“Fair warning: If you don’t have friends, you’re not allowed to eat these breadsticks. Not because you’ll end up eating them all yourself, but because you have a horrid existence.”
With all the hoopla about Olive Garden recently, it’s worthwhile to point out that chain restaurants like it are wildly prevalent because they are absolutely delicious. Olive Garden in particular has this to a science: unlimited breadsticks, salad, and soup means you’ll never had to deal with the Sophie’s choice of food selection. However, it’s the breadsticks that have given the Garden the notoriety it so richly deserves.
Face it, breadsticks are going to look like long, pale tubes of nothingness no matter how gussied up a photography major with too much time on a Sunday afternoon can make it. It’s when you bite into one of these pleasure sticks that you realize the sheer joy kept under the flaky folds, accentuated by the hot butter and garlic salt brushed on by a peddler of dreams. The too-much-timers over at Gawker and Boing Boing can suck my breadstick, because Olive Garden—and especially their breadsticks—tastes good.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa. I think you have my order mistaken, I ordered a chicken wrap. This…this is, I mean, what is this? Is that lettuce? You put lettuce in place of my tortilla? Come here, I want to tell you something. I want to tell you something like a secret. I am going to take your family away from you until you learn some civilized decency. Lettuce on a wrap, geez, don’t pull a Harrison Ford on me okay? What you think you’re Harrison Ford? You pull this nonsense again I will eliminate all the familyz. Do you understand? All the familyz.”
I have to come clean: I’ve been wanting to write about the Twister for a long time. Already banished from the US market, Twisters have been found in one form or another in the international market, catered to the unique tastes of the national audience. They may or may not (read: they don’t) cause horrific lifetime disability but I’m going to side on something known as “science” to back me up on this and say “wut?” A Twister is a KFC fried chicken strip with special sauce and lettuce, but all that matters is that biting into one of these is a gateway drug to a never-ending yearning for the sweet release of yet another.
I’ve been to China and I’ve eaten in their KFCs. Over there they call them “Mexican Tornadoes”—as if Mexico didn’t have enough negative associations from America, China decides to lollygag around and be a hater—and they are designed to be spicy and fresh. It’s been about three months since I last had a KFC Twister in China and I would be lying if I told you a part of me dies every time I leave the mainland for the wasteland of Twister-less America. I can’t use words to explain how tasty it is, it truly is a learning experience to each their own. Previous life goals include falling in love, opening a Wendy’s, and lifetime airline status. Making a home-cooked Twister, welcome to the family. KFC Twisters taste good.
"There’s a party in my mouth and you’re all invited! …Wait, that didn’t come out right.”
Like any misunderstood youth from the 2000s, cold pizza had a bright future when it first burst onto the scene, but life ate away until all that was left was a mere shadow of its former self. Cold, abandoned, slightly weird-smelling, cold pizza is the underdog of underdogs with an external image that contradicts the vast potential that can be unlocked with a little time and loving/microwave ways exciting electric dipoles bringing about dispersion of energy in the form of heat. Perhaps that is why it remains the breakfast of champions and under-sexed singles throughout the ages.
It doesn’t matter for what meal the cold pizza is allotted. Throw it in the office fridge underneath the passive-aggressive “everyone pitch in to keep our kitchen clean!” notes and there’s lunch. Pop it in the toaster oven as a tasty dinner to accompany your daily ego-crushing viewings of Jeopardy and undeserved ego-boosting domination of play-at-home Wheel of Fortune. And breakfast? The most delicious thing is no longer the bagel with scallion cream cheese overflowing with scrambled egg and crispy bacon that has simultaneously affirmed and destroyed my faith in humanity. It’s that sad, greasy leftover above, ready and willing to be a kind distraction from your life of coerced tranquillity. Cold pizza tastes good.
“Box of Cheez-its? Why go through the trouble, just dip your cracker in a tub of cheese sauce. Fraction of the cost for an unfair sextupling in taste.”
Look, you ate this as a kid and loved it. If you didn’t I’m going to assume lactose intolerance, a synonym for “I love it when my life is at 20%.”
