Whether it’s worrying about social distancing in supermarkets or obtaining another slot for your online delivery, it’s interesting how, in these days of Covid, food has become uppermost in our minds.
In this household, meals are one of the few things around which we structure our day. I would go so far as to say that our day revolves around food.
No more quickly snatched meals. We plan our lunches and take turns to cook them. Our evening meal will be something light such as the home-made soup described in an earlier blog. It’s also likely to be less leisurely. Evening meals tend to be more rushed because there’s a Zoom meeting to attend, a story to read via Face Time or the NHS clap – which sounds rather like another dreadful disease. But who would choose to miss the 8pm Thursday shout out for the NHS because they were too busy scoffing their dinner?
When I want to distract myself from negative thinking, I imagine what I would choose to eat if we were going out for lunch or dinner the next day. Eating out used to be such a regular event for us. A pleasure we took for granted. Now, we ask ourselves, rather like condemned prisoners choosing a meal before the execution (but in reverse) what would we choose to eat if and when this lockdown ever becomes relaxed enough for us to be able to eat out in a restaurant.
For me, it would always be duck. Crispy Peking duck with pancakes, hoisin sauce, thinly sliced cucumber and shredded spring onions. In fact, next Sunday we have ordered one from Ocado to cook for ourselves. But it won’t be the same experience as eating out in our favourite Chinese restaurant. In fact, it’s more likely to remind us of what we are missing!
I haven’t always liked duck. Contrary to an earlier post when I implied that we have never had a bad experience with French food, that wasn’t always the case.
When we were first married – see post on 25 April – OH (other half) and I were pretty short of money. On holiday, we always used to wait until the last night to treat ourselves to the best and most expensive meal. We know now that the two don’t always go together.
One year we were on our way to the ferry port after an enjoyable holiday in Northern France. We checked into a hotel in a small village and then went out in search of a meal. The village consisted of one large square around which there were many restaurants. We wandered from one to another, checking out the menus and the prices. Today, with our vast amount of experience of eating out, we would always choose the busiest and noisiest restaurant in which to eat. And we would never go to a restaurant where all the diners were waiting to be served. But in those days we were inexperienced and naive. We decided to go for the restaurant with the menu that appealed to us the most – disregarding the fact that the place was almost empty.
We chose the set menu because it had duck as the main course and we wanted to treat ourselves. The first course was OK. Edible but unmemorable. Then, after a short interval, came the duck. The flesh looked almost raw. I stabbed it with my fork and blood trickled out. We called the waiter and explained politely, in our less than adequate French, that the duck was not cooked. This is how we eat duck in France, he protested. We requested that the duck be returned to the kitchen. The waiter took back the duck with bad grace. In a short while he returned with the same inedible duck. At our insistence, the duck was again returned to the kitchen. From where we were sitting we could hear someone in the kitchen yelling, “Dépêchez-vous avec le canard!” (Hurry up with the duck!) Back again the duck came. Still semi-raw and oozing blood. If we could have eaten the duck we would have done so as by this time we were extremely hungry.
We called the waiter over and told him that the duck had not been cooked enough and we were unable to eat it. We said that we would pay for the drinks we had had and the first course we had eaten. But this was not acceptable. We would have to pay for the whole meal whether we had eaten it or not. This, we were told, was the law in France when you have the fixed menu. We stood our ground. The handful of other diners looked up curiously. OH and I were starving hungry. We had a meal we could not eat. And there was no money left as any cash we had for the holiday had been saved for this one last meal. The waiter called over the maitre’d who repeated the mantra of this is how duck is served in France and that if we didn’t want to eat it we would have to pay for the whole meal. We refused. Alright, he said, if you are not going to pay, then we will call the police. Do so, we said, calling his bluff.
A few minutes later two burly gendarmes, guns at their sides, came into the restaurant. After a brief conversation with the maitre’d, the bigger of the two turned to us and in broken English said, “you have to pay.” What could we do? We paid for the whole, uneaten meal. We hadn’t even had the heart to finish the bottle of wine. All these years later I don’t remember what that miserable meal cost. All I can remember is how cheated we felt and how hungry we were. All we had left to eat that night was a small square of chocolate and a half-eaten apple.
The gendarmes escorted us off to the police station, which it turned out was a building right in the middle of the square. We wondered anxiously what was going to happen next. The policeman who had told us we had to pay now turned to us and spoke in perfect English, “Had you come to us first, we would have told you not to eat at that restaurant!”
© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems