On food pref­er­ences

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In her lovely lilt­ing ac­cent she de­scribed it as “a crispy breaded dome of ’ot, oozy gruyere”. It was, she said, served “wiz a let­tle moutarde, a let­tle cor­ni­chons”. Now I have never met a cheese I didn’t like, plus I was very, very, hun­gry, and the restau­rant was dark, un­der­ground, and (usu­ally) im­pos­si­ble to get into, with beau­ti­ful young things draped here, there, ev­ery­where, and some kind of smoky, French jazz on the stereo. All things con­sid­ered I could have eaten our wait­ress and her hot dome right there on the spot.

If we are de­fined by our ap­petites then I am ut­terly glut­tonous, se­ri­ously ob­ses­sive, rel­a­tively ad­ven­tur­ous. My re­la­tion­ship with food speaks to my most cen­tral con­tra­dic­tions. The high­brow bogan. I am the one at the ta­ble who has an ex­pla­na­tion for sous-vide; knows dosa hail from South­ern In­dia, roti from the North; and pre­tends to be all over Nepalese timut pep­per (2019 food trend alert). How­ever, I pre­fer cheap, nasty milk choco­late to the dark stuff and would take a packet of Twisties over a bowl of ce­viche, any day. The fru­gal gour­mand. Rub­ber spat­u­las and teeny, tiny Tup­per­ware con­tain­ers are my best friends. I will save half a tea­spoon of aioli to be spread on a bread roll for lunch the next day and hap­pily spin out a meal for four from two left­over sausages. None­the­less, I can put away a litre tub of mint choc chip ice­cream in one sit­ting. The rou­tine-fo­cused fad­dist. Af­ter the in­dul­gences of the week­end I look for­ward to my usual week­day meal of a small bowl of gra­nola or por­ridge with Greek yo­ghurt and some kind of sea­sonal fruit, and a soli­tary poached egg on thickly but­tered, thinly sliced Vogel’s, sprin­kled with grated tasty cheese and washed down with a mug of very hot English Break­fast tea with a dash of blue milk. But I grow antsy when the list of restau­rant open­ings jot­ted down in the back of my di­ary that I want to try grows un­wieldy, when I dis­cover an­other new Whit­taker’s col­lab on the su­per­mar­ket shelves I have to sam­ple.

While I am not con­vinced there is any­thing par­tic­u­larly telling about whether some­one is a Li­bra or a Sagit­tar­ius, whether their favourite colour is yel­low or baby pink, ask them what they would choose to eat for their last meal and I be­lieve you open the door to their psy­che. I de­light in the an­swers of my chil­dren’s friends when they come over and I ask them what they’d like on their sand­wich. But­ter on one side, but not the other, jam, but not too much, and no crusts, please, said one lit­tle girl re­cently, a child, I re­alised, whose outer shy­ness hid a steely core.

I am con­vinced that food, both through its prepa­ra­tion and in its ac­tual eat­ing, re­veals al­most ev­ery­thing about a per­son. Our food choices as unique to each of us as our toi­let­ing habits, our sex­ual de­sires, yet these are things we (nor­mally) do in pri­vate. Most of us could never con­ceive of get­ting it on en masse, an­swer­ing the call of na­ture in a crowd, but we will cheer­fully enough sit along­side each other in some cav­ernous food court, lick­ing KFC off our greasy mitts, suck­ing slip­pery noo­dles through pursed lips, clean­ing may­on­naise from our chins with the tips of our tongues. Such in­ti­mate acts, so freely per­formed in pub­lic.

“A let­tle more bread,” asked the wait­ress when she found me about to wipe up the last traces of cheesi­ness with a fin­ger. “Ahhh, sorry, errr, so em­bar­rassed,” I mum­bled. “No need,” she said. “Iz too good, non? You must.” And so I did. I wiped it clean. FOL­LOW­ING ON Groups, says Kristina, are not re­ally for her, and travel is not re­ally for her hus­band. “I some­times en­ter­tain the thought of a cruise ship trip: the lux­ury, the pools, the movies, the unique ex­pe­ri­ence, the as­ton­ish­ing fit-out like a movie set. And then my mind wan­ders to all the oth­ers on board do­ing ex­actly the same ev­ery day and the thought sick­ens me. It’s not real life, not even a real hol­i­day. It’s not gen­uine, it’s con­trived. Give me a lonely beach bach with a lit­tle well-stocked dairy nearby and just the dairy owner to talk to and my sweet man.”

I will save half a tea­spoon of aioli to be spread on a bread roll for lunch the next day and hap­pily spin out a meal for four from two left­over sausages.

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