You love it or you don’t. Oh dang it, I wrote “don’t.” I meant to write “love it.” Close one! Cheese and crackers taste good.
"You look like a man of the world, why not try pressed vegetable? It’s quite good, it has the quintessential vegetable taste that you know and love, in pressed form. You should see my kids; ‘Dad! More pressed vegetable please! We demand our palate be graced with pungent pickled mustard plant!’ You don’t want some? Why even bother visiting China? Oh, to have a spiritual, life-affirming journey that will give you fresh perspective and put your weary mind at peace. Oh if I had a pressed vegetable for every time I heard that…”
Zha Cai is a Chinese ingredient that you’ve likely eaten at one point or another if you ventured past the quadruple-fried Sesame Chicken and deathly-sugary-sweet BBQ ribs that have sadly become intimately associated with Chinese food. It’s found in soups, meat dishes, mixed veggies, and a variety of other areas, yet it is when Zha Cai is eaten by itself with a flair of spice placed upon it that the true flavor whispers it’s intoxicating being onto the tongue which dances the dance of a Thousand Fan Dances as it angles for just a flash of unbelievable succulence.
Zha Cai can be bought from any Chinese grocery store worth its salt—or rather, soy sauce—in the US, and if it doesn’t it’s probably because you are in a Wal-Mart and are deliberately trying to fail. It’s a shrunken, vacuum-packed bag of what is sometimes mislabeled “preserved radish,” yet to judge simply on its worm-like appearance or endearing Chinglish is to deny yourself a delicacy that would be foolish at best, horrifyingly disgusting to be put it okay. Get your noms on this. Zha Cai tastes good.
“Be mesmerized by the amazing patterns that form on the outside of the egg by the soy sauce, tea, and spice mixture seeping in through the cracks. Gaze into it deeper, deeper, deeper…crush the cartilage in your nose as you press forward ever closer, never letting your eyes drift or the searing pain distract you from losing yourself in the majesty that is the tea egg.”
It’s the poor man’s snack in China, the Nuts 4 Nuts equivalent of eggs. For some, tea eggs are simply hard boiled eggs pan-cooked in a thin layer of heated up soy sauce, a quick way to prepare yet another meal for one that could’ve been a meal for two but dangit that girl you were interested in was busy tonight, she had to go and wash her hair and it was her mom’s birthday again but maybe next week? Others treat it as something way beyond what it actually is, a weird looking piece of delicious.
The tea egg is a must for any visitor to the Far East, an interpretation on a staple that we as Americans have long believed was sufficiently represented through the variety of ways in which we eagerly alter it from its original state, whether it be fried, scrambled, lightly doused in sea salt, put in between two buttered toasts, or eaten raw with a dash of salmonella. Tea eggs were my childhood, and the mess of an egg that would inevitably result from my clumsy fingers—peeling a hard boiled egg truly is an acquired skill—were quickly put aside for the hard-earned scrumptious treat that graced my tongue with its traditional flavor that, as the Chinese say and which I’ve translated* here, “make happy in mouth with taste of good very.” Tea eggs taste good.
*I don’t have Chinese friends to help translate…online right now.
"Hi Rachael Ray here with a new dish I’m making today called ‘Vegetarian Sloppy Joe.' We're going to begi-…what? Yes, I said vegetarian, with fresh vegetables that'll add a healthy twist to a fan favorite. No meats! First take your b-…sir I'm already making you a sandwich. Honestly that insult makes no sense to me anymore.”
Third grade was when we learned about Squanto, practiced long division, hoped that gym class turn into a free-for-all tag period, and ate terrible, terrible school lunches subsidized by a joint collaboration between the state government and the Grade D meat disposal facility. However, on one glorious day each week, the school lunch schedule would replace Chicken “Thumbs” and Pizza squares with Sloppy Joe’s. That’s when you go home and tell your mom that today school was not just okay; today school was infinity fun. Plus one.
