2018-12-05 / Editorial

EATING OUT AND ABOUT

Don Lively

(Reprinted from 2010)

I’ve never claimed to have a lot of class when it comes to classy dining. The Southern cuisine that I grew up enjoying didn't call for much elegance or grace, as long as the grace was said over it before the eating commenced.

I don’t know where the term “comfort food” started but I know where it should have begun.

At Mama’s house.

She was the world’s best cook but bellying up to her table didn’t require much epicurean refinement, just a healthy appetite and a shirt. Daddy didn’t allow bare chests at mealtime.

So, as I moseyed my way into adulthood, it became necessary to expand my horizons a smidgen.

I learned to love trying foods from different cultures and countries and I usually found the dining experiences to be fun and interesting.

But not always.

Eating haggis in Scotland was memorable but one time was a gracious plenty.

Never again would be too soon.

Some dish reputedly made from gourds and goat milk in a border town in Mexico didn’t sit well.

But some of my most ill-fated eating encounters happened smack dab in the middle of America.

Years ago friends invited me to a well known Chinese restaurant in downtown Denver. Actually, it was Mandarin but I didn’t know the difference. Still don’t. I ordered something called Hunan Beef. The picture on the menu looked delicious but came with an ominous warning.

“The peppers are very hot. They are only for flavor and garnishment. We do not recommend that you eat them.”

My friend confirmed the pronouncement and added, only half jokingly, “You’re not man enough for those peppers.”

Naturally, I took that as a toss of the gauntlet.

“I’m Southern, by God, and I can eat anything.”

I should have caught a clue when I pinched off a little piece of one of the wrinkly, dark purple pods and could actually feel my finger tips deaden a bit. But Dixie pride knows no quit.

I popped the pepper in my mouth and before it even landed on my tongue my head involuntarily snapped back on my neck and I found myself staring straight up at the ceiling with blue flames coming out of my right nostril and my left ear. Under the circumstances howling seemed perfectly appropriate.

So I howled. I started running laps around the table and shoving ice cubes down my throat.

Then it got really hot.

I vaguely remembered, “If your face ever catches on fire, stop, drop and roll.”

So, I rolled.

I started having visions.

I began prophesying.

My friends later told me that I sang “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog” to the hostess but I have no memory of that.

I finally regained control but to this day I still dive for cover every time I hear a fortune cookie break open.

Another time a lady friend talked me into going for sushi. I’d had sushi before and wasn’t real excited but she told me that the place served “the latest thing” in Japanese raw food cuisine.

I had no idea what that could be.

After wine and spring rolls the sushi chef brought out my order. One plate had a few unidentified greens, a small dab of wasabi and rice. A second plate held a tiny, whole striped fish that wasn‘t much bigger than a trout lure.

There was one small problem.

The fish was still moving.

Yep.

Alive.

My friend was beaming radiantly across the table and the chef was sharpening his knives.

I assumed it was a prank.

I was wrong.

“It’s all the rage in Europe and Asia,” she said.

I could find no words.

“I carve now,” said the chef as he moved the blades menacingly toward the defenseless thing flopping around in front of me.

Up to that point every fish I’d ever eaten had been murdered before it was set before me.

This time I was to witness the carnage.

I regained my speech.

“No, you will not carve now. You throw this little stump knocker back in the pond for a few more years. When he grows up, gut him, scale him, deep fry him and then I might eat him.”

I handed him back my plate.

“In the meantime, please bring me a Teriyaki steak. Well done,” I said, then added, “And a shot of Jack. I‘m traumatized.”

I’m not opposed to eating flesh, but I try to refrain from consuming anything that still has the ability to object.

Food should not be served still breathing.

So, make mine roasted, grilled, blackened, even chowdered, but never still alive.

And hold the purple peppers.

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