After ordering, I leaned back and looked around the Canadian café. It looked like the hundreds of American cafés my husband and I had visited through the years. A bell on the door jingled whenever someone came in. The pages of a local calendar on a nearby community board fluttered in the hot breeze coming from the sweltering street.
Arnie, the couple we were traveling with and I had ordered hamburgers and French fries.
Thelma and Gene had arrived at four this morning at our house to get an early start. We put off stopping for breakfast, opting for an early lunch instead. As the men began to talk about fishing, Thelma leaned forward and said, “It’s a good thing I put a big bag of ice in the cooler. As hot as it is today, the food we’re bringing would spoil before we reached the cabin.”
I nodded and hopefully suggested, “Maybe we can put everything in the cabin’s refrigerator while Arnie and Gene put the boats in the water. Then we can cool off by going out to fish this evening.”
Seeing our waitress step up to the kitchen transom where plates were waiting, I announced, “Here comes our food.” A few moments later I woefully stared down at the plate placed before me. All the lovely French fries next to the hamburger were wilting under a thick brown gravy.
In the late 1950’s, a province in Canada developed poutine, a dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. Looking back, I don’t recall there being cheese curds. All I remember was soggy fries. Although I had been looking forward to crispy ones, I ate them anyway.
I like trying dishes I’ve never had, so eating at ethnic restaurants is exciting. Not everyone feels the same. One evening at a Chinese restaurant I decided to try a small spiced octopus. First, I nibbled on the tips of its eight miniature arms. They were rather crunchy, but didn’t seem to contain anything nourishing. Flipping it over, I bit off its head. The texture was similar to a pencil eraser.
Having concluded my dietary investigation, I glanced up. My dinner companion was staring at me with a hand on her chest. Her face was green-tinged. She looked as if she was having trouble swallowing.
Sometimes, when traveling, people try new foods without knowing it. When my daughter went abroad with her high school Spanish class, they were given a big basket of what looked like deep-fried onion rings. To their surprise, the rings were calamari, squid tentacles, sliced, battered and deep-fried.
I hope a few of the teenagers recovered from the surprise enough to enjoy them. The calamari I ordered on my recent visit to Spain were fresh, tender and delicious!
Some food confusion results from the language barrier in other countries. My daughter Tammie speaks and reads Spanish, but not daily. While in Spain during April, our tour group stopped at a gas station where food was also available. Tammie helped several fellow pilgrims order sandwiches and other fare.
One dish looked like chunks of meat in a rich, brown gravy. Tammie read the sign and declared it was beef. Because we ordered it, a few of the others did, too. When I took my first bite, I recognized the taste of beef liver.
As a child, I had loved liver. My mother sliced it thin, rolled it in flour, then quickly seared it in a cast iron skillet filled with caramelized onions. While these large chunks of liver in gravy were all right, I didn’t want a whole bowl of them. I glanced around at others who had ordered the same thing. They didn’t look happy.
When Tammie joined me, she took a bite and gasped, “I just read the word for beef. I didn’t bother to translate what part of the bovine it was!”
I laughed and said, “Big mistake, but you didn’t fail at the game, ‘Name That Food’. …It is indeed beef!”