Being an expat means embracing the fact that you will always be in limbo. Though not in the context of being in heaven or, worse, in hell, limbo is the state of in-between, neither here nor there. One has to straddle and tread between two worlds, two universes: the past that holds together the fiber of your every being and the present that shapes your future being.
And as I gazed out into our landlord’s garden: a tangle of weeds, grass and herbs, a wall of ancient trees, a moat of a babbling brook and an assembly of wildlife: giggling birds, restless squirrels, creepy crawlies, and the occasional neighborhood cats, reminiscent of my former suburban home in the edge of ultra-cramped Metro Manila, I realized that I not just straddle between two worlds, but three. On a day-to-day basis, my attention, time and energy oscillates from instant messaging with my family and dear old friends in Metro Manila, Philippines, to strengthening my relationships via email with my new found friends, whom I fondly consider my first expatriate family, in Dubai, then to settling into our new home with my beloved husband plus hanging out with prospective friends in the United States. It is a tough juggle, even for the heavy multi-tasker in me. There are days when I want to be there and there are others when I just want to be here, more mindful of the present and current.
My food preferences share the same sentiment. There are days that I revel in the robust flavors of the East, while there are days that I crave tamed, often bordering on bland, flavors of the West. There are days that I enjoy refined flavors of an artfully constructed plate, while there are days that I am happy with a cheap-ass, hackneyed burger from the fast food chain round the corner. There are days when I am firm on having authentic tastes from whatever exotic cuisine of choice, while there are days that I welcome confusion fusion dishes with an open mind. I was always somewhere in between, in the tug of war of getting the best of both, or more, worlds: staying within my palate’s comfort zones or pushing the envelope and being an adventurous eater.
In this instance, it was American barbeque.
That fateful day the food gods decided to rain on our American barbeque parade. Thunder clapped. Lightning struck. Water overflowed. And more importantly, a reliable foodie friend scoffed at the idea of visiting Fat Matt’s Rib Shack for our baptism into real American barbeque despite the recommendations from our favorite food personality: Tony Bourdain, other digital resources and friends. “That’s not real bah-bee-que!” he exclaimed. Though our bodies cold and feet waterlogged, our spirits, hungry for tender juicy barbequed meat, were not.
In the dim, muggy cavern of the altar of pseudo barbeque, The Husband and I were surrounded from the towering chocolate and pasty skinned people. Our eyes met, sending telepathic signals to each other. Nobody shared the golden, tropical sun-kissed skin tone we had.
Still pork deprived from our Dubai stint, we ordered a half-slab of pork ribs with two classic Southern sides: mac and cheese and collard greens, and sat outside. I would’ve wanted to scarf down our meal in the comfort and warmth inside the restaurant, but I decided that we would enjoy our meal on the patio in the name of better photos for the blog. So there we were in our cozy table for two, shivering under our jackets and billowing smoke with each breath, where each new Fat Matt’s customer gave us the what-the-hell-are-you-doing-outside-when-its-damn-cold-look. Our Fat Matt’s pork rib platter arrived with an unceremonious kerplunk.
The ribs, slathered in a sticky red glaze, peppered with chargrilled stamps, came in steaming hot, magically managed to resist the bite of the cold. It reminded me of Filipino style barbeques from dingy makeshift stalls on the roadside, where the pork and chicken BBQ are drenched in crimson banana ketchup (Yes, we have ketchup made from BANANAS! Cool huh?) glaze and cooked over fan-powered charcoals. I took a bite and the meat just flew off, stripping the bone naked. Now that made me happy as I usually have to fight with the meat to get to the bone. The meat was so flavorful: sweet, savory, smoky and tart, that the ketchup they’ve provided had absolutely no place in the dish. No need for additional seasoning here!
The collard greens and the mac & cheese were, in my opinion, perfect sidekicks to the barbequed ribs hero. It was our first time to have collard greens, whose peppery acidic smoky flavor complements the fatty grilled ribs. Ah yes, apparently these ribs are boiled then grilled. Can anyone confirm this? The mac & cheese was the best I’ve had in Atlanta (At least in as far as our tastings have taken us.)! These were not the flavorless kind, but the kind where you could actually taste the salty bite of the cheese.
If this ain’t real American barbeque, then what is? I guess that I’d still have to find out. But, for now, if being in between is this delicious, then being in-between is just right.
Fat Matt’s Rib Shack
1821 Piedmont Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30324
Delirious about delicious,