We all love food. We've all eaten some amazing meals. But sometimes, something happens in a meal that causes us to remember it above everything. Whether good or bad, these meals always make for amazing stories. These writers share their greatest stories about a memorable meal.
Rich People Ruin Things
“Two friends took me to a higher end vegan restaurant. The food was excellent, and I mean dish after dish, appetizer after appetizer. The portions were small, but prissy establishments are like that. Monied people don’t eat much, they just sit and stroke flatware while their bones jut. While you and I might chew, they blot, converse and sip expensive drinks. I should know, I’ve worked for more than a few.
Successful dining at high end restaurants is achieved by ordering vast quantities, and ordering vast quantities is best done when someone else is footing the bill. It was my birthday so I scarfed away. My friends should have known better than to sit me down in a place like this; maybe they didn’t care, God knows I didn’t. Then came dessert time.
I ordered bread pudding. I’ll never get over it.
It was the size of a doubled sugar cube, the color of a clipped toenail, and was floating in a pool of gelatinous, off-white man juice. A sprig of something green clung to its side like the survivor of a shipwreck clinging to a piece of luggage. ‘Nearer my god to thee’ flew through my brain, but God would throw this thing across the room and smite the idiot who concocted it. All I could do was stare, dumbfounded.
‘Anything else sir?’
I couldn’t speak so a friend took over. ‘No we’re fine, thanks.’
Bread pudding was invented by poor English people as a way to put stale bread to good use. These people worked, they didn’t stroke flatware and blot pursed lips. And if they had jutting bones it was a symptom of plague, not some kind of soulless fashion statement. Calories mattered, money was tight, and pleasure hard to come by. Amazingly, out of this grist mill of struggle and misery came one of the best desserts known to man.
There are many variations but mainly bread pudding is bread, eggs, butter and a few other things. Throw in an extra egg or two, raisins, vanilla, or whatever gets your tender parts tingling. ‘Poor man’s pudding’ is versatile, up for everything, it’s not one of these nervous desserts that requires elaborate preparation, a masters in fine art, mood lighting or ambiance; you don’t have to know French to order it. It doesn’t rise, fall, expand or any of that stuff—It doesn’t flame or have a frozen lump of blah blah sitting inside it. Bread pudding is basic, proletariat, jolly, juicy, wet, and willing.
It gushes. It seeps. It trembles with anticipation like an ample butt waiting for a belt to strike.
I have no idea what I was looking at, but it wasn’t bread pudding.
I suddenly hated everything about the place: the rail thin owner, his anemic wife, the fellow patrons and their austere, tucked in and pressed presentation. ‘Boomers’ I thought, my brain hungry to direct my irritation somewhere. ‘Freakin boomers.’ My friends were smiling.
‘How’s the pudding?’ One asked and everyone broke into laughter.
‘Federal doughnuts. NOW!’ I command. ‘I’m in dire need of animal fat.’
We left and never went back.”
“It was in Beijing, and I was on a tour bus that was making the rounds of different hotels picking up people for the Badaling Great Wall of China and Ming Tombs tour. We were at the last hotel and suddenly the driver of the van received a phone call. Then, he turned around and handed his phone to me!
What?? I immediately thought…I’m approximately 10,000 miles from home and I’ve got a call? Had to be a mistake…I answered the phone and it was the English interpretor who hadn’t boarded the tour bus as yet (nervous laugh). The guy’s name was Dino and he spoke about 10 languages, which I found pretty impressive.
Dino told me, ‘Time for breakfast Mr. Anderson! Have you had breakfast yet?’ I told him no, because I had only recently woken up at the Xindadu hotel near the Beijing Zoo where I was staying when the tour van showed up. I hadn’t even had time for a shower. It was going to be a long day because Chinese tours are L-O-N-G and often grueling.
‘Okay. What do I do?’ I asked.
‘Mr. Anderson, are you still in the van?’
‘Okay, exit the van and look towards the big road that is across from the hotel you are at.’
‘Okay, I’m looking.’
‘Do you see a store front with a bunch of Chinese writing on the glass in red?’
