“We ate at a foreign restaurant last night,” says my old chum Tikins.
“French? Italian? Ethiopian? Thai?” I ask.
“Scottish. McDonalds,” he says.
“Ha! Good one,” I say.
“Actually, we ate at home. My bride wanted to eat at a Mexican place, but when I eat spicy food, my bald head sweats,” says Tikins. “I don’t like it when my head sweats.”
“What did you have?” I ask.
“Leftover meat loaf and leftover mashed potatoes,” he says. “What about you?”
“I don’t remember,” I say.
“Don’t tell your beloved wife, Marsha, you can’t remember. She probably went to a lot of work to cook something good,” says Tikins.
“She was at a meeting. I ate alone,” I say. “Besides, we cook together most days.”
“We take turns,” says Tikins. “But back to what you ate last night? Think about it — you can remember if you try.”
“You’re right. I had a handful of dry roasted peanuts, two chunks of fresh pineapple, a thing of strawberry yogurt, some grapes and a piece of cheese.”
“What kind?” he says.
“What kind what?” I say.
“Cheese,” he says.
“Oh,” I say. “Cheddar.”
“Hmmm. Let’s see. Peanuts, from Georgia, pineapple from Costa Rica, yogurt from Greece, grapes from Chile and cheese from England,” he says. “Eclectic.”
“Round Round Get Around, I Get Around,” I try to sing to mimic the Beach Boys.
Tikins covers his ears with his hands. I don’t blame him. It usually takes me about 20 notes before I find the right one, and that’s no guarantee I’ll hit the next one.
“What’s your favorite kind of food?” asks Tikins.
“Food,” I reply. “Just food.”
“I mean, what country?”
“Hmmm. I like French, Italian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese — it’s all good. But my favorite? Swiss.”
“You mean swiss steak?” he asks.
“It’s a marvel, if you think about when we were kids,” says Tikins. “Most of our vegetables and fruit in the winter came from cans. Grocery stores only had one kind of lettuce and nobody ever heard of avocados or ramen noodles. We used spaghetti sauce instead of marinara — they’re the same thing aren’t they?”
“I think so. You’re right, though. I actually remember my parents coming home from a trip to Chicago, raving about a brand new food called Pizza Pie. They tried to figure out how to duplicate it, but it came out being quite a mess. Nobody would eat it,” I say. “A few years later, everyone was eating pizza.”
“The most exotic food any of us ate back then was chop suey, which I think was an American creation, and not Chinese at all,” says Tikins. “It came out of a can.”
“We went to a restaurant a few years ago with a friend. The menu said that the coq au vin I wanted came with a choice of garlic mashed potatoes or haricot verts. I had no idea what that was, so I asked my friend who had studied French. She told me that haricot verts were green beans, and that it is pronounced ‘arr ee coe vare,’ not ‘hairy coat vert.’ When the young waitress came, I ordered my coq au vin and ‘arr ee coe vare.’”
“Well done!” says Tikins. “Very continental of you.”
“When the waitress had taken all of our orders, she recapped, to make sure she had everything. Marsha had ordered a bowl of minestrone soup by pointing at it on the menu. The waitress pronounced it ‘mine strone.’ She then looked at me and said, ‘And you are having the chicken with some green beans?’
“So much for continental mystique.”
Jim Whitehouse lives in Albion.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Jim Whitehouse: Eating out can be an adventure