Sloppy Joe’s have become an afterthought in oh-dang-there-are-two-too-many-droplets-of-water-on-my-photo-of-lettuce-avocado-tomato-salad-now-I’ll-never-get-on-tastespotting world. It’s a huge glob of meat doused with sugar and trace amounts of other unimportant spices because really all you remember is that savory sweet goodness that penetrates your tongue and your soul. It’s not trying to primp itself, it just needs a moment of your time and a willingness to enter the Excellent Club of Excellent People. It brought contentment and satisfaction to your childhood, and all it wants is an opportunity to do so again, one overflowing bun at a time. Sloppy Joe’s taste good.
“All the things you probably hate about travelling – the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi – are warm reminders that I’m home.” - Up in the Air, 2009
Airport food. Cheap, mass-produced, laden with preservatives to make it appear fresh and ready for consumption by the bleary-eyed travelers who crave nothing more than a good night’s sleep and free WiFi to keep them occupied (a pleasant shout-out to Boston Logan, where I am right now). So derivative, artificially packaged, and 9 out of 10 times McDonald’s. Out of necessity we throw 11 dollars for a cold wrap and a diet soda because hey, I’m bored and Hudson News kicked me out for trying to sell them my tap water for 2.99 so they could re-sell it at 3.99 to everyone else.
Auntie Anne’s. Starbucks. McDonald’s. Laden with enough grease to make the cast of Jersey Shore proud. Tasty, delicious, quick bites that hurt the body but oh don’t worry those bad boys will go away with a couple weeks of shame and panic dieting. To deny that airport food is a guilty pleasure is a criminal offense punishable with raised eyebrows from fellow passengers and a sentence of 10-15 years of your opinions being discounted without possibility of redemption. Get your credit card(s) out and buy into the dream of gluttony. Airport food tastes good.
"The secret ingredient for my world famous chicken kabobs…is love! Ha Ha Ha Ha, just kidding it’s Monosodium Glutamate.”
Chinese buffets are notorious for their uncanny ability to deliver dirt-cheap food in large quantities to the patrons who come to stuff themselves with as much starch and over-seasoned meat as possible. It’s in their blood. Chop Suey—America’s first brush with a cooking style that would one day be misrepresented by a non-existent General and his legion of saucy chickens—was the first way for Chinese Americans to establish themselves in the US in the late 19th century, and they did it by adapting the bejeezus out of their food to the palate of those more American by virtue of slightly less skin pigmentation. Today, it’s done with Chicken on a Stick (CoaS).
CoaS is a staple at these buffets, and for good reason. It’s the familiar comfort food that transcends race, gender, perhaps even time (physicists, back me up on this one). You know the taste ahead of time, regardless of the level of burntness, dryness, or attractiveness: teriyaki with a hint of barbecue. The synergy of flavor is symbolic of ties between Asia and America which see common ground in poorly-translated Chinese dishes and a dangerous abundance of MSG where MSG should not be but is because it is God’s all-purpose seasoning. It delivers on delicious, time and time again (only before 12 am, $5 surcharge). Chicken on a Stick tastes good.
“Absolutely Perfect Palak Paneer! It’s a Perfect 4 out of 5 stars! When you think of perfection, think of B-!”
I admit my first experience with Indian food was not until my junior year of college, when I spent time abroad in Tanzania and saw first hand how vegetables and smaller ground up spices could create some of the finest foods that for a few unheard of months made me forget about missing meat. If/when I suffer for my numerous years of wanton eating I have this sliver of peace knowing that getting forced onto an all-vegetable diet will be just as delicious as the diet I’m accustomed to now, so long as it’s slathered with as much cream and butter as possible.
Palak Paneer (a.k.a. P.P.) was my first Indian love. Like an uninhibited Bollywood film, I felt my taste buds dance in jubilance to the mysterious yet intoxicating main actress, P.P., and could not help but sing its praise to my harem of scantily-clad women that I hallucinated briefly in a rapturous haze. By definition ugly, P.P. showed me that it’s not how you look on the outside or what bodily product you most resemble when showed to an uncultured slob, but the sweet, sometimes spicy personality that lies within. I adore you P.P., and can’t wait to star alongside you in the sequel “Table for II: The ‘Delhi’catessen of Love.” Palak Paneer tastes good.