“Fucking raw fish,” I remember you saying that in response to my question, shaking your head in bemusement hundreds of feet away atop a stage next to Andrew. I could barely make out your features but to a young college student who so badly wanted to be in the food industry, and used food to separate himself from the ill-fitting suit-wearing, resume-wringing rabble of the Accounting world, you seemed too…crass. Your answers were irreverent and simple, lacking the wordy intellect of Alton Brown or the endearing affability of Andrew Zimmern. I had watched a few episodes of “No Reservations” years ago after stumbling on them as I flipped through channels on rainy Philippine nights. Mostly in passing, and never (de)volving into binging. I had also read “Kitchen Confidential” after buying the book on discount at some corner shop in college and apart from a few stories (both Tyrone the Broiler Man and the Coliseum of Seafood Blanquette come to mind) and tips (no Seafood on Mondays, no Hollandaise at Brunch) I don’t remember much. I suppose I bought that book mostly in passing as well, never having gotten lost in the depths it contained. You just didn’t jive with my idea of a lover of food; you and your torn jeans, raw attitude, and rawer confessions like wanting simple, borderline criminal (read: dirty water hotdog) food when you ate at home. Suffice it to say this post won’t be about what your shows or books meant to me seeing as I barely even knew you. Instead, this is about that singular answer you had given to a question I still grapple with today.
(Disclaimer: All thoughts here are my own and are not intended as insults. I believe we cannot separate Food from issues of Identity, History, and Culture and so if anyone’s offended by my musings below, let’s have Tea and talk about it…for it’s unlikely I’ll apologize for them).
The British practice of Afternoon Tea is said to have started in the early 19th century when Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, requested for tea – a Darjeeling most likely – and a light snack be brought into her boudoir to combat “that sinking feeling” that usually accompanied the early afternoon hours. Whether this sinking feeling was truly just a case of the hunger pangs brought about by the long, food-less gap between the morning and evening meals, or something more morose, is a point of curiosity for me. The existential realization in the late afternoon that you haven’t quite gotten to the things you said you would do today, and facing the real possibility of another squandered moment does seem to produce the same effect as hunger; screw it let’s just eat. Nevertheless, the practice spread first within Anna’s circle of similarly ennui-bound friends and later to the drawing rooms across Britain as an “important social practice” amongst those who had all the money and time they could want and nary the idea what to do with it.
(*Thanks to Amir El-Abbady and Doha Salem for the inspiration behind this week’s meal).
My passport used to elicit the same effect on TSA agents that a benign cookie tin would to an immigrant child expecting something to munch on between meals. As routine motion gave way to shock and confusion when confronted with a tin full of sewing supplies, agents opening my Filipino passport with slight boredom quickly raised their eyebrows when they saw all the Arabic writing in there due to my being raised in Saudi Arabia. And despite my obviously Asian features (never mind whether I looked more Filipino or Chinese), I somehow was always selected for “random screening”. These days I just flash my New York City ID to avoid any delays, but the questions and awkward confusion still ensue.
“Oh you grew up in Saudi Arabia? Was it dangerous?” – No the biggest threat I faced was of utterly debilitating boredom.
“Wow! You must speak Arabic really well!” – Actually seeing as there was a large, diverse population of Filipinos, Indians, and other Westerners who outnumbered the local population, I barely understand Arabic.
“Was it like…very oppressive coz you couldn’t like…drink like…alcohol and stuff?” – No homegirl but listening to you is oppressive enough an experience (not to mention having fewer vices also meant fewer distractions).