We all know someone who has a knack for ordering the most delicious dish on the menu. It could have sounded utterly boring or even unsavoury to you, but once your meals arrive on the table it becomes clear that, as you look back and forth between your plate and theirs, you didn’t quite pit the olive this time – ouch!
If you’re lucky, or very persuasive, you can usually negotiate a half-and-half deal before your friend realises what’s going on, but is this really a way to lead your dining-life?
For me, it’s my Dad, who nearly always picks the best thing. Whenever dining out together, my family has a tradition of trying each other’s food and giving it a rating out of 10. Without fail, my Dad’s choice inevitably tops everyone’s list as the sneaky forks from the sidelines come to snag just one more bite.
As someone who frequently makes eating errors, I hereby present my four main causes of picking the wrong thing, learnt through trial-and-error:
1. “But it sounded so good!”
Be wary of ordering complicated food in simple places. Some people often equate “simple” with “bad” – a grave mistake! Instead, consider ordering the restaurant’s daily special or signature dish… you’ll probably end up with something cooked with more heart and authenticity.
When abroad for a trip this means committing the crime of sticking to what you’re used to (food from home) instead of discovering the new, exciting and exotic food choices all around you. In most cases, your retribution comes quickly when you’re served a pretty lame version of what you wanted – we’ve all done it, right? Try keeping homesickness at the door when you step into a new culinary world.
In your everyday life back home this translates to a dish that seems perfectly fine, expect for the fact that it doesn’t really fit in with anything else on the menu. Sometimes cravings are hard to resist, but is ordering that lone lemon chicken at the local seafood place really a good idea?
For some reason, many restaurants feel compelled to include certain standard or “interesting” dishes, even when it contradicts the overall theme of food being served. You may get lucky sometimes but more often than not, this ugly duckling is not likely to turn into a swan.
3. The Optimist
This is perhaps the most tragic of food-ordering mistakes. This scenario usually involves ignoring the little voice that told you your tempura order might already be sitting in the kitchen, soggy and uninspiring, waiting to be served to you at a lukewarm, microwaved temperature.
But… you order it anyway because you really do love that dish and maybe, just maybe they’ll fry up a new batch. Your inevitable disappointment is only made worse by the fact that you saw it coming and that’s it’s not the first time this has happened. Just look over to your friend’s fresh sashimi platter for some motivation to listen to your intuition next time. 🙂
4. Slow Food
Every restaurant has “fast-moving” and “slow-moving” food. I’m not referring to waiting-time (although this is important in itself) but how often that specific dish is ordered by customers. Ordering something that’s “slow” usually leads to being served something that’s been sitting around after being precooked, like the above tempura example.
A slightly better but equally annoying fate is having to wait forever while they go out and wait for the eggs to hatch for your lemon chicken. It is hard to give a general rule here because so much of this relies on intuition in the given context: pay attention to your surroundings, fellow patrons and don’t be afraid to ask the waiter!
Good luck and don’t lose hope! I truly believe menu mastery can be learned… or I’ll just keep telling myself that until the day I do 🙂