I’m trying out a modern-day media technique of showing you a photo of a pretty face (in food terms) to get you to read this post. It’s a dessert I had in Salamanca – a chocolate brownie with Incan gold (the head chef was from Peru)!
So back to my post. As you know, my most recent travels on the Continent were in Spain, where we were attending a family wedding. Now, I love many things about Spanish food (see here for evidence), but I also can’t deny that part of me that needs more than just meat for sustenance. And the Spanish don’t seem to have a very close relationship with vegetables.
This was part of the reason for my frustration during that week of travelling – everywhere we went, I had to make special requests for veggies. Often, our requests were greeted with looks that combined “Why would you want that…?” with “That’s not the way we do things here” and “I can see you two are going to be trouble…”. But I had to stick to my guns and not be afraid of looking like a weirdo as I persisted against the bureaucracy. It’s quite surprising, really, because I’ve always felt that Spain was the best country in Europe for customer service. (My husband explains the reason for this: “Spanish people, darling. They just start shouting.”)
And so, after a week of having to fight to get my greens, we flew back to London and ended up at our favourite restaurant on our first evening back. As we were seated at our usual table, I got a real craving for some fresh vegetables. You see, I’ve been reading this book on healthy eating (more on that later) that suggests asking for fresh cut vegetables instead of the bread they give you before the meal. The principle behind the eating plan is that your body will get to its ideal playing weight if you don’t get in its way with fake, processed and unhealthy stuff that upsets your body’s chemical/hormonal balance. A part of the programme is to eat lots of fresh veggies, which trains your body to want more (in the way eating lots of sugar sets it up to want more sugar) – hence my craving.
It is surprising how difficult it is to get the simplest thing on Earth that is in any restaurant kitchen. The restaurant’s duty manager looked more and more panicked as I explained that I would like some plain, cut vegetables please. Gamely, he went to the kitchen (in case Gordon Ramsay hasn’t done enough PR for his profession, I should just mention that head chefs and cuddly bunny rabbits have very little in common…). He came back and offered me a carrot soup that was on the menu. I jumped on the offer of carrots and asked if I could have just the carrots cut up. This time when he went back to the kitchen, I suspect he got thrown out.
I thought it just wasn’t going to happen, when he came back with a large oval bowl full of fresh lettuce, carrot batons, cucumber and radish. I was delighted, but he was still looking a bit sober. I realised why when he explained that the vegetables weren’t from his restaurant, but from the Lebanese place nearby.
I was impressed. People living in London often complain that things are slow here, you can’t get what you want, that service isn’t as good as in other parts of the world. However, I thought, where I had heard ‘no, no, no’ all week, I was finally back in a place where you could sometimes hear a ‘yes’. I appreciated how intelligently he had solved the problem, and I thought to myself that London could indeed do it (in Malay, London boleh!).
And just before anyone inclined to that reflex pulls out the Anglo-Saxon card from their Uno pack, I should point out that the duty manager in question was French. When I later explained to him my veggie-deprivation of the past week, he said he understood where I was coming from. In France, he said, in Michelin-starred restaurants of a bygone era, they would serve fresh, cut vegetables before the meal. The vegetables were of such good quality that they could be served on their own. And they would taste excellent. Just imagine the sweetness of those carrots and the fresh perfume of those cucumbers and lettuce leaves.
Incidentally, Cinnamon, there’s another reason you should keep going with the organic delivery!