Fish, Chips and Curry Sauce

You can tell a lot about someone from their sandwich order. It’s hardly the most earth-shattering of observations, but I stand by it. So, let me set the scene: you’re in your local friendly neighbourhood sandwich shop – or a Subway – and you’re there with someone you barely know. New in-law, new colleague, potential drinking buddy; no one cares, order a sandwich. Do you know what you want?

Good, now pay attention to what they are asking for. You see, how peculiarly particular people are about their food choices is not universal – no matter how vehemently some people will attempt to convince you to the contrary. What that means is that utter ambivalence (“Food is just fuel”) is as odd as anal retention (“Extra hot, no foam, skinny, sugar free, quadruple shot macchiato, please.”)

Hence, if your companion can describe precisely how many leaves of lettuce they want, and in what order the ingredients of their sandwich must – not requesting that they could; insisting that they very much must – be assembled, then you are in the company of a sociopath. It’s one thing to have strong food opinions, but to wrap your entire ability to eat in these things is moderately unhealthy.

Let me give you a tangential example. I once had a colleague who found a hair in the packet of chips and gravy she was dining upon. She promptly vomited in the bin. She did not force the vomit; it was purely a reaction to finding her food tainted by the body parts of another human being. Moreover, she was utterly unapologetic about it. We were all wrong for finding her reaction slightly unusual.

I want what I want on my sandwich, and I will ask for it in a way that ensures that I get what I want. If, however, the shop does not have what I want, I will not argue with them, I will not panic – I may take a while to make a new choice, and if I am being pressured in to making a decision, I may make a panic purchase – and it will not ruin my day. And I am someone for whom food is very important.

I have known many people over the years who are literally afraid to go to new restaurants, or to try new things in restaurants they know well, in case they are served something which they find they do not like. I don’t understand this, but I do remember – as a child – being this picky. As an adult, I will now always choose the thing I have never seen before. I crave food which I can’t get anywhere else.

Another tangential example: a week or so ago I was in an Italian restaurant in France, looking at the menu. I was not in the mood for pizza or pasta; not at that point anyway. I had been the day before, but had only been able to find a kebab shop. Kebab it was. That night I wanted something else. I saw it pretty quickly: a salad of chicken livers and gizzards. Could you fancy an offal salad? Heaven to me.

I suppose that I see most of these food issues as being childish, and that is probably less than fair. I am very much in favour of everybody being as adventurous as possible with food, which is why my four year old daughter loves olives and houmous (today). My in-laws see it as child abuse that we give her sushi, which she loves. Their food issues should not dictate her future food choices at all.

What I find hard to stomach is when these natural issues are allowed to carry on from childhood, on in to adulthood. It is natural for a child to be wary of some terrifying-looking new food; it is a crying shame when they are put off from trying any new things by the influence of their picky peers; it is a ruined generation when they go on to inflict these picky prejudices on the forthcoming generation.

I can’t be hypocritical here – I have done it myself. I was in a curry house in the town I used to live in. It was a swanky affair, with a very original menu. For a few years in a row it was where my mother and I ended up eating on my birthday; sadly it is no longer in operation. One year, I ordered a duck curry, and was very much looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it tasted and smelled of asparagus.

Most people I know are utterly enthralled by asparagus; I am not one of those people. I just can’t get away with it, so much so that the smell of the stuff turns my stomach. I used to work in a restaurant, with an asparagus and rice dish on the menu. Whenever the ticket for that dish came to my station I would dread the evil green waft rising up from the pan to invade my nostrils. I can still smell it now.

I sent back the curry, because I found it inedible. It was all down to my food preferences, and not a thing to do with anything the kitchen. I apologised, and ordered something else. They apologised and didn’t charge me. I have worked in enough restaurant kitchens to know that you should never blame them for your own aversions to the food they have cooked well. It lacks honesty and respect.

To me, travelling gives me the opportunity to taste new things, and experiment with foods in ways that I simply cannot experience at home. Where in the UK could I find a salad of chicken livers and gizzards? If I could find such a thing, on how many occasions would it be frozen food hitting my plate rather than fresh, because no one ever orders it, and it’s easier to store obscure cuts in the freezer?

The UK is very much a country where being adventurous with food is a province of the middle class. At the very least, it is almost exclusively off limits to the working class, regardless of the fact that the more adventurous ingredients are the most cost effective – at least when the supermarkets offer them to us. Cooking great food is the cheapest alternative, every time, it’s just not always practical.

What that leads to is someone who is hyper-picky when it comes to something as relatively simple as ordering a sandwich in a local sandwich shop. Whether it’s someone who doesn’t want tomato in their salad, or someone who is only prepared to have plain ham on plain bread, you can always tell a lot about someone from their sandwich order. Right, I’m off for fish and chips. With curry sauce.