Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Saipan Dining Adventures

My friend and colleague, Mark, and his wife, Bev have probably eaten in every restaurant on Saipan. They have an adventurous streak, which you have to have to explore the full range of dining experiences here.

Take for example the time they went back to the new Mexican restaurant. The burritos had been fantastic the first time, so they returned for a “known known.” Again, the burritos came smothered in sour cream. But the first bite betrayed the true identify of tonight’s sour cream. Not sour cream. What is that taste? It's familiar. Could it be...??? Yep. Sure enough. Thick rich creamy white mayonnaise glopped on top of that hapless burrito. Yummy. The kitchen was out of sour cream, so the cook used the next best thing – the next white thing. Mayonnaise. Makes perfect sense. That’s why you just keep eating.

The following week they ventured out to a Korean restaurant. They are warmly welcomed at the door with halting English and a sense of excitement that real live Americans are visiting the establishment. This could be a new beginning, a whole new market! Mark and Bev are seated with grace and a flourish at a table for two, a red plastic rose on the white plastic tablecloth. They are given menus.

One of the nicest things about many Asian restaurants is that the menus include photos of the food, which is necessary in this case, because the rest of the menu is in Korean. But the photos are still not completely helpful to Mark and Bev, because they are only slightly larger than a flattened clove of garlic.

Mark strains to make out the details of the pictures. Bev can do no better. The logical thing to do is to ask the waitress for help -- try to get enough of a description from her to make an informed choice. So they begin, and ever so slowly, work their way, item by item, down the menu. The waitress struggles to find words – any words – but particularly words for foods that have no English equivalent. “Is this spinach?,” asks Mark, pointing to the picture. “No,” says the waitress. “Is it kelp?,” asks Bev. “What ‘kelp?,’” inquires the waitress. “Oh, kelp is like seaweed,” offers Mark “What seaweed?,” asks the waitress. “Seaweed is nori,” explains Bev, drawing on her knowledge of a Japanese word that might be familiar to the waitress. “Ahhhh,” says the waitress as her face lights up, “No, not nori.” “What is it then?” asks Mark. “Like spinach,” reports the waitress. Ahhhh, full circle. Not spinach. Like spinach.

Mark and Bev are enjoying their detective work and are quite content to explore the menu in this way. But the waitress, who has never experienced happy inquisitive Americans before, must believe that Mark and Bev are struggling and suffering as much as she is through this ordeal to place a simple order.

Eager to bring some relief to everyone, she offers a great solution. “Maybe you go eat someplace else. Maybe someplace that have spaghetti.”

In that instant, her suggestion doesn’t quite register with Mark and Bev. But after a few seconds pass, their comprehension catches up with their hearing. Did she really just ask us to leave?? To go eat spaghetti??? They glance at each other over their menus and try to hold back their laughter.

Undeterred and ever adventurous, Mark and Bev plow forward, asking a few more questions, making a decision, ordering their meals, and enjoying it all. And tonight they have an opportunity to use their recently gained knowledge -- to taste everything white to make sure it’s not mayonnaise in disguise.


The Saipan Blogger said...

When I lived in Japan I learned that someone that puts mayonaisse on all of their food is called a "mayora."

Quite possibly my favorite Japanese use of mayo was tuna, corn, and mayo pizza. Yum!

bradinthesand said...

Thanks, Ang. Now I'm sick. Maybe I'll go somewhere else and get spaghetti...

Marianas Eye said...

Sounds like a tuna salad with corn pizza. Yum, indeed.


KAP said...

When all else fails, I always go with bulgogi--their barbecue is great. Never necessary to ask for kimchee.

And maybe a spoonful of lemon in the mayonaisse...