all palettes due to the farmland surrounding the area and the importance of growing and eating local embodies the spirit of Portland. Often branded as too “twee”, people overlook the gigantic positives of this amazing city focusing only on the overly-liberal borderline-hippie culture of the city which is a topic for another time.
I had hardly known much about this city or state before moving here and discovering the food and local culture was a pleasant surprise. It is one of the only cities in the country where you can eat globally in a very local way.