‘That’s where you need to go to get your breakfast. No need to pay. They will know that you are from our tour. I’ve already called them. You’ve got about an hour. After you finish just return to the tour bus and I should join you shortly.’
‘Okay, thank you Dino.’
What I didn’t know at that time when I hung up was what I was in for, and I will NEVER forget that experience.
I crossed the street and entered the restaurant, which aside from the fact there was a few scattered tables and chairs and a stove in the back, looked nothing like a restaurant. Just inside was a guy behind a podium. A Chinese guy naturally, standing hyper-erect like a soldier standing at attention. He looked at me, but never moved…in fact, I never once saw him move the whole time I was there. So, I found a table and sat down.
A few people stared at me, but after having been in Beijing for two weeks, I was used to that. So, I sat….and sat….and sat. Nobody approached me with a menu. Most likely because there were no menus. Looking around me, I was checking out some weird stuff people were eating and had no clue what anything was. Chinese are LOUD, so the chatter picked up shortly after I’d arrived, and they’s all gotten their fill of me. Finally, I caught the eye of the lady by the stove. She smiled and motioned with her head for me to come forward.
In front of her was a counter. Next to the stove was a large table full of dishes of unrecognizable (hopefully edible) items. She looked at me and I just shrugged. In retrospect, it’s amazing how much communication you can accomplish without ever speaking. Knowingly, she nodded toward a large pot on the stove (smaller shrug from me), then tilted it, so I could see the contents. It looked like some white liquid…possibly milk? I nodded, and she vigorously scooped up a couple ladlefuls and put them in a bowl. Then she nodded to another pan on the table. I peered into it. It looked like salt…some granular substance. I shook my head. She shrugged…obviously she didn’t approve.
Then she brought over one of those ‘You have GOT to be KIDDING me’ items. I shook my head…she shrugged then nodded, pushing it at me. It looked like a large plank of wood with varnish on it. I shook my head. She gave me a look (one that I was slowly getting used to and which obviously communicated that I’d best take the thing) and I openly said ‘Okay’ which evidently is a term Chinese understand.
Finally, I hauled my bowl of white stuff and my wooden plank with varnish back to my table. I sat down and after a few moments realized that I had nothing to ‘eat’ my white stuff with. I looked up at the Chinese woman (who by now I’d nicknamed ‘Big Bertha’ in my mind) and sure enough she was staring at me with her hands on her hips as if to scold me saying, ‘You forgot your silverware!’ Well, chopsticks were out….definitely, but although there was nothing in view, Big Bertha somehow produced a porcelain spoon from somewhere and handed it to me. While at the counter I then turned around, scanning the tables, and realizing that others were eating their varnished planks of wood with their hands. So, smiling I turned around and said ‘sheshe’ which I’d learned meant thank you or something close.
Big Bertha wasn’t impressed. She shoved the pan with the granular substance at me again, this time with a frown (some things in this world are universal…pain, disappointment, etc.). So, I nodded, and she dished me out a small bowl of salt.
Back at my table I was full of myself. Inside of ten minutes I had mastered this thing. I placed my little bowl of salt to the side (with no intention of using it despite Big Bertha and her frown), picked up my porcelain spoon and ladled up a big mouthful of white paint…
Bland. As things turn out, it was soymilk. I secretly dipped a finger into the small bowl of granular stuff and put it to my lips….SUGAR! Eureka! Never drink soymilk without it. Well, I suppose you could, but it’s so much better with sugar.
I was being watched. Every time I looked up, Big Bertha had an eyeball on me. She had this sarcastic look on her face that said, ‘TOLD YOU SO!’
Then I tried my wood plank, which quite literally was irregular in shape and huge! Maybe about 14 inches long and roughly ten inches wide by an inch and a half thick. And go figure…one bite and I recognized what it was from all those Country Fairs I’d been to in New Hampshire. It was fried dough! The ‘varnish’ was a deliciously thick and solid sugary coating or glaze unlike I’d ever experienced and it was a sort of cross between vanilla with a hint of something fruity like strawberries or something. WOW! This was awesome! I could feel my arteries hardening.
