Food, glorious food!

We’re due to visit a friend in another part of the country.

Weeks before our departure, my friend showed signs of a panic attack. She sent me emails, asking: “What would you like to eat? What do you not eat?” “Are you a vegetarian?”

After reading my posts about dogs, she finally had a meltdown. She revealed, “I do have 2 dogs you know.”

Welcome to the British hospitality.

Image by carnicula via Flickr

Image by carnicula via Flickr

Be grateful:

I don’t like my guests to be difficult, and so I wouldn’t like to become one myself. Be grateful. Don’t ask people to prepare what you want to eat. Behave like a pig: eat what you’re given. It’s the excitement about travelling: being a bit different from your normal life. I always tell my son that unless it’s medically necessary — such as if you have a nut allergy or if you have coeliac disease or if you’re diabetic, you shouldn’t be a difficult person when it comes to food. However, he doesn’t seem to understand this message sometimes. He and his father still refuse to eat some of the Chinese delicacies that I eat, like chicken feet.

Many years ago, I invited two Chinese friends for dinner. I knew they were very religious. They lived in a commune in London and they were vegetarian. Understanding that they were vegetarian, I spent the whole afternoon boiling some lovely vegetable soup for them, adding ginger, garlic, herb and spring onion to enhance its flavours. However, they arrived with bags of food, mainly tofu, in many shapes. They refused to drink my soup. I did wonder, why did they prepare animal-shaped tofu bites? If you are a genuine vegetarian, surely you shouldn’t even show any desire for animals?

Food with stirring desires:

They explained that they always brought their own food when they visited friends. They belonged to a specific sect of an oriental religion from Korea. They are more than vegetarian. They are not allowed any ingredients which are linked with desires, such as ginger, garlic, chilli and spring onions.

Image by Rhino Neal via Flickr

Image by Rhino Neal via Flickr

Though I respected their choices, I must admit I felt rather annoyed. You can tell that I’m not a purist. I’m very prepared to sell my soul to the devil in exchange for ginger and hot chilli.

Food is an emotive subject. My 80-year-old mum had been through hunger in her life, therefore, she could never comprehend why today’s people would refuse meat. For her and the older generation, it’s illogical to refuse meat, as eating meat would make you fat, and being fat is a sign of fortune and good health.

When a mathematician cooks:

At home, we eat rather well. My husband, the mathematician, loves cooking, especially when he’s stuck with maths problems and needs to find an outlet. The problem is, when a mathematician cooks, he is scientific and he would keep asking your opinions afterwards. You can’t give a simple comment as “Lovely! I really enjoyed that.” You have to comment on the texture, combination of herbs used, intensity of flavour, thickness of sauce,  and even the presentation of food.

And, the mathematician will need all utensils and pans from the cupboard because, apparently, each tool has a different purpose.

According to the man, a saucepan is for cooking liquid, a frying pan is for dry cooking, a sauté pan is for cooking with a thin layer of liquid. When I cook, a simple wok will be enough to conquer the world.

chicken dish

For example, yesterday he cooked this chicken dish. The ingredients included tarragon, parsley, Crème Fraîche (you can’t just call it sour cream. You have to call it Crème Fraîche.) And he even added wedges of lime on top for decoration.


He also cooked this pasta dish, mixed with extra-virgin olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Though the food was beautifully presented, my son didn’t appreciate the nuances. He removed the lime, visible tarragon, parsley, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes from his plate.


Sometimes I thought, what’s the fuss of all the fancy cooking? When I cook, it’s because I have to, out of necessity. When the man cooks, it’s because he wants to create something, to have fun, and to use up all the pans.

When I visit my friend, I’m sure she will do her best to feed me well.

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25 thoughts on “Food, glorious food!

  1. misswhiplash

    you are going a long way to visit TillyB and if she is half as nice as I think she is you will have a really enjoyable visit…just remember to take the Maltesers…. anyway you can always enjoy taking her dogs for a walk! Have fun

  2. gigiwellness28

    For me, having guests over is the chance for us (the whole family) to tidy up our home. My 18 years old daughter said I’m being fussy for nothing, that we don’t need to change our home to a “display home”. But I’m not changing our home to a “display home”, I just want it to be presentable. She doesn’t understand the beauty of tidy up the house as a family – wait till she has her own family and with kids…

    We have opened our home to run an Alpha Course (you might heard about this since you’re from UK and you attend church), which runs weekly, that means we (as a family) need to tidy up in a weekly basis. The 1st week was fine, but started from the 2nd week, they no longer want to commit themselves, some would even say wait till few hours before the start time…

    I’m not fussy with food, because I don’t cook (that much), especially my eldest daughter enjoys cooking, so why would I remove such enjoyment from her, right?! Sometimes fancy cooking is just a way of their enjoyment in cooking 🙂

    My husband cooks very well (his late Dad was a chef & he started to cook for his family since he was 13), he excels in cooking Chinese food (but I’m not a big fan of rice) and steaks – I’m big fan of the way he cooks my steak, because I’m a between medium rare and rare person and he knows how to get that done correctly 🙂

    Chicken feet, what a lovely dish!!! My colleague & I had trained a Western man to eat chicken feet few years back. He told us from then onwards, every time he goes to Yum Cha, he would order chicken feet and his friends would look at him in shock, which makes him very proud of himself and continue to enjoy the chicken feet 😀

  3. Ruby

    I was brought up the same as your son: “Eat what you’re given. If you don’t like it, choose an alternative or go without. In either case, don’t make a fuss”.

    When I was about 12 or 13,mum took me to a friend for lunch. All was OK until time for dessert: “I’m afraid it’s only pears”, the friend announced. I don’t like pears, but was too polite to refuse (and mum was too mean to say anything). Still my younger sister got off even worse when she was 4 or 5. We were visiting an elderly relation who, on our arrival, told my sister “I’ve made a jelly especially for you”. After that introduction, there was no way she could say “no” – and she hates jelly (and custard, trifle, etc.). Again, mum and dad didn’t say anything.

  4. todadwithlove

    I really enjoyed this post, Janet. It made me chuckle in too many places. 🙂 have a lovely time.

  5. ShimonZ

    I think your friends who brought their own food had a good idea. Food can be very specific to a particular culture. I remember that my mother used to serve me chicken feet when I was a little boy, and I considered them a delicacy. I haven’t eaten them for a long time since then. Hope you enjoy the visit with your friend. The pasta looked very good.


    Fun post. I love preparing for guests and working the details. And I love food. I have some friends with picky eater kids. It drives me nuts and does not seem gracious at all. I try to be understanding but it’s a challenge.

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  8. JoV

    All valid statements Janet. Back in Malaysia, people either refuse pork or don’t eat beef for religious reasons but it’s hard to cook for Vegan and your Korean friends’ brand of vegetarian. If you are going to bring your food, they may as well don’t ask you to cook!

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  22. Hari Qhuang

    What you experienced with your vegetarians friends was what I imagined would happen if I invited my vegetarian friends over for dinner, which is why I never do it.

    It is especially hard if they are “Su Vegetarians”. These vegetarians do not eat many non-meat things. The worse thing is, these vegetarians do not always exclude the same food on their diets.

    I know that they generally do not eat cilantro, chive, garlic, scallion, leek and onion. I have been scolded because I almost let one of them eat something containing celery!


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