Fat and Salt
“OMG, this salad is amazing!”
“I know, right?”
“It has bacon, apple slices, candied walnut, and arugula in it.”
I didn’t mention the cheese because I wasn’t sure between feta and blue, but made sure I said “arugula” loud and clear, and at the very end: actually I might have brought “arugula” up a few times more in our conversation that night. “Candied walnut” was something I had heard Dawa, the friend I was having the dinner with, speak of and had shamelessly incorporated into my supposed gastronomic vocabulary. I am not a salad person, and definitely do not consider myself a foodie, but when I am eating at a restaurant with a dimmed-out décor and people swanking over a glass of red wine, I try my best to sound intelligent and almost scream out that my life is as interesting as anybody else’s in that room—just loud enough to make the next table pause and listen to what I have to say.
Then the nice white lady comes over at our table with her transcending smile camouflaging with the house’s ambience and asks in a soft squeaky voice, “Are you finding everything okay?” To uphold the unspoken code of civility, we would go all smiles and gooey and exclaim at the excellence, in every aspect, of the experience, as if we were more cautious of not pissing her off than the other way round. We all revel in this moment of sweetness that would make me cringe otherwise and elsewhere—when I am not crunching on those candied walnuts or holding a wine glass by its stem.
As soon as she turns around to attend another table, we would arch our lips in approval and agree,
“Service here is amazing. They really know their stuff.”
We would raise our eye brows and nod our heads in unison to consolidate our belief, and then move on with our conversation which, if spoken at home, would attract some weird stares.
“Sometimes I think I prefer the texture of the food over taste.”
“Mmmm, interesting, never thought of food that way. I always thought the texture complemented the taste. It’s interesting that you think they are two separable qualities. But I do know that I am starting to like foods which offer variety of texture.”
“OMG, Jamyang, we are so similar. After all, we are fellow Sagittarians.”
You remember the part about cringing? So cringe I did, when I was brushing my teeth the next morning and thought through all the things we had talked about the previous night at the restaurant—winning a Pulitzer, the meaning of life, the self-immolations in Tibet, the indispensability of mystery in life for creativity, working for the NPR, how disappointed we were of Ira for that Retraction episode, the value of family and other crap that made up our night, slightly enhanced by our slightly inebriated consciousness.
Thinking Dawa must be feeling the same or at least she would realize that after my telling, I texted her:
I think people sitting around us must have thought of us two as two very pretentious people, going by the things we talked about last night.
And she responds almost immediately:
Why do you care so much about what people think? Most of the times people can’t hear us. Did you hear other people sitting next to us?
And my only response was, hahahahahahahahahahahaha—repetition exaggerated to avoid further confrontation, but Dawa marches on:
It is actually pretentious to think people care.
I had nothing to say but admit, True. I guess I am quite pretentious.
Do some people just talk and think that way twenty-four-seven? Dawa went to Smith and worked at Deutsche Bank for few years. Perhaps this pretentiousness is my inner desperation to belong to that circle of young professionals, to that group of work-hard-party-hard kids to whom putting up such façade has become a second nature and professional necessity. Dawa, in some sense, is a reminder of what I haven’t been able to accomplish with my life; a kindling spark that invigorates my insecurities over the choices I have made in my life, such as a bachelor in English Literature. No disrespect, but English Fucking Literature?
At the restaurant, Dawa remembers,
“I have always wondered why this place is called Fat and Salt.”
“Fat and salt is what you need for a good taste—perhaps the only ingredients.”
“That’s kind of true.”