Alas, I looked at my watch and it was time to go. I’d been there for about 45 minutes (and the guy behind the podium never moved…I still, to this day, wonder about him). I wrapped up my remaining wood plank (that thing lasted me through the day), smiled at Big Bertha who shot me a big grin and nodded approvingly, and I left.
Since that morning, I’ve always dubbed that place the, ‘POINT AND EAT RESTAURANT.’
A Frozen Nightmare
“When I was living in Ambergris Caye, a friend of mine took me to a high-end beach resort that was apparently known for its food.
Although Ambergris Caye was a beautiful place, I’d have to be honest and say I couldn’t find many good places to eat, so I was excited to try this place out.
As I’m looking over the menu, the waiter keeps going on and on about how I HAVE to try their 18inch New York style pizza.
‘People come here just for this pizza. We have people from New York who try it and tell us it’s the best pizza they’ve ever eaten!’
It was a little more than I wanted to spend on lunch, but how could I argue with that? Plus, the picture on the menu looked like a large 18′ round piece of heaven.
I was sold.
I ordered it and we waited. And waited. And waited.
And waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally, a little over an hour later, I saw the waiter walking towards us with the pizza.
But what he put down in front of me was disappointing at best.
It wasn’t the large 18′ New York style pizza from the picture. No, it was a 12′ round piece of burnt heartbreak.
Funny thing about that pizza, it had a circular piece of cardboard underneath it that looked just like something that comes underneath the frozen pizza you buy at a grocery store.
I’m normally not one to complain about my food. I normally just eat what’s given to me and go about my business. But this? This was ridiculous.
When the waiter came back over to check on us, I asked, ‘So what happened here? You guys run out of ingredients and have to go buy a frozen pizza to serve me?’
I could tell I caught him off guard; like he somehow didn’t expect me to figure it out.
But he confirmed my suspicions, apologized, and offered to remove it from my bill, so that was nice I guess.
Maybe I’m just a diva, but I don’t go out to nice restaurants to eat frozen pizza.”
Is This How Rich People Eat?
“I was in my second year of law school, a relatively newlywed, having married my wife three weeks before first year started. She was working at minimum wage jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads while I pursued my education. That summer, after second year, we would celebrate our second anniversary. And we decided to do it in style.
We saved and saved and saved. We were living in Windsor, Ontario, a suburb of Detroit. There was a well-known restaurant right at the tunnel to Detroit known as ‘Tunnel BBQ’ – TBQ’s. It was exceptionally popular on both sides of the border. But there was a second restaurant, outside the downtown area, known as TBQ’s Other Place. It was ‘fine dining’, or about as close to that as one could get in Windsor. Our goal was an anniversary dinner at the Other Place.
We made our reservations, and on our anniversary, arrived for our big meal. Now, to put this in context, we were not exactly sophisticated. Our order reflected our somewhat juvenile taste of the day, but also what passed for fine dining in places like that, in times like that.
We both decided to start with French onion soup. When it arrived, it was not exactly what I expected. Instead of melted cheese to top the broth, the bowl appeared to be filled with a granular substance. I shrugged it off, assuming that it was just the way they did things. I took a mouthful of the cheese. It was like pouring a spoonful of salt into my mouth. I almost gagged, And looked around for the server. She came over and I asked her to explain what was done to the soup. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘we ran out of mozzarella, so we had to use Kraft grated Parmesan.’ That’s certainly explained things, but did not make the food any more edible. We sent the soup back.
We also both decided to have a steak, something we certainly could not afford except for the most special occasion. We both ordered our meat rare. When it arrived, it was well done. And then some. Again, I looked around for the server. This time she was not to be seen. We sat there, our plates untouched, for a good 10 minutes, before I finally suggested that it was clear we would get no opportunity to comment on the food, so we might as well eat it. I had taken two bites when our server appeared. ‘And how is your food’ she smiled. I explained to her that we had both ordered our meat rare, and that this was well done. She immediately apologized and scooped up our plates and headed into the kitchen. We sat back, waiting for the new steaks to arrive, trusting this time the order would be correct. We waited. And waited. Finally, again, our server came to the table. ‘And would you like any dessert?’ She asked. I stared at her. ‘We haven’t had any food yet’ I noted.’We are still waiting for our steaks.’ To that, she responded that we had our steaks, but we had not eaten them. Since we didn’t like them, she had taken them back. And no, we were not getting properly cooked replacements. In that case, I suggested could we at least have our food back so that we could have dinner. Well, no that wasn’t possible, because since we didn’t like the food, she had thrown it out. And did we want dessert?
