Thursday, 13 October 2011

My culinary experiences (Part two)

(click here for part one of my culinary experiences)

I can’t help it, but something that has always grabbed my attention is food. Call me a glutton or rude or uneducated, but if food is involved you have my attention. You will therefore understand why, when I received an email that invited me to a “Software Test Automation workshop", my ears perked up and my heart rate increased and my palms got a little sweaty. You could mistakenly think that I was in love but the real reason was that my eyes had scanned the email and the neural receptors in my brain instantly picked out the words “free lunch”.

Like I said, I can’t help it. We all have our weaknesses, and our price. At the best of times the word “lunch” gets my attention, but if the word “free” is used in the same sentence all the lights in my brain start to flash and bells begin to ring and I must be careful not to drool all over the keyboard. Apparently this was their way of luring members of the “IT Nerd” demographic to their workshop, and apparently it worked. The existence of a free lunch is a topic that has long been hotly debated. But, I argued, be it free or not, this it was worth a shot.

The morning session was mostly yadda-yadda yap-yap, with a few bla-bla-s thrown in. I would be the first to admit that it was somewhat of a challenge for me to keep my thoughts on the topic at hand and not to meander off to pork ribs, potato salad or steaming garlic bread. After what seemed like an eternity, the session finally came to an end and the nerd-brigade set off in a westerly direction in search of food. The first place we got to was a little non-descript burger joint, but none of us could stomach the proposition of a McDonalds impersonation. Next choice, Nando's. This is where yours truly had to whip out the handkerchief again to mop up the drool. We were firmly set on this course until some idiot came up with the bright idea of ditching Nando’s and going for the Japanese spot next door. "no... Noo,... NNOOOO!!!!!" I screamed deep inside but peer pressure won - Japanese it would be.

Given that they were paying I thought it wise to quietly accept the situation with calm resignation and just hope for the best. They would certainly not have approved if I made unhappy noises. Within minutes I looked like Robinson Crusoe when he gazed out from his deserted island seeing his ship sink beneath the waves. I shared that far-away look of utter helplessness and despair, but really I was just trying to figure out their menu. The last thing I wanted was for my food to stare back at me from my plate. If it wasn’t for the pictures I would have been reduced to tears, but I managed to hold my pose and ended up ordering something that appeared somewhat edible, on rice. This, as it would turn out, was a mistake.

It’s not that there was anything wrong with the “something” (I think it was some or other pork creation but it tasted like chicken). In principle I also don’t have any problem with rice. In fact it’s probably the safest option in a Jap-joint because at least I am familiar with it. No, the problem came in with their so called “cutlery”. I realised this a little late and before long I was walking back, armed with my food in the one hand and cutlery in the other, in the form of two long thin chopsticks! Really now! It’s like trying to comb your hair with a pen! The Japs brought us the first calculator, the first digital camera and CDs, but they couldn’t come up with something as simple as the humble fork? In these modern times of technology, global trade and the internet you would have thought that they would learn something from us, but sadly this is not the case. No, eating your lunch with sticks is apparently still very much the done thing.

And thus we arrived back at the office. Everyone took their seats to start the feast and my personal contest began. All around me people started to dig in to their kunshikatsu or tonjiru like there’s no tomorrow, while my one chopstick is pointing north-east and the other south-west. Just as I manage to get the two pointy ends together I press a little hard and you just see rice flying. The more I try to concentrate, the more my food starts to resemble a cockroach on a hot stove plate. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Japanese food (so long as it doesn’t stare back at you). In fact, it is really yummy, which means the torture was so much worse! Imagine this; you have been waiting the whole morning for this moment. You are physically and mentally prepared for a feast, your hands shake, you start to salivate by the bucket loads and have trouble controlling your thoughts. Then the time finally comes. The aroma hangs heavy in the air, in front of you is something that’s just begging to be devoured. You can hear the feasting all around you but your food remains painfully out of reach. Torture!

Eventually I couldn’t bear the battle of the chopstick any longer. I vaguely remember that I threw them to one side and in an act of desperation, and with maybe just a little too much enthusiasm, started to look for anything that resembled a fork. Chairs scattered and tables shifted and every cupboard and drawer was flung open. The content of the kitchen was meager to say the least. It consisted of the typical useless articles that you would find in any office kitchen – a serviette or two, a few lost packets of salt, a few dodgy-looking coffee mugs that I wouldn’t readily touch, let alone drink from, a discoloured newspaper and a pen that no longer writes. The little hope I had rapidly disintegrated but the search continued. And then, just as I was about to abandon the mission, I saw it! Eureka! ‘n Fork! Granted it was an old stained fork, bent in ways you could not imagine and looking like it was last used during the Boer War, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I had found a fork and that was all that mattered!

After this rather unsavoury experience I decided to include in my book, "Practical guide to surviving in Australia and living to tell the tale", the following advice: When you find yourself touring the streets of Melbourne, you never know when chopsticks will be your only choice. So always remember to pack, together with your comb, tissues, rennies and dog eared Lonely Planet guide, 'n fork.

Part three of my culinary experiences will follow soon. Until then my dear friends, remember to be safe, bath at least once a day and eat well.

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