“With a bit of luck, his life was ruined forever. Always thinking that just behind some narrow door in all of his favorite bars, men in red woolen shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he’ll never know.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Early in the service, Hilde brings back an untouched papaya salad. She screws up her face in a way that says don’t shoot the messenger. “Can I get a plate of fries?”

“What’s up?”

“She doesn’t want her papaya salad. She says it unpalatable.”

Chris walks over to the salad sat down on the pass, plucks a few strands of papaya from the bowl and pops them into his mouth. “This is good!” he declares. “Did you tell her that’s what its supposed to taste like?”

“Yes,” Hilde pauses and then continues, “she said that there’s no way that anyone eats that. I told her I order one every time I eat here. She said that it was offensive to her taste buds.”

The next few minutes are spent, waiting for fries to cook, covering procedure when it comes to the spicy papaya salad. It’s a careful, tactful – almost apologetic – way of telling the customer to expect a wild time; one might say, it’s a taste that’s acquired, that it’s a strong flavored salad that is, as said in the menu description no fewer than 3 times, spicy. Lao people pretty much need it – many non-Lao customers eat it multiple times a week – but you might not like it, and if that’s the case, full disclosure: that’s on you. If you don’t like anchovies, olives, oysters, blue cheese, or anything else good and right in the world, maybe don’t order it. You won’t upset the establishment.

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Chris tries the salad again. “What am I supposed to say to that? This salad isn’t even very Lao. It’s got only one chili, just a bit of shrimp paste, not even that much fish sauce, and no padaek. If she can’t even handle that…” He trails off. “And the worst part, is she’s going to put it on Yelp! No joke, this is probably going to be a Yelp review.”

In high school, if you’d acquired any wisdom, you learned not to give magic mushrooms to the kid nicknamed Spazzcase, even if you like them. But that’s intimate, and supposes an understanding of where Spazzcase is at, and includes an understanding of what Spazzcase might do if they’re high af. Unfortunately, that’s not the world restaurant servers, cooks, chefs, and owners occupy: we can’t screen you to ensure you’re going to have a good time with the food you’re given, we can just make sure that the menu contains an accurate list of ingredients and that we make the food to the best of our ability.

What then is the proper way to handle customer complaints and discomfort concerning a thing that you believe is correct? Chris and Charlie will almost always make you something else because they want you to enjoy yourself, but something small – like fries – as a consolation while you watch your friends eat, but not because they feel like they owe it to you. There’s a degree of damage control, as well: what Chris says about that person being likely to write a review on Yelp is right – it’s the people that are unable to separate their own biases from the technical execution, those predisposed to a bad time, that are often the most vocal about it, and the most likely to claim the universe should contort itself to make things right.

Here is a counter-offer, a prayer of sorts, for those that find themselves quick to squeem and churl in the presence of the new and sensually weighty: keep eating, because unfamiliar textures will not harm your flesh; keep eating, because the strong funky flavors are bestowed from Time itself and show a thing has aged well – learn to love that taste, because you one day will acquire some of funk and it will undo you if you’ve spent a life turning up your nose; keep eating, because its healthy for the pithy and bitter to sometimes eclipse sweetness; keep eating, because things that are salty were thought to be worth preserving; keep eating, because the burn of spice means that you’re living right now, your senses are awake, and your resolve will pay off in pleasure. You can travel the world seeking the familiar from your small experience and find only strangeness and alienation, or you can court the unfamiliar and come to identify with it’s shapes and flavors, knowing what the look for in taste and touch, and find that the world loves the adventurous and brave with big appetites.

Or maybe you can find a club that celebrates not accepting new things, not trying things again, and erecting standards of purity that just protect what you want.

Oh, wait. Actually, please don’t do that.

 

 

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