I decided to take it easy on myself this week and chose what I think is going to be a simple question to answer. Now the question is how well did I do?
What is one of my favorite meals? Are we talking about the food consumed or the company and circumstances surrounding said consumption? Because that’s what it really boils (no pun intended) down to. It also comes down to what does food mean to me. In my role as features editor of David Magazine, one of the monthly pieces I edit is that of our food critic, Jason Harris. Now Jason is a good writer, but it’s fascinating to me how he writes about food. How discerning his palate is when it comes to slight variations as well as the diversity of the food he not only consumes but is knowledgeably able to write about.
I’m not like that. I wish I was.
Not in the writing area, I’m good there, but in the food part. Even though I try not to let fear dictate my actions (which I wrote about a few weeks ago) I am not nearly as adventurous with food as I wish I was. I don’t try nearly enough things outside my basic comfort zone. I think part of this has to do with how I see food. I don’t see it as an end in and of itself. Instead, I see it as a function of social interaction. What I mean is that I can linger over a meal for hours if I’m having a conversation or among a group of people I’m enjoying being with. But if it’s just me, then food becomes a simple source of energy to be consumed.
When I travel by myself, and it’s time to eat, there’s not often pleasure in it, at least not for pleasure’s sake. For example, when I stay in a hostel, particularly one which offers a breakfast selection of some sort,* I’ll go to the common room where the food is served and use that time to either plan my day by looking at touristy things to do, or to meet my fellow travelers. If I’m traveling for work, and I don’t see my workmates at breakfast, then that time is used for reading or studying. It’s never about just being zen and enjoying the food.
Of course, the excuse can be made that that’s breakfast. A starter of the day. Except the same holds true for me for lunch and dinner. When I’m on my own, lunch and dinner happen when I’m hungry, and are over quickly so I can get back to whatever I was doing/seeing/experiencing before I got hungry.
That said, sometimes I will go someplace or try something for the sheer experience of doing it, but again, not for the food itself. When I was backpacking in 2008, I ended up in a restaurant called Olde Hansa in Tallinn (ironically, one I probably wouldn’t go into today, having spent much more time in Tallinn since then and realizing this is a tourist trap) where I ended up ordering the largest combination of foods possible, including a bear steak. Or having dinner at The Big Texan on my ride along Route 66 in 2006, specifically just so I could say “yes, I’ve eaten there.”
I’m the same way with alcohol. If I walk into a place and a waiter is walking by carrying a large goblet full of some blue smoking liquid and the rim is festooned with plastic monkeys, I will order that drink regardless of what kind of alcohol is in it, again, just to say I have. At a now closed restaurant called Belgo in central London, all of the wait staff were dressed as Trappist Monks and all of the beers had their own specialty glassware. I mention this since the vessel one particular brew comes in was being so consistently stolen that in order to order it, you had to relinquish a shoe.
You guessed it, I ordered it. And I don’t even like beer all that much. But there was just something about walking to the unisex bathroom wearing only one shoe and seeing others in the same condition and sharing a nice little smile in recognition. Plus, you get a nice story to tell.
And isn’t that what all of this is about, anyway? It’s all about the story. At least for me.
So really, when we come back to that initial question, about my favorite meals, this is what it comes down to for me – what was the story? Like that night at Belgo? I was with an ex and a number of friends and it was a great meal. Not because I necessarily remember what I had (it was the mussels, but really, that’s pretty much the only thing of note that they serve, besides fries, so it’s not hard to recall) but because I remember the laughter and fun of hanging out with the people I was with.**
Other favorites include taking Rasa for her first American diner experience at Blueberry Hill in Vegas, and the inexplicable confusion on her face when she finally understood the implications of “free coffee refills.” Or sitting glass-side with AAron at the Living Seas Pavilion in EPCOT center, toasting to the imaginary couple whose wedding we had invented as an excuse to get me out of work.
Yeah, this really has been the long way around to get to the idea that eating at McDonald’s at the right time with the right people can be a much better meal than eating at a Michelin Star*** restaurant with the wrong people at the wrong time. And yet again, I managed 1000 words on what could have been a 15-word answer. Such is the life of a storyteller, eh?
*usually a “continental” breakfast, meaning a selection of cereals or a danish. Sometimes it’s warm food but not often.
**that and being volunteered with helping to finish a number of flavored Schnapps shots which came delivered on a 2-meter-long stick.
***Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure if you invited me to a Michelin Star restaurant I would have a perfectly wonderful time, I’m just using this as an example.