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arts and cultureheritage

Lobster . . . Pastry?

By: Raphael Umphres-Piscitelli

Recent years in San Diego have seen an explosion in specialty dining, and we don’t hear anyone complaining.

Far from the days of limited, and exclusively corporate-restaurant options, ‘different’ has become the standard in America’s Finest City, providing every chef the opportunity to showcase their family-favorite dishes, desserts, and other foods that their neighbors might not have heard of.

Foods that may have once been overlooked are now delicacies, sought after by many curious mouths. Surely, ‘different’ is the place in which culinary genius is made. Inevitably, the smells of delicious meals wafting on the air or sights of finely-crafted goods draw curious people to ask, ‘what is that?’ Whenever the question is asked, you know it’s time to share a meal with your neighbors. Perhaps they’ll add their own twist to it!

The fact that San Diego is seeing a renaissance of good food isn’t anything new, it’s just one iteration of something that happens over and over in our history as a nation: immigrant communities and their kitchen traditions make a new home in America, feeding their families in old customs that will warm the soul and cure homesickness.

One such food that strikes all senses is a strangely shaped pastry, the Sfogliatelle which you can find in San Diego’s little Italy.

Despite the pastry’s name, which roughly means ‘little leaves,’ its shape is reminiscent of a clam or other shellfish to many, earning it the nickname ‘lobster tail’ pastry in the United States.

If you haven’t had Sfogliatelle before, you’re in for a treat: Filled with sweet cheese and baked until crispy at the fringes of the many-layered dough and yet soft inside, it’s a layered-piece of heaven made of flour, sweet cream and powdered sugar.

Originally coming from the culinary tradition of Naples in the Campania region of Southern Italy, this little pastry is having a new day in the limelight, with over 7 million views on its very own tik-tok hashtag. There are many bakeries and restaurants serving these pastries to their patrons in San Diego County, and judging off of the online response to the new popularity among aspiring bakers and enthusiasts, many people are learning to make this treat in our city. It’s become so popular so quickly, it makes one wonder, “how did I miss this?”

Of course, popularity for a food will always come and go in waves, but the stark difference between ‘popular’ and ‘impossible to find’ leaves a lot to the imagination—namely that foods are always one generation from going extinct. The recipes of our identity are to be guarded for the cultural possessions that they are. What we don’t preserve will be forgotten.

Luckily for us, San Diego’s artisans are keeping all sorts of Italian fare alive, be they the recognizable pizza and pasta, zeppole or cannoli, pistachio gelato, different sorbetti or limoncello; there are too many to name. Surely, this is a mission that we can get behind.
So whether you are a cook, a baker, or a chef, keep after it! The rest of us will make your vision possible by continuing to be hungry a few times a day, and alongside our own favorites, we’ll even make room for a new star: the lobster tail, the Sfogliatelle.

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