Friday, October 19, 2007

The Return of the Treat


(a doggie treat from someone else's Flickr)

As a child, we never had juice or soda in the house. Never did a single name-brand (or even knock-off) sugar cereal cross the threshold of our door. Candies needn't waste their time, they hadn't the faintest chance.

My mother almost never took us out to dinner and fast food was such a rare treat that you never saw two children eat their (flame-broiled!) Burger King Whoppers slower. We would pick up the burger, take a bite, put the burger down, chew each bite 10 - 20 times, wipe our mouths elaborately, and slowly pick up the burger again. Somewhere around the 3/4 point, I would exclaim that I was utterly full and cover the last quarter of the burger with my napkin, informing my little brother that I would have to eat it later. I'd tell him to go on and finish his up. At this point my outraged brother would insist that he was also full and we'd go back and forth encouraging the other to finish up, until my mother came by and told us to finish up before she finished us off.

Now my mother was a good cook, but we still were enthralled by the glamour of outside food. Because of this excitement for food made in commercial kitchens, we would eat hospital meals and airplane food with unforeseen zeal and we would get dressed to the nines and wait patiently in the car whenever my mother announced that we were going to the local Sizzler buffet.

As a broke college student, eating out was a little more common but not much more. When I could scrape together my pennies for the occasional slice of pizza or burger, I would still make it into a ritual. As I walked home with my take out I restrained myself from nipping anything from the bag, no nibble off the slice, no casual slurp of soup. As often as possible, I'd set the meal out on real china and eat with proper silverware, relishing this treat. When my cool older (richer!) grad student friends would take me out to lunch, I was as appreciative as if someone had given me a kidney. Honestly, you've never seen a more appreciative guest.

However everything changed when I moved to New York. In NYC there is no shortage of places to eat at every price point and the restaurants work around you. Even McDonald's delivers! In addition, so much of social life is structured around meeting for meals. And so I went from eating cereal at home to a daily morning delivery of a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich at my desk; from packing my lunch to an afternoon salad at the deli; and I often ended my day with a post-work meal and drink with a friend. I was never particularly thrilled with the quality of food in New York, but it became sort of a necessary evil. After 6 years of life there (and especially after all the goodbye dinners!), I'd gone out to eat so much that I was annoyed with it. I could no longer be asked to pick the restaurant and I'd developed an aversion to menus, just tossing them on the floor and begging my dining companion to pick for me. So it is my good fortune that I am now living in a town where the pickings are slim to none.

I can count on one hand the number of times I have gone out to dinner here, in Radovljica . It just isn't a feature of this suburban life. While I do often grab a bite when I make my intermittent trips to Ljubljana, dining out there doesn't present nearly the amount of stress of the New York meal. While I am definitely wracking up a list of food that I can't wait to eat when I'm in the states again (sushi, Mexican, Thai, I'm looking at you) when I sit down to chow on those meals, it will be more like the treats of yesteryear. For old times sake, I might just have to get dressed up to nines....and invite my pesky little brother.

5 comments:

Poulette said...

Camille, you must, must, must try the following restaurants in Slovenia (even if it requires a day trip):

- Ruj (close to Sezana)
- Skarucna (just outside of Ljubljana)
- Zeja (not far from Vipava)

I don't know the exact addresses, but those shouldn't be hard to find. Each and every one of them is a slice of eating out heaven, I promise. I'm coming to Slovenia for a week-end in November primarily for a night out in Skarucna (seeing family and friends comes second - yes, it's THAT good).

Camille Remarkable said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm googling them now!

Tina. said...

When my brother and I were little, we would play these kinds of games as well. If we went for some ice-cream, we would both try to lick it as slowly as possible, just so the one who finished it first would then have to watch the other still enjoying her/his treat.
We almost never went out to eat. Partially because it was too damn expensive, and partially because there weren't really that many places to go. Which was great in a way (no McDonald's in Maribor until I was, I think, in the first year of high-school, so very early '90s). I still remember this one place downtown (in Slovenska ulica, near today's Cajek and Ilich) that sold french fries. They were hand-peeled, hand-cut, fried fresh on the spot. The lines were long. And everyone smelled like old frying oil after they walked back into the street, holding on to a waxed paper cone filled with fries. It was greasy as hell, but oh so good. And I think, I'm almost certain, there was no ketchup. Your condiments options were mayo and/or mustard. Yum.

I love going out to eat here in the States. Especially because (most of ) the restaurants are more vegan-friendly than the ones back home. But, yes, it can't get tiring and old. I love eating at home too. Sometimes I prefer it.

This is the longest comment ever. But I just can't shut up when it comes to food. :)

alcessa said...

Funny thing is, I have never ever eaten a hamburger and this is due to the simple fact that I turned vegetarian before we got the first fast food restaurant in Ljubljana (it was Dairy Queen)... I can't say I regret it.

I do like to eat out, but it often happens that restaurants in our part of the world (Schwarzwald) will offer only meat dishes so we have to read their menues carefully, before we decide to go inside.
One thing I can hardly ever resist is eating in an Indian restaurant. They are often not very good, but if we happen upon a good one, it is always a big treat...
One of the funniest things about studying in Slovenia is that you get kind of meal vouchers for an acceptable price and you can use them in restaurants to buy yourself a meal I think 20 times a month. So an average Slovenian student will spend more time eating in restaurants than she is ever going to do after having finished her studies :-).

c said...

oh yum, food. i'm back in heaven here in la. after a long time of curry and....curry i am overjoyed to be back in cheap food heaven. the choices, the choices!! oh my. let's plan a welcome back dinner for the brief time you are back. i'll come north for the meal. yes yes. most certainly.