Had a fantastic afternoon today in a Euston pub with Mitch Steele and Steve Wagner from California's legendary Stone brewery. They're over in the UK researching a book on IPA, and having a once in a lifetime type of trip (note to self: pretend you only have ten days left in Britain, but three months to plan what you do in those ten days. What would you do?)
We had a good chat and traded notes, and even drank some IPA. After an hour or so, it emerged that Mitch and Steve hadn't eaten lunch. It was Steve's round, so he volunteered to order some food when he went up to the bar.
Ten minutes later, the food arrived. Both Steve and Mitch looked perturbed - the classic look we all get when we're in a foreign country and we're almost certain something is wrong, but we don't want to kick up the same stink we would at home for fear of offending someone or being shown up as a clueless tourist who just doesn't get it.
Eventually Steve said "Um... this is not what I ordered. I ordered a vegetable platter."
I looked at the sharing platter between us, and felt the slow, cold-water-creeping embarrassment we all feel when we're in our own country and we realise something is wrong, but only because we're seeing it through a foreigner's eyes, and we don't want to kick up a stink because we don't want our guests to think of us as some clueless hick who just doesn't get it.
Eventually I said, "Um... yes, this is what you ordered. It is the vegetable platter. Look, these are deep-fried onion rings in batter. Onions are a vegetable. These triangular things are deep-fried vegetable samosas. They've got vegetables in. These nobbly things are... they're deep-fried mushrooms in breadcrumbs. Mushrooms are a vegetable. And so is bread. These things here are curly fries. They're made from potato, which is a vegetable. You recognise taco chips of course - made of corn, and corn is another vegetable. And this last one here, this grey cylindrical thing... I'm not sure.... hang on, I'll taste it... oh. These are onion bhajis. Deep-fried onion and potato. So you see, it is a vegetable platter."
Steve and Mitch were both silent for a while. Then, eventually, Steve said, "I keep forgetting we're not in Southern California any more."
"Look," I replied, "If I turn the plate around there's a bit of garnish on this side, and there's a little bit of that that's green."
Gingerly, Steve reached for a deep-fried breaded mushroom.
But even though I'd already had lunch, I was the only one of the three of us who went anywhere near the bhajis or the curly fries.