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May 6, 2010 10:46 AM

Getting to know people better through food: any good stories to share?

Had a great moment with the boss today. I've worked closely with this guy - a very successful lawyer - for several years, but had never seen him more animated about a non-legal subject than today when the topic of Jewish delis came up.

My boss is Jewish (albeit non-practicing) and a native New Yorker transplanted to our area. He made an offhand comment today about a pastrami sandwich he had gotten from the Au Bon Pain in our building's lobby, and about how it wasn't very good. It had been served, horror of horrors, on a ciabatta roll! Blasphemy!

I asked him for his opinion on a local Jewish deli, Chutzpah, that had gotten very good reviews and was supposedly pretty authentic. It was fantastic, he said, and I had to go. I was instructed to try the pastrami on rye with coleslaw and Russian dressing. Get it exactly like that, he said. "The matzoh ball soup is also outstanding! You must try that."

Knowing enough about New York delis to know that chopped liver is another classic, I asked him about whether this deli's chopped liver was any good. "Yes...but as I like it, on rye bread with nothing except maybe thin sliced onion. Delicious."

I was so tickled by this exchange. The man is such a serious guy, totally focused on his work, and I'd never seen another side to him until the magical word "deli" came up.

Do you have a good story about learning something new about someone you thought you knew well, through food?

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  1. Not sure if this is what you are looking for - years ago when my ex and I were first married in the '80's, we had moved to the suburbs and were trying to meet other young couples to hang out with. We were invited to the home of some new friends along with 3-4 other couples on a Saturday night. I volunteered to make an appetizer and everyone divided up the food.

    Long story short, we arrived, apps were fine, salad was fine, lots of wine, good time, entree was fine and then it was time for dessert. It was summer time and the hostess had prepared fruit ices and candies in some very lewd shapes. We were young & naive and pretty dumb about the actual intent. This is not a "good" story, but an interesting story about some people we didn't want to get to know better as a result of food.

    1. You know I am sure I have a few moments in time of my own...but they arent fresh in my memory..

      I do remember years ago meeting a woman who was a friend of one of my friends... She was a completely different character to myself, and at the time it seemed we had very little in common.
      We would see each other at my friends house every so often, and the first few times it was just polite chatter...until one day when i had eaten something that got me excited and I started to describe it in detail...I swear - her face changed and she looked at me in utter the end of my description she said "OMG _ You have the most amazing palate of anyone I have ever met in my entire life.!"
      And it was then that we made a connection.
      After that of course whenever we saw each other it was all about food, and we did get to share some great meals together...
      We lost touch but yeah - we did end up having that common food bond between us.

      1. We had the opposite experience. Met a couple through an organization where we volunteer, didn't know them well, but at brief encounters they always seemed pleasant and interesting, and I said to my husband that I'd like to get to know them better.

        It was summer, and a group of us went on a field trip to the local mountains, where everyone brought their own lunch. We had fresh tomatoes and home-made pesto, which we spread on good baguette along with some fresh buffalo mozzarella which we'd bought just that morning. The other couple brought packaged baloney and individually wrapped processed American cheese slices which they placed between slices of supermarket sandwich bread - no lettuce, tomatoes, condiments of any kind - and ate their sandwiches happily. I knew then and there we could never become friends and, while we've gotten to know them better over the years, we've never been more than acquaintances.

        14 Replies
        1. re: judybird

          This isn't a big revelatory moment, but it really stuck with me.

          My senior year in college, my friend and I began regularly meeting at the local diner for breakfast before classes (us being creative types this usually meant meeting at 10:30). This place had amazing pancakes, which I would almost always order.

          In February, after several months of breakfasting, she looked at my plate, and back up at me and said: "I have never seen you eat the edge of a pancake." I looked down at my plate, 3 pancakes reduced to 9 leftover pancake edges, neat and tidy- after 22 years of pancake eating, I never noticed my quirk. I knew then that we were really close. Only someone who cares notices how you eat your pancake.

          1. re: UnderemployedInNYC

            Were the pancakes triangular? I don't get the 9 'edges'?

            1. re: chow_gal

              Good question. I cut pancakes into thirds like a peace sign and eat the innards.


