Friday, October 1, 2010

Thought for Food

Current Reading: The Tales of Ibis, by Hiroshi Yamamoto

Inspirational Quote: "Misfortune, and recited misfortune especially, may be prolonged to the point where it ceases to excite pity and arouses only irritation." -- Dorothy Parker

It's Friday evening. I planned to write a post about scenes. It was going to be truly magnificent and inspiring. It's a shame you missed it.

Instead, I want to gripe about my relationship with meals today.

I don't mean to imply that I'm having any disagreements with my digestive tract. Far from it. We're getting along famously. We've forgotten all about that episode with the four-alarm chili and the bean burritos even though my family seems intent on discussing it over and over.


Today I went to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant on my lunch hour. I went alone, because I like to get some writing done, and because I'm lousy at social interaction. They brought me a checklist of the sushi and rolls they had available. There were no pictures, so I wrote random numbers for quantity beside things that looked either familiar or interesting. They brought it on a flat plate, arranged so much like a Zen garden that I didn't know whether to eat it or meditate on its symmetry.

I was used to tiny sushi: tightly bound rolls and compact rice balls tied to fish with little green belts. This was large and loose and terrifying, and I had no idea how to eat it. I started to panic, but covered it by mixing some wasabi in soy and leafing through the layers of fresh ginger they'd brought.

I guess you should never eat alone in a strange place. You should bring a friend well-versed in the local customs.

I tried one of the rolls, and what I could get to my mouth was quite delicious, but everything fell out of the little green belt, and most of it crashed to my plate. I am not sufficiently good with chopsticks that I can pick up much. Mostly I use the sticks to shovel things around until someone notices my distress and gives me a fork, which I ignore because pride and stupidity are my motivations in everything. I managed to scrape up much of what had fallen out, and eventually turned my attention to the cucumber and avocado rolls.

They were were the size and shape of ice-cream cones and wrapped in dark green seaweed. What was I supposed to do? Use my fingers? Something in my I-aspire-to-middle-class background rebelled against the thought. I surreptitiously glanced around at the other diners in the room, but they were all either experienced or sensible, and had chosen dishes that looked nothing like mine. They were of no use, but I'm a bright fellow. I have a university degree and a history of being too smart for my own good. I wasn't going to let an insensate foreign delicacy defeat me so easily. I assessed the tools at hand.

Chopsticks. That was it.

I also had a little square ceramic platform on my table, and I didn't know what it was. A plate? A place for resting my chopsticks? A miniature podium in case I felt like giving a speech? (Take my advice. Don't try it. The Indian restaurant STILL won't let me back in). I had no knife, of course. I don't think sushi restaurants allow them. We might use them to take hostages.

I considered putting the roll on the podium and lifting it up so it would slide into my mouth, but my mouth was too small. I also thought of using the edge of the podium to cut my food in half. The idea had a certain appeal, since it would solve my problem and justify the presence of the podium. However, I didn't see anyone else using the crockery to flay their food, so I abandoned that train of thought. Finally, I reasoned that there was no taboo against biting off some of the roll and eating it a bit at a time.

Did you know that the green seaweed paper they use for those things is pretty much bite-proof?

Also, that there is no way to look dignified with the pointed end of a cucumber-avocado roll sticking out of your mouth like misplaced unicorn horn, bobbing up and down as you try to gnaw through it?

I learn these things so you don't have to. You're welcome.

I finished off my selections with more determination than style, and I was almost sure that the laughter coming from the other tables was not directed at me.

The waitress, who was a petite Chinese woman who looked very much like she was doing her job under protest, dropped by to clear away the shrapnel of my meal. I thought she asked if I wanted anything more. I said, “Yes.” I hadn't been entirely sure what I was getting into, so I had ordered conservatively. Now that I felt I could handle things, more or less, I was ready to get down to the business of feeding. She nodded, took my empty plate, and vanished. I spent some time writing considering the irony of a Chinese waitress in a Japanese restaurant. It's no odder, really, than having your four alarm chili and bean burritos brought to you by a waiter who's accent couldn't have been more than a year out of Glasgow (what happened to me later was certainly not his fault). It's a small world.

My waitress, obviously as the result of a miscommunication, had vanished and my time for culinary experimentation had expired, so I packed up, paid, and left.

That's why I was still hungry as I walked out of an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Quite a trick.

No matter. I'm not normally a big eater, and I had a nice home-cooked meal waiting for me this evening. Barbecued spare ribs and rice. My stomach grumbled its way through the afternoon, then I picked up my daughter from school and drove home. The house was empty except for the smell of barbecue. Penelope had dumped some back ribs in the crock pot with some sauce and let it simmer for eight hours. Mm. I set Cassandra to do some coloring and cooked up some rice and was about to sit down when the phone began to ring. Telemachus had take a bus to a friend's house and wouldn't be home for supper. Aeneas needed a ride out of town to another friend's place where he was going to spend the night. Penelope had forgotten that tonight was games night at the church, so she and Cassandra were leaving as soon as Penelope arrived from work. Oh, and could I put together a tray of fruit with yogurt and granola for them to take with them for the games night pot luck?

So here I sit alone in front of a rack of barbecued back ribs and eight cups of rice. I think I'll eat the whole thing and then drive into town for chili and burritos. I don't think I can be blamed for what happens after that.


moonrat said...

Haha oh dear. When next you're in NYC, the RM will show you HIS favorite all-you-can-eat sushi spot, where you serve yourself :)

Ulysses said...

That sounds absolutely WONDERFUL. Now, if they could just post eating instructions somewhere handy...