Monday, April 1, 2013

Neurotic Eating: Food & OCD

Spring in Hamilton, ON
Since we're winding down from the long weekend (read: getting back on track with daily exercise starting today after having eaten far too much over the weekend), I decided to make today's post slightly different. Instead of a restaurant review, I thought I would discuss the challenging, messed up, intriguing world of food and obsessive compulsive tendencies at the dinner table. After all, most of us likely just spent a whole weekend with family and experienced a first hand reminder of where we inherited all our strange eating quirks (right? or was that just me?) The way we eat and enjoy our food is a big part of the food experience and I think it's best to get it out there and in the open!

Ordering your bites: 
You pick.
I think one of the most common food routines of which all of us can relate is the order in which we eat a meal. When you get a plate of food, whether it's soup and a salad or the ol' meat, potatoes and veggie trio, most people from my experience employ a subconscious eating order. That is, they organize their bites based on some pre-conceived order which they believe to be the most satisfying. For example, if my brother orders a burger and fries, he will always eat all of the fries before even touching the burger. My mom on the other hand will make sure that the very last bite that goes in her mouth is the item she found tastiest. My grandma will ensure that the last bites (the number of bites is based on the number of varying items on the plate) include one of each item. This carefully planned, strategic meal consumption is one which I acquired while growing up and still absolutely must conform to at every meal. Depending on the number of different items on my plate, I can quickly become a pretty poor dinner date!

Location and Space:
A well-designed patio in Buenos Aires,
For me, the feel of a restaurant and of your eating space is an important part of the dining experience. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to set up a dining room in a restaurant. Organizing the tables, the walkways and the chairs in such a way as to maximize space, without making things feel cramped or uncomfortable would be a challenge to say the least.  However, in addition to the quality of the food and the service, the space is none-the-less an important piece of this delicious puzzle. 

Super fun bike seats that face the water in Camden Market,
For example, whenever my mom and I go out to eat, I will always let her pick the table and her seat. Like most people, she doesn't want to sit facing a wall or with her back turned to the entire restaurant because it makes her feel confined. For me, it's not so much about which way I am facing as it is about the general atmosphere.

While a restaurant may have amazing food and drinks, no amount of craving or mental deliberation will make me go back to eat in a cramped restaurant that doesn't have a proper space for people waiting to eat to line up and therefore they end up huddled over you while you are trying to enjoy a burger... or whatever. My advice to restaurant owners: if you have an amazing product and people are lining up to get at it, give both diners and would-be diners some space. 

Tables: Paper or Cotton
Beautiful plating at the
Canadian Parliament
You know how some restaurants use craft paper in lieu of table cloths and some will even give you crayons to draw with? While many of us find this to be a fun way to fill the time between the order and the eating, paper is not for everyone. One such person is my dad. I can remember in the not so distant past, going to a restaurant with my dad where they used white paper on the tables. Before we could order we had to ask the server to please remove the paper and they kindly obliged us in our compulsive need. I personally don't mind having paper cloths and having worked in a number of restaurants, can appreciate the ease with which they add to 'flipping' the table between diners. I think for me it depends on the restaurant. If I am out enjoying ribs and/or pulled pork or anything messy like that, a paper table cloth makes sense. On the other hand, when I'm dishing out a fair bit of dough on a lunch, a nice linen seems to be to be the way to go.

Knifey Spooney:
The condition of silverware, plates and glasses is something I obsessively inspect regardless of where I am eating and there's no way I am alone on this one! Whether I am at home, at a friend's or at a restaurant, I will carefully look over the utensils for leftover bits of food and the glasses for a previous diner's lipstick. I can't help myself and it's something I've been doing forever. I've come to terms with it.

Everything All At Once:
All ready: Desperado, water, s&p,
croque monsieur in Montmartre, Paris.
Another strange neurosis I have when eating has to do with having everything in front of me when I order. Basically, I can't start eating until the glass of water I ordered has arrived to the table even if my meal arrived 5 minutes ago. When I am at home, the same thing applies. If I am waiting for last week's episode of Shameless to load on my computer when I am about to eat, I can't start my meal until everything is in order and ready to go. I'm really not sure where I got this from... 

I hope you all enjoyed your long weekend! I have some tasty dining experiences lined up and can't wait to share them with you.