CTiffEat Digs In
I met food blogger Tiffany Jones in line at Trader Joe’s for the first time several weeks ago, while she was working the register. Having worked in the food industry for a good part of my life, and generally loving people, I tend to talk to everyone, and often that talk revolves around food.
So when Jones, who prefers “Tiff,” started waxing poetic about her boyfriend’s family’s Jamaican restaurant in Bridgeport and her second job at my favorite New Haven ramen spot, Mecha—and then she told me she had a food blog—my heart was very full. Lucky for me, she felt the same way. A week later, we were chatting up our mutual love of food and community.
Tiff’s love for food began as a kid growing up in Bridgeport, devouring soul food her mom and aunties cooked—while also feeding a personal love for Chef Boyardee ravioli. When she was young, the tomatoey, slick canned pasta was the first thing she learned to make for herself, and it bloomed into a lifelong love for baked ziti, bubbly cheeses, and all types of noodles.
But it also made her appreciate home cooking, and the way recipes were handed down from grandmother to mother, mother to daughter, history in each bite.
“Every holiday, we always looked forward to the potato salad, the baked macaroni and cheese, the nicely, perfectly seasoned collard greens,” she recalled. “We’d use smoked turkey necks … things you would associate with the typical soul food. It was so simple, but those things, to this day, comfort me.”
Her family—“a family of eaters, and it’s mostly women”—helped her learn her way around the kitchen, instilling in her a love for the culinary arts at a young age. As she got older, her world expanded with the dishes that were put on her plate, like a California roll that blew her sense of possibility wide open.
By high school, she was helping to organize an annual “Diversity Dinner” at her school, tasting baklava and flan for the first time. As she left Bridgeport each day on the train to attend a private school in Westport (“It was a hard transition for me that I don’t ever think that I got through,” she said), her curiosity in food remained a sort of anchoring force.
“To realize that I could experience other people’s cultures through their food … I love experiencing what other people feel to be nostalgic,” she said. “Doing that through food is doing that in such a fun and gratifying way.”
“I just wanted to learn how these things were made and where they came from,” she added. “It just opened up these different spaces in my brain.”
As she went from high school to college in Boston, she expanded her palate, diving into restaurants and kitchens as often as she was able to. While she consulted then-burgeoning sites like Yelp from time to time, she said she found that she was just as likely to search the internet broadly, or look around to see what came highly recommended. To favorites like Bridgeport institution Frankie’s Diner, she added new hotspots across Connecticut, and New England.
She said she sees it as a way of celebrating Connecticut’s cities and communities. I do too. Both of our home cities, New Haven and Bridgeport are often characterized as dangerous and run-down by the media—and by people in wealthy, suburban or rural parts of our highly segregated state.
“I want to celebrate the good parts of what people don’t know about Bridgeport and people don’t know about Connecticut,” she said. “Right now I’m doing that through food, but I do want to share so much more about it. I want to support the local businesses that base their livelihood on providing such great food and opportunities for people to revisit their country through a meal, and have other people visit their culture through a meal.”
Most of her food adventures are within the state of Connecticut, but the joy for her is that “you can taste every country of the world here” and find great comfort food, she said. In Bridgeport, staff members at Frankie’s Diner have watched her grow up, and she said it feels like being welcomed by old friends every time she sits down to eat.
At Teff in Stamford, she learned about the conflicts between Eritrea and Ethiopia and how their shared cuisines serve as a common bond between people. She fell in love with the Brazilian buffets in Bridgeport, like Terra Brasilis, Pantanal, and Rancho Pantanal.
And she uses it as a way to connect with family and community. When her dad comes to visit from upstate New York, they’ll hit Hoodoo Brown Texas style BBQ in Ridgefield, or Jimmy’s at Savin Rock for seafood.
She frequents her boyfriend’s mom’s Jamaican take out spot, Mommy’s Patties on the Boston Ave in Bridgeport, or goes next door for a cone at Scoopers, also owned by the family. She tastes years of growing up in Bridgeport at Tai Jiang. It’s word-of-mouth great food, that you have to go check out for yourself.
In addition to her job at Trader Joe’s, Tiff works at Mecha Noodle Bar in New Haven, one of my absolute favorite restaurants. She does prep in the kitchen, including their spicy miso ramen and mushroom dumplings.
Mecha has ramen and Pho, drawing from both Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines, and the owners also have Pho Vietnam restaurant in Danbury with even more adventurous soups like tendon and tripe. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s growing her blog, to not just include photos, but video and anecdotes about restaurants around the state.
“I think Connecticut is a place that people don’t think to have such a rich cultural base for food,” she said. “I don’t get to travel much, I don’t get to go outside of the country, but I can when I get to try another culture’s food. And I also enjoy talking to the people who own the places … it becomes an entire experience. I want to share a little piece of that. I want everybody to feel what I feel when I’m eating my food.”
To keep up with the food wanderings of CTiff Eat, as well as some of the delicious food she is creating at home, follow @CTiffEat on Instagram, and other social media. This story is adapted from Episode 31 of The Table Underground podcast, one of our participating partners in a content share. Check out the episode here, or get the story in the May print issue.