Certain places are more conducive to food-related annoyances than others. Here’s some location-specific pet peeves:
At the grocery store:
• People with 18 or 20 Things in the 15 Things Aisle
I guess I’ve probably been guilty of this myself. But I’m always incensed when it’s someone else. They always know they’ve got too many things, too, and fidget nervously lest they be called out. And they inevitably have weak rationales for why they haven’t actually exceeded the limit. “What?” they’ll say, pointing at their grapes, bananas and strawberries. “That counts as one thing: fruit.”
• Sopping Wet Lettuce
Why is the lettuce in the grocery store always so wet? It’s not like that at the farmer’s market. And why do they have to sprinkle it when it’s not in the ground anymore??
At the farmer’s market:
• Spontaneous Reunions in the Middle of the Walkway
I don’t know what it is about farmer’s markets that that bring together people who haven’t seen each other in ages. It’s even happened to me: “Sean!?? Is that you!?” But unlike many of these spontaneous gatherings, I have the courtesy when this happens to drag my long-lost friend over to the side so as not to block traffic.
At the sushi bar:
• Non-Japanese Sushi Chefs
I’ve only encountered this rarely, because I think it’s such a universal no-no. I’m not sure why it’s so offensive — I don’t mind a Mexican chef in a French kitchen. Once a friend of mine told me his diminutive white, Jewish son was apprenticing at a sushi bar. “Who is gonna want sushi made by a little Jewish guy!?” I said incredulously. I hate to sound sexist, but you also don’t want a woman making your sushi. There are just some things — my Japanese male sushi chef — that are sacred.
• Imitation Crab
A friend recently invited us to dinner — with me cooking, of course. She asked what she should get. And I asked her to pick up some crab. I was mortified when I later realized that I didn’t tell her to get REAL crab. Fortunately, she got actual crab. But she did say, “Did you know there is something called ‘krab,’ and it’s not actually made with crab!?” When I go for sushi, I want fresh, I want real, and I’m ready to drop some cash — I don’t want pressed, stained pollack in my California roll.
• People Whose Stuff Crosses Over Into My Space
At every seat at the sushi bar, there is an invisible, unspoken-but-understood line separating your spot from the guy next to you. Nothing should cross over into your neighbor’s area — not your little used-up wet cloth, not your wasabi dish, not your chopsticks, not your elbow. If your stuff crosses into my space, I will attack.
At a restaurant:
• The Communal Table
I guess this is a nice idea. But I don’t know you. And I may not want to share dinner with you — especially if you’re talking about your screenplay or how well your audition went. There are people in my own family I don’t want to eat dinner with. Once in Florence, I sat at a communal table with some Italian construction workers. One of them, without a word, reached over and refilled my empty wine glass from the communal wine carafe. That was a good communal table.
At the homes of friends & loved ones:
• Dirty Microwave Ovens
I was heating some chili in the microwave the other day when I heard that loud, telltale “pop”. Something — likely a bean — had burst. And the inside of the microwave was splattered with chili. So I took the bowl out, removed the revolving tray, and wiped it all down. Some people never do that! Things burst in their microwave, and they leave it as if it was a crime scene. And on it goes, splatter on top of older splatter… until I guess they think it forms a patina. (“Patina” is a word people use to try to make old, dirty things seem more palatable.)
• Salad That Was Dressed Too Early
It might seem as if your hosts had used the sopping wet lettuce from the grocery store above. But no, a perfectly good, dry head of lettuce or bunch of fresh spinach has fallen prey to a prolific application of salad dressing 30 minutes or more before the meal. Dress your salad lightly just before serving.