I’ve had some long torturous relationships with bad eaters in my past. But the worst would have to be Dixon. He was the kind of guy who would insist on having pasta at Le Bernardin and eschew cheese at Artisanal. When Morimoto first opened in Philly, we drove down for a sumptuous meal where the only thing he would eat was a California roll. Even if I didn’t have such a one-track mind about food, I would still find his behavior difficult to stomach. I have no interest in interfering with what and how a person chooses to eat. Dixon couldn’t be persuaded to try even one actual piece of fish at Morimoto precisely because of the joy I take in eating. He was intimidated by it. And unable to acknowledge anything beyond his own limited sphere of experience, he sought to spoil my pleasure rather than share in it.
He was invited to my mom’s birthday celebration at Aquavit, where it became soon apparent that he didn’t know quite how the menu worked. It wasn’t really that complicated, but when I began a gentle explanation he cut me off: "I know!" Except he didn’t know: "I’ll have the green salad with citrus dressing… without the dressing. Yes, that will be all." He ignored the looks of consternation from the waiter and the whole family. And proceeded to sulk in silence with his $15 plate of lettuce, refusing the multiple offers to share in our food as they came multiple course after another. After dinner he complained: "God this restaurant is so overrated."
At first, Dixon’s acts of sabotage used to bother me. It is difficult for me to enjoy a meal if friends and family are not. Sociability is really at the heart of eating–thus the expression: "breaking bread." One of Dixon’s problems, a cardinal sin of sociable eating, was how he allowed his dietary hangups to interfere with the pleasure of fellow eaters. Dixon’s discontent often became someone else’s probem. He couldn’t just keep it to himself. And so his frequent (and unquiet) dining malfunctions had caused my ordinarily gracious friends and family to request that I stop bringing him to social events: "Please come, but come alone."
Dixon thought his contrariness demonstrated how he was above this aspirational consumerism, but I thought his behavior was just stupid. And, I suspected that he did it in part to spite me. Lest you believe that conflicts occurred only in hoity-toity eating establishments, one of Dixon’s worst offenses was at Big Wong, a Cantonese place on Mott Street. My family and I go there often for Boiled Chicken.* It has such a straightforward name (unappealing and dull, even), but I’ll say without hyperbole that it is possibly the best chicken I’ve ever had in life. The texture is silky, the flavor is pure, and the meat impossibly tender–it sells out quickly.**
Dixon took a bite of the Boiled Chicken and shoved the remainder of the piece to the far end of his little plate. "It tastes raw." I thought: yes, it is the closest one can get to the Platonic ideal of Chicken, biting straight into its juicy thigh. Okay, I realize how gross that sounds to, well, probably everyone. But this chicken is so simple and startling in its honesty. With its pale bumpy skin looking too much like skin, bone still red with marrow–it resemble too closely, perhaps, to its form when alive. Big Wong’s Boiled Chicken is a source of unease for those who would rather think of their food not as the living but as something best described as "Comestible Units." They would prefer to hide that dirty deed of slaughter in the cloying nectar of General Tso.
I could say that Dixon’s tastes buds have been rendered insensate through systematic exposure to processed shit. Some might question my own anger. But when Dixon said "raw" what his face meant was "dirty". He doesn’t like eating the food my family eats. That is, he doesn’t eat foods of people he deems filthy, which as far as I could tell excludes all cuisines except Korean, New York Italian, and turkey sandwiches (if that can be called a cuisine). It brought all those flashbacks of school lunches: of repressed anger, of those expressions of disgust, of my own guilt over the food my mother prepared, of children promoting the superiority of their bologna fucking sandwiches. So who is this little man who presumes to judge me for what I eat?
*I also love their congee–my favorite is the thousand-year-old duck egg and lean pork. You can be sure I didn’t bother suggesting it to Dixon.
**When this happens, Big Wong sometimes substitutes the inferior Boiled Chicken from their brother restaurant Wing Wang. The Wing Wang switcheroo throws me into such a rage that I fancy my skin might turn hulk green and I might just bust out of my clothes. Raaahr!
Tagged: , Big Wong , Roast duck , Roast pork , Soy Sauce chicken , Sold out of Boiled Chicken, again! , restaurant , Chinatown , New York , NYC