When we declined dessert, we were presented with our bill – two French onion soups, two steaks.
To say I made a scene is a bit of an understatement. No foul language, no personal attacks, but getting as close as I could to the long line-up of people waiting for tables, I loudly explained first to our server, and then to the manager, and then to two police officers who were called, exactly why I felt we should not have to pay for a meal we didn’t get.
That was how we celebrated two years of wedded bliss.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not add one further tale. When I started law school, we were on a tight budget. In fact, we decided that we could each afford no more than $15 a week spending money. And that was it. I smoked at the time, which ate up most of my allowance. The remainder went to after-school drinks with my law school friends.
Anyway, Thanksgiving rolled around. And my lovely bride presented me with a full roast beef dinner. Now it was the smallest roast I have ever seen in my life, but it was still a roast. And how had she managed this? While I was spending my allowance on drinking, she had carefully been putting away three dollars from her allowance every week so that she would be able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner for us.
How she has put up with me for 39 years is utterly beyond my understanding, but every time I think back to that first Thanksgiving dinner, it makes me try just that much harder.
A Whole New World
“I’m Mexican American. I was raised thinking that traditional authentic Chinese cuisine consisted of westernized orange chicken, broccoli beef and fried rice all in one Styrofoam plate.
My family and I would frequent places like Panda Express, Mr.Chau’s, among other restaurants, not really coming across a true authentic Chinese establishment. If it was mainstream, we’d go there.
I had worked my butt off selling, yelling and lifting at a bazaar style stand in the flea market one particular day and decided to ride my bike to the other side of town where I saw a traditional yet humble looking Chinese establishment.
Being 17, I hopped on that sturdy bike of mines and dashed across industrial complexes, homes and corner stores.
I felt the breeze run through my hair as I coasted across the bike lane, only to see the establishment coming up in the distance.
I hop out of my bike as I’m coasting it in, I unlock my bike lock and re-lock it to the light post on the curb.
This particular place had existed since 1925, the front door leading to a mini lobby with stairs to a second floor.
I walked up the stairs to the second floor to be greeted by an Asian host, about mid 40s.
I look around noticing that the only tables existed behind booths that had curtains on the entrance.
I was ecstatic and was soon led to the corner booth, with a street view that made me feel like I was back in the 20s.
I was handed a humble paper menu, with a list of specialties and a list of common items. I saw my three favorite items: Schezuan shrimp, Wing’s Special Fried Rice, and Broccoli Beef.
I pointed out what I wanted and the waiter looked at me confused for a second but wrote down the items anyway.
I was about to experience my first Authentic Chinese Food. I had no idea what I signed myself up for.
I pulled out my phone and meandered on it, talking to my family to make sure they knew where I was, so they wouldn’t worry.
About 15 minutes in, the host comes back with three HUGE feast plates, one with fried rice, the other with Schezuan Shrimp, and lastly Broccoli Beef.
I kid you not, each single plate easily filled one person, with LEFTOVERS.
The host looks at me and smiles only to blurt out, ‘Enjoy.’
I looked around on top of my table to find an empty plate, apparently what I was going to use to serve myself.
Now listen, I was a 17-year-old young man that biked to school every day, had a weight lifting class and worked a 12-hour job at the flea market moving heavy boxes and stacking shelves. The caloric intake of that young behemoth was up the roof, and my diet proved it.
I could eat Super Burritos and feel a bit hungry after. I’d eat a full plate of Chinese Food at Mr. Chaus and feel I could go for my second.
I slayed fast food, they were no match to me. I ate triple patty burgers like they were appetizers.
So I dig in and to my surprise the food was amazing. The broccoli beef was nice and soft, the shrimp had a majestic taste to it, and the fried rice came assorted with chicken, beef, pork and shrimp. Something I definitely had never seen before.
