Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Are you a food bully?
Yes you are. Most of us are. The signs are especially prevalent if:
1. You're from Kepong/Ipoh/Penang. All places with incredibly good food.
2. You call yourself a 食家 chinese: shi2 jia1, meaning gourmet or epicure.
3. You teach home science(Ekonomi Rumah Tangga) in secondary school, which involves a lot of food science and cooking, making you a naturally good cook.
4. You are a control freak.
Have you ever felt like tearing your hair out when you see your children happily stuffing their pieholes with Big Macs, but turn up their noses at the burger you made with fresh ground chuck, polenta, real cheddar, romaine lettuce, capers, and freshly baked rye bread?
Do you know that almost uncontrollable urge to scream when your boyfriend drowns your beautifully made filet mignon/braised cod fillet in tomato ketchup? What about that time when you brought your girlfriend to the Lemon Garden Cafe at Shangri-La for high tea, where you suddenly caught sight of her gagging and making a disgusted face when you slurped down the gorgeous, fresh, ice-cold Foveaux Strait Oysters, telling you that she'd rather die than eat raw shellfish?
I think I'm a food bully, albeit a mellow one who doesn't push too hard when someone I know commits a culinary faux pas. I couldn't understand my sister when she decided out of the blue to stop eating pork: that tender, heavenly pink meat that gives you cholesterol even as it delights your tastebuds. I was having dinner with my groupie at Pho Hoa, The Curve yesterday. FYI, Pho Hoa is a place that serves Vietnamese beef noodles in a broth that's flavourful beyond description. It didn't bother me that April is a carnivore(I'm not joking, I actually think she might cry or assault you if you tried to make her put something green in her mouth), I just thought that it was quirky and kinda funny, especially when she told stories about her ex- boyfriend's mother making blended veggie soup and wheatgrass WUAHAHHAAHHAHA. Anyway, when April made her choice of having "meatballs and steak" with her noodles, I succeeded in not shooting my brains out in frustration, but failed miserably in gently trying to steer her towards the more adventurous choices of flank, brisket and tripe. Luckily my social instincts kicked in when she said with a cheeky expression that she would just try mine. I let it drop at that, instead of giving her a flying kick across the table, then clambering on top while she was dazed and punching her pretty face, all the while repeating "Meatball........ *punch*...... is...*punch*..... *PANT PANT*........ NOT MEAT...*roundhouse punch*... now order the brisket dammit!!!!!"
It's a protracted dilemma that makes you feel both guilty (at being such a control freak, cause it's none of your god-damned business) and angry(What the fuck? Putting ice in the wine?!??! ARRRRRGHHHH!!!!). Intellectually, you know it's just a matter of taste, but emotionally, you feel that food is one of the great hedonistic pleasures in life, ostensibly interchangeable with sex, as has been documented in so much literature and the hentai practice of eating sushi off a naked girl.
It feels like sacrilege when you see someone throwing out all the siham(cockles) in char kuay teow, or when someone drowns their shark's fin soup with vinegar until it's all black-coloured, or when the Japanese eat EVERYTHING - including steak and fish-and-chips - with rice. When I visited Takamatsu - the Udon capital of Japan - as a teenager, everyone I ate with told me that it was rude when I didn't slurp my noodles (Something about not enjoying the food or disrespecting the table). They would mime slurping the udon when I ate, with raised eyebrows and rapid-fire Japanese. The language was alien, but the tone was not: Hey boy! Suck your udon and make noise or else! So of course I had enormous fun slurping loudly like a garrulous vacuum-powered monster while getting approving smiles and nods, where all I would have received at home was a backhanded slap for such atrocious table manners. Or my personal favourite, when someone eats a dish of crab not by fiddling and coaxing out the succulent white flesh, but by putting the entire body into their mouth and chewing confusedly for a while, then spitting out the entire uneaten mangled mess of shell and flesh into a wasted pile onto the red chinese-shop tablecloth.
Sometimes, you even get fucked-up food bullies. They're something like the "religious scholars" of the corrupted backwater 3rd-world country located between Singapore and Thailand, implacably arrogant and self righteous when they label people jahil(ignorant) and biadab(uncouth) when they're the ones unenlightened. For example, meet the Singaporean who sneers at you because you don't mix tomato sauce with your konlow mee. LOL. Or how about the moron who says that espresso - that perfectly calibrated shot of coffee essence made mostly with the superior Arabica bean - is "nonsense", refusing even to try it, insisting instead that "NOTHING, AND I MEAN NOTHING, BOY...." will ever compare to the local (robusta) coffee he sips at the Hainanese coffeeshop around the corner. Jahil, indeed.
My brother Erlend is a contender for Champion Food Bully. When he visited me, char koay teow, fishball noodles, radish cake(loh bak kou), all the Malay kuihs, roti canai, curry mee, prawn mee - practically all the food that we were proud of - was dismissed summarily with the verdict,"It's all filler! It doesn't make me full! Noodles noodles noodles! It's all 'empty'! Give me some proper food! I'm a viking! I need meat!" He eventually came around to enjoying bak kut teh and some, if not all, our national dishes where he almost made me cry before. Of course, we could put it down to his having superior Scandinavian tastebuds (being the angmoh-loving morons that we are), but his was a country that had as national foods: rice porridge(hot tasteless lumpy curds served with butter, sugar and cinnamon *faint*), lamb and cabbage stew, potato dumplings, and giant fishballs. Plus, they eat roast meat with JAM. I kid you not.
*Please don't post any disparaging comments about the vikings. I happen to know an incredibly hot, drop-dead super-gorgeous Norwegian girl who reads this blog(and probably shouldn't *wink wink*) and whom I'm trying to convince to visit. Also, my brother has been working out a lot, and he might choose to take out his frustration on me for your comments :D
So the next time you feel the urge to tell your brother to lay off the soya sauce, or tell your dad that his porridge doesn't need an entire handful of preserved veggies, or sneer at your friend who eats banana leaf rice with cutlery instead of his hands, or laugh at the feller who hates runny egg yolks..... Pause, take a deep breath, and remember that in Japan, you get scolded for not slurping your noodles like a turbo-powered vacuum cleaner, neh?