Friday, December 03, 2004

Memorable Meals
My current textbook unit with my MSU class begins with an interesting discussion question. What is your most memorable meal? Note that this is an intriguingly different question from the usual food chapter question, "What is your favorite food?" While of course none of my students interviewed me about my most memorable meal, I've been thinking about it ever since. Honestly, I think it's a good thing none of them asked me, because I can't really think of just one, which would have ruined the whole use of the superlative grammar point. Here are the various memorable meals I've thought of since Tuesday.

Coffee in Mendoza, Argentina. It was the first of three times that Jessica and I went to Mendoza, and our first time out of Chile since we had arrived for our semester abroad. Sure, it was drizzling the whole time we were there, but we were so thrilled to be anywhere but Santiago, we didn't care. The whole city seemed so green, with all those real, live trees actually growing along the streets. On our last day there, we discovered a café that served real coffee, not fakey nasty Nescafe, and we sat there in the tiny café, savoring our coffee, eating our medialunas, and looking out at the gloriously green rain.

Formal dinner in Taiwan. The first day my mom and I were in Taiwan, our hosts took a "scorched earth approach" to jetlag, running us non-stop on a full schedule of tourist activities from our arrival at 6am until about 10pm. The last activity was a 3-hour-long formal dinner. I remember dish after dish being brought to the already extremely full turntable in the middle, and I wondered if it would ever end. I was doing my best to be polite and try everything in front of me, but I was so exhausted I was both losing coordination and starting to feel sick. I remember that the frog leg someone told me to try was all cartilage and I had to spit it out, and the giant slice of yellow fish egg they gave me was so salty I almost gagged. My introduction to "real" Chinese food. (A few days later, while my mom was giving a speech, I took my boxed lunch up the hotel room and taught myself to use chopsticks so well I was depositing all the unwanted individual peanuts out of my food onto my mother's plate at the next meal. The food got better, but not more memorable.)

Asado for my parents in Santiago, Chile. When my parents came to visit me in Chile, my host mother decided to make a big dinner for them. It is perhaps the only time I well and truly liked all the food I was served for a meal there. Alvira, the nana, actually made empanadas from scratch, the only authentically Chilean food I liked, and the only time I ever had it in the house. Then my host mother and her boyfriend got the grill going in the backyard and grilled an amazing selection of beef. With the Chilean bread around it, it nearly melted in my mouth. We all sat in the backyard, listening to my host mother's boyfriend talk about his job and the merits of moving to another country, my host mother and her oldest son ocassionally contributing additions or opinions, me ocassionally contributing translation, and everyone involved getting an awful lot out of a conversation that was never fully in one language or another.

Fancy dinner in Hangzhou, China. Who can forget the laughable debacle that was the fancy formal dinner given by Lee's aunt's friend in the formal dining room of her 5-star hotel, with the specially drawn up menu? We foreigners were trying to be on our best behavior, since this woman was being extremely nice to let us stay in her hotel at a very discounted price for our last weekend in the city. Instead, Liz spilled her (mostly full) drink all over my place, only saved by her remembering how to say "Sorry!" in Chinese. I dropped a thin slice of meat directly into my soda, only partly saved by my looking quietly horrified and the fact that not everyone noticed. Marcus got up and walked around the table with one of the serving dishes, serving all the women and being a complete, overblown flirt. It ended up being a "let the funny foreigners entertain us with their bizarre antics" kind of meal. The most memorable food was the sweet red bean dumplings in the shape of tiny birds, rabbits, and hedgehogs.

Soba in Sendai, Japan. Kamiyama-sensei and I had a regular soba restaurant that we frequented whenever we could go out to lunch or dinner. It was a tiny place, as most restaurants in Japan are, with absolutely delicious soba, hot barley tea, and the nicest woman owner who always gave us Y100 coupons for our next visit.

Onsen meal in Fukushima, Japan. I'll let you read the whole blog entry about that one. Maybe this should take the cake as the most memorable meal ever, due to the only-just-barely-dead, still twitching sashimi carp we ate.

I have noticed that all of these memorable meals are in other countries, but that is why they tend to stand out, because they were so unusual. I have many favorite foods, favorite restaurants, and favorite people to eat with, but none of those are really the answer to the question.

Let's see if I can start a new meme. What's your most memorable meal?

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