Imagine a week where you have worked very hard: you have performed all kinds of feats of work-related and domestic ingenuity; you have crossed off huge swathes of to do lists, you have helped your progeny survive, you have maintained your home. The clock is ticking five on a Friday evening (or, let’s face it, a Tuesday) and you know that you have no more left in that capacious tank of yours.
Other than pouring yourself a drink, what do you do now? The progeny are playing well, or slumped in front of the same moving images your eyes are failing to focus on; your home looks good enough for now, although you’ll probably clean some things tomorrow; you have no energy left in your body for anything other than relaxation. However, you are going to need to eat a meal at some point.
Do you venture out to a local neighbourhood restaurant, and so outsource all of the effort to your wallet, rather than to your body? Could do, except that you aren’t anywhere near hungry, and the children will need to eat sooner rather than later. A pub which serves food sounds like a great plan until you realise that you’ll probably just get trashed while the kids fill up on chicken nuggets.
No, the thought which crosses the mind is a takeaway of some kind: searched for via a convenient app on your phone, ordered via the same. It takes everything but opening the door and washing the dishes out of your hands, and in to someone else’s. Why then, do I actually go in to the kitchen and cook something from scratch? Why would I rather do that to myself when body and soul are empty?
The problem is that I am utterly bored by takeaway food. It used to be that I would love a takeaway curry; now not so much. It used to be that I would happily walk over myriad hot coals to get a great Chinese takeaway; now I baulk at the thought. It used to be that any night out would end up at the local pizza shop, ordering something spicy, cheesy and barbecue sauce laden; now I don’t go out.
That said, I did have an Indian takeaway last week. It was the middle of the week, and it was only OK. OK doesn’t quite cut it anymore; not for me. I am a pretty proficient cook, and the meal which I bumped in favour of a takeaway – which we ate the next night – was far better: it was light, it was tasty and it took a lot less effort than I had envisaged. I’ll tell you about it later, if you keep reading.
My issue with takeaway food first raised its head when we moved in to this new house, about five years ago. In our old house we had had access to a “healthy” takeaway; one which did pizzas on a tortilla base, rather than dough (now part of our culinary repertoire at home); one which served everything with huge portions of fresh Greek salad and a pile of steamed brown rice. It was great.
That café did not exist in our new area, and we were bereft. We looked through the offerings on our apps and found nothing which wasn’t oozing gallons of grease. I’m not a fan of healthy food per se – I see flavour as more important than the calorific content of a dish – but I have grown sick to the back teeth of fatty, greasy foods. And that is all takeaways have become to me, and I’m very sad.
It wasn’t just the fat content: I grew up close to several fantastic Chinese takeaways, which made tasty food every evening, and which drew in huge numbers of local residents almost every night. In our new house there is no such thing: every Chinese dish we have had delivered has been almost inedible, and left me feeling betrayed by one of the most sublime cuisines humanity has produced.
The takeaways local to us which aren’t either swimming in their own lakes of ghee or utter betrayals to millennia of magnificent food culture are fish and chips. We have at least three – realistically six – fish and chip shops local to us, which are world class. One of them routinely wins national awards, and they aren’t even the best around here. However, fish and chips are best eaten either outdoors or for lunch, so they don’t really help the evening meal conundrum, no matter how good they are.
Likewise, we have some great cafés around here, each with their own take on modern casual dining. Be they focussed on local produce, Instagrammable presentation or niche ethnic cuisines they are all absolutely sumptuous. And full of fucking hipsters, yummy mummies and queues of people who are fans of them from their days as a pop-up food stall. They make my head explode, every one of them.
Each of these things forces me back in to the kitchen to make the thing which my body craves. I have given myself wholly to the notion that a takeaway will never give it to me, so they are dead to me; I know that a local café or chip shop will, but that requires leaving the house and braving the idiots.
What I am looking for is something fresh and foreign, delivered to me at the time promised when I place my order. I want as little human interaction as possible, and I am willing to pay. Instead, I am offered Indian and Chinese takeaways, the same menus everywhere I look; I am offered pizza made by non-Italians, along with kebabs and frozen chips; I am offered sub-standard fried chicken.
What I want is what I ended up cooking: a light dish of vibrant flavours and an array of textures. I did something Mexican, but it could easily have been Greek, Lebanese or Turkish. My partner made a few simple flatbreads (flour and water, rolled thinly and dry fried) while I chopped some herbs in to onion, tomato, chilli, lots of lime zest and shredded cabbage. I served it with pre-cooked tofu, soured cream and a dollop of shop bought guacamole. It thrilled the tastebuds and made us very happy.
I am bored with takeaways because they have become too complacent. I am bored with takeaways because they do not offer me what I want to eat. I am bored with takeaways because I see far better food being cooked in places which refuse to deliver. While I can do better than they do, I will do so.