Thursday, June 28, 2012

What I Ate in Deltaville

I love food.

I always tell people, when I'm off to Blargistan, "I'm going to eat my weight in cheese."  And I always come back a good five pounds heavier.

Deltaville has been a challenge.  It's a town of about 30,000, so there aren't an abundance of good restaurants.  The night I got in was a Sunday, and I scoured the town in vain for a place to eat.  I finally ended up at one of those bar/cafés that serves a meal, and what I had was so disappointing (iceberg lettuce salad, followed by seafood and french fries that had obviously been frozen) that, since then, I appear to be attempting to make up for it.

Fortunately, the hotel I'm at is just down the block from what may be the nicest restaurant in town, and I've been eating lunch there every day this week (except for the day I spent the lunch hour heading to Blarg City to fetch my camera battery).  Here's what I have had:
[1] Yes, you read that right.
  • A prix fixe lunch menu that consisted of a first course of a room-temperature vegetable couscous, a second course of grilled tuna, and a dessert of three two-inch squares of fried custard-like substance[1] (though dense enough to pick up with a fork), served with cinnamon ice cream. =>
  • A truly outlandish lunch of a first course of a green salad, and a second course of squid-ink papardelle with lobster meat and shaved black truffle (no dessert this time; too full).
  • What I'm calling my "black and white meal": Black Rice (a sort of risotto/paella thing, made with shellfish and artichokes and colored with squid ink), and for dessert, a local variation on blancmange. I tried to go without a first course this time (I was stuffed all evening after the previous day's meal, and I knew the rice would be bulky), but apparently they felt bad that there was a 20-minute prep time on the rice, so they brought me out a dish of steamed mussels.
  • tomorrow... who knows?  I think I'm going to try to have a salad. Though there may be cheese involved.
Now, this is not a cheap way to eat.  In fact, it's about 50% more than I would ever pay for a table-for-one meal in the U.S. (though perhaps that should change?)  And I've been doing it every. single. day. How the hell can I justify this?  Because I'm totally a backpacker the rest of the day:
  • Breakfast comes with the hotel price, which at about $35 a night, is a bargain.  I get an egg, a yogurt, juice, and a coffee.  I also surreptitiously pocket a piece of fruit and a couple bits of cheese and stash them in a plastic bag in my room.[2]
  • Midmorning, I treat myself to a coffee and pastry (these are also delicious here) for a 30- to 45-minute break from the archive.
  • Evening, I hit the supermarket and buy a roll (to eat with the cheese), some vegetables to be eaten raw (green beans work well for this), and a bottle of water. Dinner is bread, cheese & fruit from breakfast, raw veggies, and water. And a granola bar for dessert.  Oh, and last night I added a limeade slushie (don't know how else to describe it) to my evening eats.

Total food bill for the day: about $40.[3] Over three-quarters of which is lunch.

So, I'm eating well.  But probably way too much.  And don't you tell me "Oh, you're walking everywhere!"  I walk and bike everywhere at home.  And here, it's so hot that all I can do in the middle of the day is retreat to my air-conditioned hotel room and write blog posts.

Five weeks = five pounds, here I come.

[2] Because this is an out-of-the-way town, and the hotel might be best described as "economical", the price is about $35 a night.  Which made me feel extra-special bad when I woke up after 6 1/2 hours of sleep to discover that I hadn't shut the bathroom tap off all the way, and somewhere just a bit more substantial than a "trickle" of warm water had been running all night.  I'm an asshole.
[3] I save a bit because of the near total lack of tipping. Any other Yankee researchers in Europe who still feel weird about this? My friends here reassure me that it's totally optional, and that half a euro per person for lunch is fine, a full euro for a nice restaurant, and the leftover 10-20 "cents" for coffee.  So that's what I do.  But I still feel very weird walking out with what amounts to a 5% tip on the table.


Comrade Physioprof said...


clio's disciple said...

You know, weight fluctuations of 5 pounds are so are really not unusual for most humans.

No, I've never quite figured out Blargish tipping customs. I do like those great multi-course lunches. Often they're filling enough that I really don't need much for dinner.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

I think you gave away where Blargistan is in paragraph 4.... I spend a lot of time in France and England, and in France, tipping definitely is optional. I round up a couple Euros for a nice dinner, but it isn't necessary and is almost always appreciated. Thing is, in France waitstaff (usually) get a decent wage. In the US their minimum hourly wage is still under $3, because the law (=an ass) presumes that most of their income is from tips.

In England, though, tipping is becoming more common. Many London restaurants now routinely add 10% (or even 12%!) to the bill, and it's spreading beyond the metropolis. You still never tip in pubs, though if the service has been particularly nice you can offer to buy the server a drink (which often becomes cash that they may or may not use to buy a drink later).

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ Brian: Ooops.

Dr. Koshary said...

OMFG I want that food. WANT.

I also feel a bit disoriented when navigating European tipping practices. More than guilt, I feel confusion: I simply have no internal gauge for how rich or stingy a tip will seem to a server. The fact that tipping cultures vary from country to country only worsens the problem for me.

And, now that Brian mentions that, I have also deduced the location of Blargistan. Because, obviously, I'm a nosy SOB. And everyone figured out where my own Research Country is over a year ago, anyway.

Back to my main point: I want that food. I HUNGER.

Susan said...


I did research in a country with a famous breakfast dish, and if I had said dish (which included fish and a weird fruit), I didn't eat any lunch at all. I could sit in the archives for 8 hours with no trouble...

Historiann said...

So delicious sounding. I want to consume mass quantities of Blargish food.

And, be cool about the tips. My husband always always always leaves nearly American-style tips in Europe, but I think it makes him look like a rube.

cm said...

Remember that European restaurants are actually required to PAY their waitstaff. Hence the lower tip expectations.