Nightwatch: Hands off!
For a small girl, I have the stomach of a heifer. Not literally, thank goodness, but I do have what my friends term 'greedy eyes'.
You know the kind -- I eye up the meals of others the way that Anna Wintour eyes up on-trend outfits, attempting to be subtle, but salivating all the same. My mum often recounts a fondly told anecdote of me returning from a birthday party, so full of food that I had to get sick. I was 13. Attractive, no?
I hate sharing my meals. HATE IT. Even allowing another person a forkful of my dessert makes me quiver. I grit my teeth as their implement claims half of my chocolate pudding. As such, it makes sense that I loathe tapas. Loads of teeny-tiny sharing plates, where nobody gets to eat exactly what they want and have to chomp through their allocated fraction of someone else's steamed bok choi.
With old, similar-minded friends, this isn't a problem. We head out for a delicious Eddie Rockets' meal, and each happily choose our supper -- complementing each other on our fine choices, and wishing a bon appetit to all. With newer friends, sometimes, it's slightly more difficult.
A work colleague invites me out for a group dinner. "We'll have dim sum!' he enthuses. "There's this great place that has couches to sit on." To begin with, the idea on eating of couches fills me with dread. My legs are never long enough to stretch out comfortably, and I'm left in a kind of sofa hinterland -- perching like an anxious meerkat. And secondly -- dim sum? An evening composed entirely of eating and sharing small plates of food? Hell. Naturally, I agree to meet them there at 8pm.
Before I enter the restaurant, I psyche myself up. "Come on, Ailbhe," I mutter, "it'll be great. You'll enjoy it. Just RELAX." In I saunter, to find the group lounging on the dreaded couches. I shuffle onto a spot, and try to find a centre of balance. It's tricky, but I manage to sit in a way that isn't entirely repulsive.
The menu is brought forward, and a system is devised. For the first round of dishes, each person will write down an item that they'd like, and then, the dreaded words appear "we'll all share". Teeth gritted, I grab the pen and write down my choice. "Ooh!" leers a colleague over my shoulder "that looks nice!" I suggest that he could perhaps select the same dish for himself. "Oh no," he responds "I'll just try a bit of yours."
I grimace through the first round. As others snack off my plate, I remain stoical. Round two comes along, and the same method stays in place. Once more, I grin and bear it -- seeing all four duck spring rolls lifted away. Out of camaraderie, and a wish not to appear like an antisocial maniac, I join in in tasting items from the plates of others. I'm not a total weirdo. It's not the same though, and internally I decide that in round three I will be strong and order something only for me.
As round three appears, the same orders are made. Knowing that if I pick something entirely delicious, I will never get to eat more than a third of it, I make a bold move. Scanning the menu, I casually suggest that I might try something more exotic.
"Duck tongues," I say. "That could be good, no?" A hush falls upon the table. "Are you really going to order that?" gasps a colleague. "I am," I respond. In my head, a rolling script runs from ear to ear, flashing in bright neon letters STOP, AILBHE. YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS. IT CAN ALL END NOW. Rationally, I decide to avoid it, and hail the waiter. "Duck tongues for one, please!"
The dish arrives, and querying looks abound. A small black plate, piled high with pieces of tongue coated in sesame seeds. My mental rolling script bears only one word -- "Geronimo!"
I bite in. It is totally bearable. I can totally make this work. No, no, I can't, there's a piece of mini-duck- tongue-bone. This is too gross. Defeated, I put the plate down. There's an appreciative round of applause from the table, at least. We pay the bill and leave. Still hungry, I grab some chips to eat on the night bus home.
Ailbhe Malone, ever the lady.