18 January 2011
There’s a good little Chinese restaurant a couple of blocks away from our apartment. I’m far from an expert on Chinese food, so I deem it “good” because a) it is filled with people (both customers and staff) speaking Chinese; b) they don’t give you water at the table unless you ask for it, only tea; c) it’s filled with a whole lot of dishes whose constituent parts are wholly unfamiliar to me; and d) if you go for brunch or lunch, you can get plenty of food for two people for under $20. (And I was feeling pretty good about our ordering prowess until the greasy bespectacled hipster type sitting at the table next to us leaned over and told us that it’s really best to eat our fried dough with a dish of sweet soymilk. Duly — yet pompously — noted, dude.)
Until we went this weekend, however, I didn’t appreciate just how comfortable not eating meat has made me. Here’s the thing: it gives me a bit of an easy moral justification for being squeamish about meat products. I can look askance at a plate of greasy little deep-fried calamari tentacles if I don’t eat them. I can feel all smug and complacent when I hear about the horrible conditions on factory farms when I don’t buy chicken or beef. (Note the obvious hypocrisy of this stance, since I do eat dairy and eggs. Like I said, it’s an easy out.)
What I realized, however, is that not eating meat also severely limits my culinary adventurousness. Most people’s ideas of exotic food tends to revolve around the methods by which certain parts of an animal are prepared and eaten. When you don’t eat meat, however, you’re harder to shock. What are you going to do — expose me to a new curry blend? Not that scary. Put some watermelon radishes in my not-CSA box? Different, but not paradigm-shifting. Taking me to a restaurant where I normally wouldn’t go tends to restrict, not expand, my entrée options.
Which brings me back to Chinese brunch, where I gleefully decided to push my complacent little boundaries by ordering some tofu with preserved duck egg. Not something that I’ve had before, and slightly outside the veggies-and-tofu box.
The preserved eggs in sauce were salty and delicious. But oh, how the burden of my privileged liberal whiteness descended upon me in a flash when I just could not get past their appearance. See, the preserving process essentially inverts the egg’s colors, leaving the white a slightly translucent dark brown, and the yolk a dark greenish-black. Here I’ve been, feeling all smug about other people’s squeamishness about meat, when I was completely subdued by some really, really tasty, but unexpected-looking, preserved egg.
So: behold my leftovers. Behold my shame.
Before they were eaten by my omnivorous husband for lunch the next day, that is.