Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hole in the Wall

What is a hole in the wall?

Well, the chowhounds who like to search down great cheap eats use the term to describe small, independent food joints with no-frills service. My wife still raves about the hole in the wall Vietnamese spot in Paris where she frequently ate while briefly living in France decades ago. This was literally a hole in the wall. One had to move aside tall plywood planks to reveal a dark entranceway into the tiny but bright space where elderly Vietnamese ladies dished out portions of pho and fried spring rolls to students and others who put aside propriety in favor of deep bowls of steaming soup with fragrant basil, cilantro and handfuls of green onions.

Another hole in the wall was constructed by Indian researcher Suata Mitra in New Delhi. Mitra embedded a high-speed computer in the wall separating his company’s headquarters from the neighboring slum. He found that the impoverished children from across the wall quickly learned the technology to enable themselves to use the Internet. It seems Mr. Mitra found another way to put a light space at the other end of a dark hole in the wall.

In the late eighteen hundreds, the American outlaws Jesse James, Laughing Sam Carey, George Flat Nose Currie, Butch Cassidy and others formed the Hole in the Wall Gang in Johnson County near the “hole in the wall” through the mountains in Wyoming. A quick getaway from the law?

Time Magazine reports on the emergence of a hole in the wall in 1963. Gates were built into the Berlin Wall through which Christmas gifts were delivered to East Germans behind the wall.

Ruth’s Jamaican Hot and Cold Deli on Battle Avenue in White Plains is a hole in the wall. In the tiny kitchen in back of this cluttered space, Ruth and her family make spicy, sauce infused Jamaican dishes and serve them up front for a few dollars a meal. Make your way past the few groceries, international calling cards, laminated pictures of Bob Marley and small badges with the names of Island nations for sale on the shelves against the wall and belly up to the counter to place your order.

The brown stew chicken, rich broth softened pieces of moist meat on the bone, is mild and earthy. The stew melts into accompanying rice and vegetables lending its slightly salty flavor to the delicate tasting sides. The jerk is spicy and pungent. The sauce kicks with heat and a cascade of sensations from its multi-spice elements. An expert hand can be felt behind each dish. They carry an ease and familiarity born of this kitchen’s lifetime of experience cooking good Island food.

It seems there’s always something unexpected coming through a hole in the wall. Something that puts the lie to barriers and limits constructed. Sometimes it’s the hole itself that’s the surprise. As with Ruth’s; a tiny kitchen on a small road in the back of White Plains serving up some of the best cheap eats around.

Ruth’s Jamaican Hot and Cold Deli
255 Battle Avenue (off of Central Avenue near the County Center )
White Plains , New York

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