Once a year, usually around my birthday, my parents come over to visit and make sure Ang hasn’t killed me yet. Now, there’s one trait all Irish people of a certain generation have when it comes to food: they’re not adventurous. A bit of meat, a few potatoes, and the odd carrot or growth of cabbage and they’re happy and there’s no-one more set in his ways than my father. To keep the peace, occasionally he’ll let us go for a meal in a Chinese restaurant (only because he was in one once in 2001 and it didn’t kill him). This has become one of the highlights of my poor mother’s year, so when a new restaurant opened in Cambridge she couldn’t wait to drag him there.
Picture the scene as we waited for the menu. Me, Ang and mam drooling in anticipation after starving ourselves all day, putting on the elasticated pants and getting ready to take in a year’s worth of Weightwatchers points in one sitting. And my father, pulling at the leash like a dog who doesn’t want his walkies to end.
Then it arrived. The menu.
Oh dear God the menu.
Nothing was made from a part of the animal we’d use as by-product, let alone eat. Not the husband and wife starter (ox and cow tongue intertwined – one for Valentine’s Day). Not the roast maw. Not the medley of duck tongue, cow intestines, pigs trotters or any other item on a menu that started off exotic and gradually turned in to the effects department props from the Saw franchise. I’m pretty sure they’d just started making up internal organs by page six.
That’s the funny thing about Chinese food, none of it’s really authentic. Take General Tso’s Chicken. Apart from the name, there’s nothing Chinese about it, but it’s good and since I haven’t had it in a decade it had taken on godlike properties in my mind. After hearing me talk about it non-stop every time we got a take away, Ang made me find a recipe and get it out of my system. Mission accomplished – we need the elasticated pants.
Oh, and Dad’s excuse for leaving Seven Days before the seat cushions had warmed under us and fleeing to the steakhouse next door? No beer on draught.