I fought through the three plates, raking in 1/3 of each plate onto mines and mowing it down like a mom at Target on Black Friday.
I finished my first wave, look up to realize there is still 2/3rds left. I rake in half of that and begin mowing it down.
Needless to say, I ended up calling the host up and asking for a to go box. He gave me two and I filled both up with the three items EASILY.
I paid the bill, walked back down the stairs like a pregnant woman with quintuplets, hopped on my bike and slowly pedaled home while holding a heavy to go bag.
My humble opinion: One of the best establishments I’ve ever been to. I will never look at westernized Asian food the same again.”
Tears Are Involved
“I love trying out new foods and I must admit, more than fair share of them turn out to be disasters!
So husband and I had been to this restaurant that had just above average ratings at zomato. Usually I wouldn’t prefer such a place but it was for a get together of husband’s colleagues with families so the location was already decided.
It was a buffet style. I went through the spread, pretty below average with very limited vegetarian options and too strong for me non vegetarian options. After having an unsatisfactory main course meal, I was on hunt for dessert to satisfy my taste buds which were already cursing me.
Then I stumbled upon the live counter that had the label ‘Thai Applepie’. Ok I like applepie in general and I like thai food, this shouldn’t be bad. So I asked the chef dude to prepare a plate for me while I waited with pleasant anticipation. And then he presents me with 4–5 tiny apple pieces tossed in butter, smeared with little chocolate sauce and 11 chocolate chips (yes I counted them).
The apple tasted like potato. I cried. And then I cried some more. And vowed never to eat at such restaurants again.”
“My boyfriend and I had an overnight stay at a local high end hotel for a treat. We’re saving so aren’t going on any holidays so it was a nice thing to do something different. We’re also both vegans and had heard good things about the vegan food there.
We went out for dinner but breakfast was included in the price. I’ve always wanted to have room service breakfast but never done it, but we’d gone out that night and wanted to sleep in during the morning. So that night we filled in the breakfast slip. We ticked off all the vegan things for breakfast. It wasn’t much – tomatoes, beans, mushrooms and hash browns, but that’s normal for us (never much choice!) and also left a note at the bottom to say we were vegan.
The next morning we’re waiting for breakfast, starving and looking forward to it. We hear a knock on the door and my boyfriend gets up to let the room service in. The guy puts the food down and leaves and I hurriedly jump up to see what we have.
We ended up with half a tomato, 6 button mushrooms, 1 hash brown and maybe a tablespoon of beans each. To say I was annoyed was an understatement! It was really poor form. This would have probably been an acceptable amount had we also had it with sausage, egg , bacon etc but we couldn’t, so surely the chef could have given us a bit more of each! Also for context we paid £100+ for the night stay and breakfast.
As we were so hungry and also in a rush, we just ate it instead of complaining, and I emailed them that afternoon. They offered us a free breakfast for our next visit which was nice, but we haven’t been back.”
Felt So Stupid
“I went to this restaurant with my friend and I ordered a cookie crumble shake for myself and my friend ordered a cappuccino.
When the waiter came in, he had got a very nicely made cappuccino and for me he got a jar of water, two cookies in a jar and a tray containing sugar sachets, milk powder and other small sachets something like this.
We were shocked, we did not know how we were supposed to make our cookie crumble shake with those cookies, water, milk sachets and sugar.
We ultimately called the waiter, and this is how the conversation went:
Me: Can you prepare it for me?
Waiter:You can add the sugar according to your taste.
Me: You add whatever you want, just prepare it.
Waiter: Should I add the sugar to your cappuccino.
Me: No, my cookie crumble shake (pointing to the cookie jar).
Waiter: M’am, your cookie crumble shake is yet to come, these are complementary cookies served with Cappuccino (he could not control his laughter and went off smiling).
Me: Face palm“
“Back when I was in high school, my Mom was in the middle of getting her PhD, so my Dad and I would go out to eat for dinner frequently, trying the huge diversity of ethnic cuisine in high tech college town Boulder, Colorado and leaving my Mom alone for 3 hours of quiet time. We were from Michigan, where mild taco sauce was deemed ‘ooooh, too spicy eh?’ but we loved new, exotic flavors.
