28 March, 2008

Tastes Like Chicken: A Palette Expansion, The Boston Years


Thankfully, I like to think I didn’t carry my incompetence about food into my later years. I suppose to some extent my first big step in the exploration of new foods could be attributed to my college boyfriend (it's kind of strange to reduce someone to a term like that) and the city of Boston. He introduced me to things like “tofu” and “thai food” and “marijuana”. When all is said and done the ladder may have attributed more to my gastronomic adventures than anything else. But anyway, my boyfriend insisted I didn’t know how to cook, and for about 3 years I really believed him. In retrospect, it was foolish to believe anything about food from someone whose (self-renowned) top cooking experiment surfaced when he was stoned, and was a recipe that called for the combination of Pop-Tarts, ice cream, chocolate syrup and Diet Pepsi. All together. In a bowl.

Anyway, I have never been past accepting a free meal. When I was 19, I worked at a Malaysian bar across from Symphony Hall for nearly 2 years as the sole American (read: legal) employee. We had to show up at 4:30pm so we could all eat together before opening at 5 (and ate together again for dinner at 10 o’clock). This tradition forced me to become reacquainted with rice, because I didn’t dare touch half the shit they made for “dinner”. Everyday at 4:30pm, I would walk up the back stairs and through the kitchen, stopping to peek under pot covers to see what was cooking. Sometimes I didn’t have the courage to look, and would make my decision strictly based on aromas/odors. I considered myself open minded about these family style meals, but 90% of the time, I resorted to rice (jasmine), and would mix it with curry. However, one day I remember being excited because the cook had make a soup that didn’t smell entirely awful, and it looked like it had vegetables in it. Vegetables were usually safe. So, I put the ladle in the pot, and as I’m pulling up a spoonful (of what I can now only assume was broth, but honestly who the f knows), a fish head bubbles to the top and stares at me. Like, with its dead eyes. From then on, I always asked what something was before I touched it, and to avoid making the cooks feel bad (and to avoid looking like an inconsiderate and uncultured prick) I ended up telling the cooks I was a vegetarian. They started making me my own vegetarian meals from then on, none of which involved floating fish heads.

Boston also introduced me to take-out. Prior to moving to Boston, “eating out” meant Wendy’s or Burger King. There were simply no other options in rural Wisconsin. I can say with confidence that I don’t recall ever eating fast food in Boston. There were just too many other choices! Not that these “other choices” were “better” than McDonalds, nutritionally speaking. First, I discovered “the slice”. How fantastic was it that I could get practically ½ a pizza for $2.25?? A couple blocks from my first apt., there was a pizza place called Little Steve’s, and it was open until 3am, making it one of 3 places in Boston that I knew of open later than 10pm. It was also close to Lansdowne, which was the street in Boston with a large concentration of clubs and lounges. Therefore, at 2am on weekends, hundreds (seriously, HUNDREDS) of people congregated in front of Stevie’s, forming a line out the door and sometimes around the block. It was a wonderful time to be alive and nice in the world, mingling with strangers as the line slowly crept forward. Sometimes you met people not unlike yourself who looked to get the biggest bang for their buck in life (esp. when food was involved), and 3 or 4 of you would decide to go in together on a pie, rather than get individual slices. Might I add that in the 11/2 I lived next to Little Steve’s it was shut down twice for heath violations (rumor: RATS!!!). This was public knowledge, yet it did not affect its popularity. I also have the fortune of having some Italian blood in me, and the old men of Little Steve’s loved me for it. When I really think back on it, I think Little Steve’s was the place where I first realized the powers women can have over men, and just how far a little harmless flirting could get me (to the front of the line and a free order of chicken wings).

If it was past midnight and you were in the mood for something other than pizza, there was also a Chinese restaurant (I used the term “restaurant” loosely here) around the corner on Mass Ave. called Nan Ling’s that was open until 3am. It is hands down the most filthy establishment I have ever set foot in, but they also had ridiculously cheap fried rice, which at the time was more important than any visible (and there were many) sanitary issues. There was actually a petition one year to keep Nan Ling’s open past 3am. I of course signed it, but in retrospect I don’t see the need for it to stay open any later than it was. Who wants to be burping up grease and regret after 3am?

1 comment:

Rebekah said...

Burping up regret!! Yay!