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The Eclectic Pen - Can I Get Fries With That? - Adventures in Eclectic Dining

By: Scott W. (Rev)   + 36 more  
Date Submitted: 2/18/2007
Genre: Humor & Entertainment » Humor
Words: 1,347

  Despite all of my whining and groaning about Heart Day, I guess it should be said that good must come from every mind-numbingly annoying commercial holiday, and so the Day of Valentines is no exception. The silver lining, of course, is the same bonus that all of the good pain-in-the-ass holidays buy our cooperation with: Presents!

This year, I received two rather fun and entertaining gifts by paramour. The first and smaller of the two was a set of juggling Devil Sticks, so now I am a danger to just myself, but to those close enough to be hit by stray flying objects as well. Maybe I can talk her into getting me juggling pins for my birthday.

The second gift was a surprise dinner at an Ethiopian Restaurant. You see, I'm one of those strange individuals who will not only try new and bizarre foods without complaint, but will actually go out of my way to sample them, much to the chagrin and annoyance of those who get drawn in to my occasional gastronomical adventures. It isn't often that I find someone who doesn't run screaming from the building when I mention trying "something different" for lunch or dinner, so being treated to a night of alternative dining was especially delightful.

The notion of Ethiopian dinning had been originally planted in my mind by the enigmatic and eclectic Stacey, who had then told the lovely and talented Diana of my observed interest in it. So, as usual, I went into this new dining situation practically blind, knowing only that I was about to try something completely different. Indeed.

When we were first seated in the restaurant (a small, quiet place just outside of Philly), I couldn't help but notice the rather obvious size difference between myself and the table at which we were seated, a small wicker thing that resembled a large, open ended vase. Being a rather large and looming person at 6' 5", I was under the impression that anybody entering from the doorway behind me would not be able to see the table, and I had a clear mental image of myself in cartoon style as a giant pair of shoulders hunched forward, the only things visible being the top of a head and the occasional hand throwing gnawed bones casually into the air. This size difference also supplied me with a strong twinge of guilt, seeing as how I was a large white American gorging myself in a restaurant whose food originates from a starving third world country. I mean, there are children starving in Ethiopia, and here I am eating their food. It almost compels you to clean the plate, eh?

Ordering ethnic food from a culture you are unfamiliar with is especially hard the first time, as you really don't know what to expect, and I normally try to explore these exotic eateries with others who have sampled the food previously. Even then, however, I will usually avoid asking for help reading the menu by employing the old "I'll have the same" line on the waiter and crossing my finger. But since neither of us had eaten this particular cuisine before, we were forced to attempt to decipher the strange dishes by how they were described, a task made harder by the fact that most of the words used to describe the foreign dishes were unfamiliar as well. At least Chinese restaurants usually have the colorful pictures to help you decide. Believe me, you never realize how used to American dining habits you are until the frightening absence of a hamburger on the menu nearly reduces you to pointing at the menu and grunting while patting your stomach.

We were finally able to decide upon some dishes that had familiar items in them (mushrooms and beef, for the most part), and it was while we were waiting for our food that I was able to take in my surroundings. The decor was, naturally, Ethiopian in design, with seemingly authentic paintings, weavings, and hand crafted instruments lining the walls. What puzzled me about all of this was the disco ball hanging from the ceiling. I'm not quite sure at what point in the Ethiopian culture the disco ball was invented, but I'm quite positive that it must have played an important role indeed, seeing as how predominately it was displayed. Another item that confused me was the rather large pile of hats in the middle of the room that resembled Mexican sombreros. These turned out to be wicker table covers, not hats, a fact that was pointed out to me in a situation that I will not reveal for fear of ruining what little credibility I have left, although I will end the curiosity by simply stating that the incident could easily be compared to slurping water out of the finger bowl at a high society banquet.

The food eventually arrived, and I must say that the food was extremely delicious and original. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you my own personal philosophy about foreign food. It is my personal belief, based on the experiences I have had, that the poorer and hungrier a third world country is, the spicier they make their food. The motivating factor behind this, I imagine, is to deter people in these starving countries from asking for larger portions. If the only food available to you has the tendency to remove the top three layers of skin from the roof of your mouth, you're not likely to ask for seconds, no matter how hungry you are.

Which leads me to another question: why don't these restaurants that specialize in spicy foods leave a pitcher of water at the table? As nice as it is to be waited on, flagging down the busboy every five minutes and asking for a refill while trying to keep tears from rolling down your cheeks becomes quite a nuisance. Perhaps they're afraid that people would start drinking out of the pitchers. And then, of course, they would have to go around and refill the pitchers anyway.

Another interesting aspect to Ethiopian dinning is the lack of silverware. The food is served on a large platter, along with large pieces of flat, folded bread, not unlike crepes. The way to eat the meal (and I know this is right, because I watched the other tables first to avoid embarrassing myself again) is to tear large portions of the bread off and pinch your meal from the plate in the same fashion that you would clean up after your dog. I know, that's not the way you would like me to describe eating something, but it was the best that I could come up with in a pinch. Eating without utensil's did prove to be rather amusing, but by the time they brought us the dessert accompanied with two forks (a baklava-type dish that, while being rather delicious, required the force to cut into it that would usually be needed to bore a sap hole into a maple tree), I practically screamed, "Oh joy of joys, cutlery!"

So, while it may appear that I am complaining about my Ethiopian feast (never thought you'd hear those two words in the same sentence, eh?), let me assure you that I had a fabulous time, and would recommend the experience to anybody interested in trying something different.

As a closing comment, I'd like discuss my use of the term "Third World" country. Looking over the previous text, I have noticed it popping up repeatedly throughout my article, and I must confess that I have no idea what the phrase actually means. To be perfectly honest, I've never known what the "Third World" actually is. However, my own educated guess would be that the "First World" would be the culture that you live in, and the "Third World" would be the world in which other radically alternative cultures exist. What then, would be the seldom mentioned "Second World"? Why, that would be my world, of course. Welcome.

The Eclectic Pen » All Stories by Scott W. (Rev)

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Comments 1 to 8 of 8
Terry R. (trich) - 2/19/2007 1:49 AM ET
IONE L. (zaneygraylady) - 2/19/2007 3:40 PM ET
Another great story.
Angela C. (rolltide1al) - , - 2/20/2007 7:07 PM ET
This was great...Good job!
Claudia (BrokenWing) - 2/21/2007 3:27 PM ET
Old world - europe new world - the americas third world = the "developing world" (politically correct term) or anything else but the above.
Desiree B. (Des) - 2/21/2007 4:01 PM ET
This story amde me smile! Thanks! Also, thanks for the clarification of third world, Claudia!
Marta J. (booksnob) - 2/23/2007 11:59 AM ET
Loved it, Steve. I've also dined in an Ethiopian establishment. In addition to the "finger food", we sat on the floor as well. Don't recall a disco ball...
Margaret Y. (clarabear) - 3/10/2007 9:10 PM ET
First world - the relatively wealthy democracies, ie Europe and USA Second world - USSR and communist countries Third world - developing nations that the above 2 worlds are fighting over. Obviously an artifact of the Cold War.
Kristen D. - 4/21/2007 11:51 AM ET
LMAO!!! This story is so funny!!! I'm at work right now, (I know, BAD GIRL!), and I work at the front desk of a MAJOR hospitality guru and all of the guests are wondering what has me so 'tickled pink!' You are VERY descriptive and comical! No matter what they say about you, I LIKE YOU!!! I may have to try Ethopian food now... I do have a date coming up...
Comments 1 to 8 of 8