Salad days

Food takes a bit of getting used to in this country, and not because it’s not good. There are some incredible high-end restaurants in New York, and plenty of local places that have really great food.

No, the problem isn’t eating, or even that other presumed bane of American existence, eating too much. The difficulty is actually how to order the damn stuff in the first place.

As anybody who has ever seen the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld will be able to tell you, there’s an amazing amount of ritual involved in ordering food in New York. And no more so than when you want to lay your hands on a sandwich or salad at lunchtime.

For a start, there’s so many sodding choices. Want a salad? Would that be mesclun, romaine or spinach, sir? And what would you like with that? Carrots, onions, toe-may-toes, broccoli, green peas, garbanzo beans(what’s wrong with the humble chick pea, huh?), asparagus, corn, alfalfa, cauliflower (in a salad??), chicken, turkey, bacon, tuna (or too-na, as they call it here) – the list is endless. And that’s before you get to the dressings – vinaigrette, honey mustard, blue cheese, raspberry, sesame, lime chipotle, wasabi ginger etc etc…as well as reduced-fat and fat-free versions of everything.

All of that would be fine, if it wasn’t for the requirement that your entire order has to be barked at the server in less than 2.5 seconds. Anything ordered after the deadline will be ignored, or more likely, assumed to be tofu.

Every time you need to make a decision about your order, the request is communicated to you in a purely non-verbal form. That’s the only explanation I can think of for the fact that each time I stop to take a breath, I look up to find the server staring at me as if I have a third ear in the centre of my head. Presumably I am supposed to have understood that the almost imperceptible raising of her left eyebrow was intended to prompt me to tell her whether I wanted croutons.

As for sandwiches, it’s all rye, seven grain, pumpernickel, sourdough, wholewheat etc etc. I’ve barely comprehended the spitting out of the word ‘rye’ by the time most people have a fully constructed sandwich and are walking out of the deli. Whatever happened to the glorious days of asking for a cheese sandwich, and being happy with what you were given? Even if what you were given happened to be a chicken and mushroom pie.

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