              1. re: UnderemployedInNYC

                That is pretty awesome. And even more awesome that you never realized it. Child of hippies?

                1. re: chow_gal

                  Even better- 2 jewish parents. My mom is an artist/art teacher and my dad a tax lawyer. What I learned was to follow my instincts and express myself (I picked my own clothes to wear from the day I could dress myself on my mother's insistence) but from my dad I think I got some pretty hardcore neurosis about cleaning and orderliness. Go figure. Apparently that leads to confidently eating the only part of the pancake I want, but making sure the leftovers are tidy. : 0 )


          2. re: judybird

            "The other couple brought packaged baloney and individually wrapped processed American cheese slices which they placed between slices of supermarket sandwich bread... I knew then and there we could never become friends"

            Poor you! That's so narrow minded!

            1. re: judybird

              That seems a bit extreme to me. Sometimes what you take on an outing isn't necessarily how you eat in every other circumstances. I can see myself making sandwiches out of what I already have for that type of outing- just something to tide me over until I get home and can have something more substantial.

              1. re: queencru

                I agree. While I love a great mozz, tomato, and pesto sandwich, I also sometimes get cravings for something as simple as bologna on white bread with only a slice of cheese. The lettuce and condiments would detract from it for me. But regardless of my sandwich preferences, when I am first getting to know someone I will often pick more conservative or middle of the road food choices as some people do not enjoy/are not as familiar with some of the foods that I like. If I were the other couple on the trip that day, I probably would have brought a simple turkey, bologna, or PB&J sandwich as I did not know the food preferences of my companions and wouldn't want to feel like I was showing anyone up.

                1. re: pollymerase

                  I don't understand. How would mozz, tomato and pesto (or something else you really like) offend or show up someone? Why should you have to eat crap because others there might? That just seems like playing the martyr for no reason, or that it would even be noticed.

                  1. re: chow_gal

                    I don't find a turkey sandwich to be crap and I'm certainly not trying to be a martyr. I certainly wouldn't bring something to eat that I thought was terrible, I'd eat my turkey, bologna, or PB&J sandwich and be quite happy, because I like those things.

                    As was discussed in a thread just earlier this week, not only do people judge others for eating things like bologna with no condiments but also for people who simply have a well stocked spice cabinet. To some people things like fresh mozz and homemade pesto are flashy, gourmet, elitist, snobbish, etc or they are simply intimidated by things they are not familiar with. Clearly to us Chowhounds, these are simple, easy, delicious and approachable things, but they aren't to everyone.

                2. re: queencru

                  I see your point, and I can see where that would make me look sort of shallow, but there was more to it. The husband commented during the lunch that he can't understand why some people make such a fuss about food, it's just fuel for the body, and as long as you get enough nutrition, taste really doesn't matter. It made me realize that there was such a huge gap between our world views, that we could probably never bridge it.

                  1. re: judybird

                    I still think it's silly to assume the wife feels the same way too. I have some friends with spouses who have radically different tastes. For instance one friend likes pretty bland stuff and no seafood while her husband really likes exotic food. Not everyone marries because they have similar interests in food.

                    1. re: queencru

                      I think judy was not assuming- I'll bet there is still more to this story:)

                3. re: judybird

                  Hey judy- I agree with you, even if it is a touch shallow:) This is coming from someone whose mother made his school lunch sandwiches in separate baggies (meat, lettuce, tom, etc.), so I could assemble when I was ready to eat. And never nasty baloney either.

                4. I went to Shanghai on business and met the manager of an office with which we did business there. He spoke excellent English but was very shy and diffident, and it seemed that we wouldn't be likely to connect as friends. He knew from email correspondence (in which he was charming and funny) that I loved Chinese food, and so he took me to a Shanghainese place (one off the tourist track, Xiao Nan Guo) where we had a spectacular dinner, crab, drunken chicken, etc. and we got talking food and made good friends. The next night we couldn't wait to get together to eat again - at Zen Chinese Cuisine in Xintiandi, where we had barbecued goose AND pigeon among other things. By the end of the evening we were calling each other little brother and big sister - and still do to this day. A very nice connection forged by food.

                  1. Sounds like this could be good for your career! A little something in common.