“And the food took forever!” a woman said to her friend while riding the elevator of my building.
“I know!” he exclaimed. “And then it was, like, cold!”
Forgetting the coldness factor for now, and admitting first-off that dinner parties, supper clubs and all sorts of communal cooking activities can create just the same lags in time for food, when you’re cooking for yourself, the dreaded wait is over.
There’s a helplessness in the restaurant diner that recalls our days in the high chair. You can’t walk into the kitchen, see what’s happening; you can’t taste anything before it’s set before you. You can gesture and whine, but you can’t do anything to feed yourself without the segway of an authority figure, mom or waiter — and you can’t leave without their sanction, either. That’s a comfort and luxury in most cases, the “service” of any service industry. But I think we can all relate to that couple’s frustration about a too-long wait. (How did that bad joke go? They’re called waiters, because you have to wait for them!) At least you know what time the movie starts when you go to the theater. And sometimes, we just want to eat.
Then there’s waiting to get a table, or standing in a long line for take-out. I told Feisty Foodie Yvo that she’d given me my next Reason of the Month when she Tweeted that she was getting lunch one day and, “banh mi cart is crazy long line, save me!” It’s not just the most popular food carts, either. During lunchtime nearly everywhere in Manhattan, prepared food shops fill up with a rush of people grabbing their meal pretty quickly, and standing in line to pay for it for several minutes, pretty grumpy about it for the most part. There can be something social about this type of activity, though, especially when you’re really passionate about getting the best eats on the block. In Taiwan (an incredibly food-crazed culture), kids would line up by the dozens behind the best dumpling stands, or fried chicken carts, and sort of see and be seen. Indeed, the public line-standing scheme may go beyond just being persnickety about how good the particular food is. And if it’s deemed worth the wait, then so be it. But in the meantime, Yvo’s Tweet didn’t sound too happy.
In a rare eating-out misadventure of mine, I waited almost two hours to be seated at a table. It was, of course, at a newly opened restaurant in the city with a hazard of buzz and hype, and my group had a friend who was a line cook there. This association didn’t get us anywhere in the hostess’s books, however; the wait was forty-five minutes at first, then another half-hour, and another… and there were plenty of parties like us willing to wait these waits. I was in entirely the wrong mood for food by the time it finally graced the table. I was hammered from drinking the wait away with fancy cocktails at the bar. Had I not been, I would have been far worse off: angry.
On the other hand, it is quite healthy both physically and emotionally to cook on one’s own schedule. There is a different type of waiting involved with cooking. It’s hands-on action, or it’s smelling, watching or listening to something roast or simmer away. It’s watching the pot boil. It’s engaging. And if you think about it that way, it’s really not waiting at all.