Friday, 21 August 2009

Eating out in the USA

I've never really done hotels, I'm a caravan guy really. But it isn't easy to get a caravan over to California so for the last week or so Sarah and I have been living in hotels. Not that I have anything against hotels you understand – they're very nice. You get electric light and wireless internet and a bed that you don't have to construct from seat cushions every night. And in the morning you don't have to walk in sheep poop to get the water. And the toilet actually flushes. Wow!

But there are disadvantages. Every single meal has to be eaten out. No nipping out to ASDA for a quick salad or a tin of something. This is hard. There are decisions. There is expense. There are rituals. We've done the odd hotel weekend before, in the UK, and the eating-out part is never easy. You wander around comparing menus and prices and looking for the veggie options and sometimes it's fun. But other times you just want something simple and homecooked... and light. So here's where it gets hard. The food here is different. We've been touring the coast, and whenever you are on the coast you are 'tempted' by seafood. Well let me make it clear, I am never tempted by seafood. I like my seafood to be square and white and frozen - fresh from the factory floor. This stuff that arrives in nets and looks up from your plate with sad little eyes has never appealed to me. Then there's the coral-coloured aliens with claws and tentacles and multi-jointed legs that sit on your plate looking like something beamed up from the planet Zog. Faced with this kind of 'treat' my vegetarianism morphs into good old-fashioned xenophobia.

So we skip the seafood and look further afield. But everything is different in California. We've never even heard of half of the vegetables. Are they vegetables? Or are they some sort of lizard?

We've had a good breakfast so we only need a snack for lunch; a sandwich. But a sandwich in California comes in the form of a market garden between two halves of a loaf. And it's served with a side salad. We can't finish. No way can we finish. So we're given a box into which we are invited to pack away the left-overs and take them away with us. What to do with a box of three-quarter sandwiches?

Then it's time for tea. Another search for a restaurant. Italian this time. We get iced water before we've even settled. And a bowl of bread. Heavy bread with butter. More salad arrives – mountains of salad. The ice water is topped up. I'm out of the game before the pasta is delivered, a deep, heavy bowl of pasta with exotic and wonderful veggies that I can't even name. It comes with garlic bread. I love garlic bread and this garlic bread is the best. I can't even come close to finishing any of it and here come the doggie-bag boxes again. We leave the restaurant clutching boxes the weight of house bricks. What are we to do with them? It seems insulting to leave the left-overs behind; a criticism of the chef's abilities. But when are we supposed to eat the stuff? Breakfast is paid-for already and I don't want to supplement it with cold pasta. And we still have the sandwiches. And nothing looks quite so appealing when it's a day old.

It's a problem. We're building up a considerable stock of old food. We have baggage weight restrictions when we fly. What are the limits on imported pasta? If you are passing Santa Barbara and feeling a bit peckish why not stop by and help us out.

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