A Survival Guide to Café Eating
Too many years spent on the other side has caused many neuroses’s in me, but it has also given me an in, to the world of restaurant speak. I concede to a few of my toes being firmly in the OCD pool but there is a definite line between the germs needed to build our immune systems and the level of bacterial filth that renders us helpless to control our rebelling betrayed bodies.
I used to curse my insider knowledge and look longingly at blissfully ignorant couples enjoying 3-day old sushi and picking their ice cream cones up off the promenade floor to continue making out with. Over the past few years though with a little age and self-assurance descending, I am more and more grateful for my specific skill set. I have watched comrades fall at many a hurdle, my rule is I won’t be the overbearing siren at the party, I will graciously warn once and move on.
My poor other half now views ‘chicken mayonnaise’ with the same weary suspicion, vats of bubbling mayonnaise constantly topped up with more shredded buzzard, dancing a deadly tango with temperature fluxes. His family accused me of many years of making him soft, but they have all since joined the crusade and we now conquer family holidays with similar survival road maps.
A recent dinner date, at a popular burger joint (which shall not be mentioned), took a slightly less sexy turn. I noticed a few things I wasn’t comfortable with and the sauce on my burger tasted distinctly like old pot (the metal vessel not the drug). Sensing my growing unease my ever perceptive bear called for the bill. What we encountered on the way out, will stay with me forever! A hybrid of a mouse, cockroach and rat, shot out and made a casual, confident saunter across our path. My husband is an applied mathematician not prone to exaggeration so I asked him to compile a short list of what we were positive we saw, the rest ‘shapeshifts’ slightly depending on the severity of the nightmare. An exoskeleton, long ‘Parktown prawn’ like legs, lots of rat fur on certain bits and feelers have all been confirmed.
Once my nerves had calmed and my equilibrium restored (with the help of a ‘Haagen Daz’ replacement dinner) we fell into fits of mildly hysterical laughter and decided a basic survival guide was in order, this is by no means a full proof system and has to be honed over time.
1) Specials – In 95% of cases, there is nothing SPECIAL about SPECIALS, the kitchen needs to shift this particular item quickly for whatever reason.
2) When in doubt DO NOT order a salad, I can’t tell you how many times, someone has said to me that they were unsure of a particular restaurant so they JUST ordered a salad. DEADLY, you order a toasted cheese or a fillet not too rare, end of story. Nothing fresh and overly handled like a salad, nothing floating in sauce and nothing that could have been prepared in bulk like stews or curries.
3) DO NOT order the fish in a steakhouse or the fillet in a Fish place, it’s a matter of rotation if you deviate from what the restaurant specialises in, you can be sure it’s hung around a whole lot longer than its popular counterparts.
4) NEVER get the mushroom sauce, too complicated to explain, just trust me!!!
5) If I am at all sceptical of whether I want to hang around, I’ll go the restroom first, if it isn’t clean you are fooling yourself to think the kitchen will be any different, get out if there, run if you have to.
6) If you are in a mall situation and don’t have a bathroom to judge plates, sauce bottles and cutlery don’t lie!!!! A sticky or stinky glass is also a red flag, potential biohazard alert. Don your Nikes, make your excuses and flee.
7) Used your god given schnoz! A snout is a powerful tool if it smells at all funky, bolt! Fish restaurants should never smell fishy, steakhouses shouldn’t have that distinct old fat smell and Italian joints that reek of that cheap bulk ready chopped garlic stuff turns my stomach (its chopped turnip in garlic pomace oil, basically a vat of vampire repelling cancer.)
8) Tip on how to make aforementioned emergency exits, its ALWAYS that the babysitter called, no more details needed and no room left open for desperate slightly mange ridden managers to implore you to stay.
9) NEVER order sushi off of a carousel of doom, unless you saw the specimen land! The lights and even ambient temperature of the room will heat the fish and ignite a street party of bacterial chain reactions, which in turn start the boogie of ‘off sushi death’, not a pleasant way to shuffle off your mortal coil. In fact, so horrific that not even B grade Hollywood has attempted to portray what this looks like.
10) Going back briefly to sauces, the complimentary chilli sauce on the table and the other little caddy of E.coli posing as tomato sauce and his partner in crime mustard, are far more likely to make you sick than that month old salmon fish cake you are eating.
11) Be very AFRAID of large menus, anything that reads like a novel is a red flag for me. It’s a lot of food to constantly prep and rotate and keep fresh. The ONLY time a large menu doesn’t scare the hiccups straight out of me is if the ingredients are cleverly served in multiple ways and reappear throughout. It’s common sense people!
12) A Margarita pizza is your friend! Not much withstands the heat of a pizza oven. If you have hit rock bottom and are stranded on a street that makes you want to climb out of your skin and boil it! Then pizza is your best bet, no toppings and if you are particularly concerned about seeing another sunrise, then don’t eat the crusts.
13) Last but not least for this soiree into the do’s and eeks of eating out, the holy grail, the toughest contender you might ever meet, the BUFFET (we pronounce the T in my home). This maze of chaffing dishes daring you to stick your spoon in renders me a bit speechless. Let’s hope you have honed your skills a bit by the time you face this beast. Celiac is a good condition to wield if it all seems hopeless. Whole chunks of meat rather than bobbing for drumsticks in gravy is generally a good tactic. Sticking to starches (forget the diet, this is Russian roulette with your life) is also usually what you’ll find me doing. Say no to coleslaw and God speed.
We try to keep an outward perspective at ‘They’re Wonted’. We never wanted another narcissistic platform or endlessly annoying 90’s journal type blog. You know, an online version of self-important drivel, locked in a scented tomb with a dolphin on the cover. It is only fitting therefore to apologise for this sharing of very personal issues with you all. If it helps anyone then fabulous (I shall convince myself that it has, regardless) otherwise, as you were, enjoy your sushi, I’m sure you’ll be fine.
Tormented but avid Café frequenter ( I soldier on!)