October 31, 2009

Mmmmm, French Fries

I splurged on dinner tonight.

Usually, I try to make something to bring in to work, but I'm not often successful. Paul eats sandwiches, but the lunch meat here is a bit, uh, processed for me. The turkey is smoked and of course there's no ham. In the lobby of our office building is a Gloria Jean's coffee kiosk. They also sell salads and I get one about every other day. The lettuce in the grocery is very sad looking, and I figure it's a good way to get vegetables with some regularity. So that takes care of lunch, but by dinner time I'm hungry again and have usually gone through my supply of "healthy" snacks: a yogurt or some grapes or some pretzels.

Everyone knows that newspaper editors eat badly at work -- it's the nature of the beast. When you work from 2-10 -- spanning lunch and dinner without a break -- your options are few.

Here at the paper someone often will place a take-out order, and Chinese seems to be especially popular. This surprises me. In a typical week I've seen people here order Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese. I can't understand why they're skipping all the good stuff! I was very happy last week when someone opted for Indian at my not-so-subtle suggestion: "Is there a good Indian place around here?"

Tonight I went to the tiny falafel shop about a hundred yards away. It has one tiny table and a guy behind the counter. There are schwarma spits in an adjacent window. It's a zillion degrees in the little place, and the kitchen is in the storefront next door. The counter guy opens a little pass door to communicate with them. He puts a bowl in and they put stuff in the bowl.

I'd been there before, and there was a bit of deja vu to Hong Kong when I looked at the menu. Seventeen items on the English side and 34 on the Arabic side. I've seen enough middle eastern food to know that "not for you" is probably not gonna be a problem. And I wonder what those extras are. (It can't be the chicken livers, which I swear I will get one time, because those are on the English menu).

I ordered an Arabic mix falafel. The regular falafel is mashed into a split pita, with some tahini and a bit of cucumber/tomato mix. It costs 3 dirhams, or 82 cents. Mine was much fancier and costs a whopping 9 dirhams -- $2.45. To make an Arabic mix falafel, you use half a pita, smash in some falafel, put on some eggplant slices, four french fries, the tahini and cucumber and what looks like coleslaw. Then you wrap the whole thing in some sort of thin Arabic bread like a burrito and put it on the panini grill so it melds together.

Back to the french fries, though. I love french fries. Especially French ones but also the kind I get at the mid-east style kabob places in Paris. I don't know why they're so good -- I know they aren't cooked in bacon grease, which isn't halal. But why would they be so much better than U.S. french fries? Anyway, french fries. I wanted some. So I asked the guy behind the counter, who really doesn't speak English, for french fries. Do you have french fries I said. Soda, he asked? French fries, I said. Falafel he asked? French fries. Then another guy popped his head in and said French! to the guy behind the counter, who still didn't get it. I gave up. I saw the guy put them on my sandwich, so I'm pretty sure they have them. If they were on the menu list (or at least the English menu list) I could point to them. But for now, no french fries.

Instead, the guy picked up a Kleenex, used it to grab a falafel ball, and handed it to me while I waited. It was warm and tasty. I appreciated the gesture.

And now I'm trying to find out how to say "french fries" in Arabic.

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