We saw a review and an ad for a new Ethiopian restaurant, and I asked Dad ‘ever try Ethiopian food?’ he said ‘nope’ and off we went. It was 5 miles south of town at a highway interchange and appeared to be a converted old gas station. All of 6 tables inside.
We ordered a ‘combination plate’ so as to try as many things as we could, and soon the owner/chef brought out a huge tray of a dozen small dishes surrounding a pile of Injera bread. There was no silverware, just napkins.
We sat there looking very puzzled for a moment, then the owner (who had a very limited command of English) ripped off a piece of bread, dipped in some sort of yummy lentil dish, and shoved it in my Dad’s mouth with her bare hands, then she did the same for me, managing to get across that the bread was the spoon in Ethiopia.
THAT was a new one for us! The meal was huge, inexpensive, and delicious.”
“I was in Indianapolis of all places, and my brother and I spotted what appeared to be a Vietnamese noodle place. We went inside, got one whiff of what was cooking in the kitchen, and decided we had to stay for dinner.
The hostess was very warm, instantly casual, welcoming, and cheerful, but in a low-key way that didn’t demand anything of us but that we be at ease. It was like being welcomed in by an distant but extremely well favored relation. She gave us menus and then bustled off to get us a place setting and some water.
While she was gone we began reading our menus, and I immediately noticed and brought my brother’s attention to a brief history on the back panel. It related how a brother and sister emigrated to the US from Vietnam and started this restaurant, naming it after the sister’s daughter, Sandra, who was away in school. The picture beneath it clearly showed our hostess and the one cook we had seen through the service bar working in the kitchen. Those were the only two people we saw working, though I felt sure that they must have had part-time help for really busy times.
Anyway, I hadn’t the first clue what to order, except that I knew I wanted something I had never had before. I asked our hostess to advise me, and she suggested a meat and fish dish whose name was something like Clay Pot Combination. It was described as a mix of pork, chicken, shrimp, fish, and vegetables cooked in a clay pot with carmelized sugar and spices. I took her advice and ordered it.
When it came, my first thought was something like, ‘You have got to be kidding me! The contents of that little clay jar wouldn’t make an appetizer.’ Looks turned out later to be, well, somewhat less than completely reliable.
When I removed the lid and started dishing some of the contents out onto my plate, my second thought was something like, “You have got to be frickin’ kidding me!! That smells so good I may have to order three more of these, and then make arrangements to move here so I can I have this at least every other day!”
Then a little later, after I had progressed a goodly bit through my dining nirvana, I realized I was starting to get really full… and I still hadn’t emptied that clay pot. So my third thought was, ‘You have absolutely got to be frickin’ kidding me!! Seriously!!!’ I swear that little clay pot was only about a half-pint size on the outside, but it seemed to hold about a half-gallon on the inside.
That was definitely the most surprising dining experience I have ever had, and also one of the top three or four dinners I have eaten in my whole life.”
The Best Ever
“Recently, I visited this restaurant called ‘Nawab Seekh Corner.’
I was quite unaware of this place until I visited it. It is known for its seekh paratha, the only dish served in this restaurant which seats about 80 people together. 80!
We sat down on one of the tables waiting for the menu. Just then, a man walked in carrying plates and spoons and placing them in front of each customer.
Following that, he started placing seekh rolls on those plates for everyone, as much as they wanted. In the next round, he served parathas in the same manner followed by chutney and some garnishing along with it.
There was no menu to choose from since they only serve one dish.
You’d think he was carrying a note pad to remember how much each customer was served. But nope. He relied on his memory.
When we were done eating, we went ahead to pay the bill. He looks at our faces and tells us an amount higher by Rs. 20.
We were puzzled and asked him for the breakup. He politely reminded us that we even ordered a bottle of water while eating. I was seriously impressed with his way of handling customers and the accounts.
There was no fancy staff, no extravagance, and no extensive menu. Just one dish only with only one man with excellent memory serving as waiter for about 40 people.
It was a real insight into a different kind of business for me that day. I realized the actual meaning of excelling in one field is to surpass the rest.