It’s funny the things we remember, isn’t it? I don’t know why I remembered computer camp, and even then it’s only vague memories, I don’t think I cared for it that much, but it was one of my few experiences of summer camp, and therefore one of my memories of what would be deemed an average childhood. Or at least, one that was similar to the one many of my friends had. Summer camp. Never went, and upon reflection it was probably for the best. Me and camping, and the outdoors, and then with the nature – it wouldn’t have ended well.
Anyhow, pizza, I suppose, was another one of those things that normal people did. I know this because I saw it on TV. Families would go out for pizza. It’s a very normal thing to do. Everybody does it.
Even we did, on a rare occasion because pizza is made of all the things we couldn’t eat: wheat, dairy, and then whatever that shifty pepperoni is made of — all science-y and stuff.
There was one place growing up where everybody had at least one birthday. I didn’t, but I think Crazy D might have done. It was called Mother’s Pizza and it was uptown, so you always felt really cool when you got to go because it wasn’t in a strip mall. And your parents had to struggle to find parking.
It had, if I remember correctly, stained glass (probably fake but I wasn’t old enough to tell or care) windows and a very cosy feel. Lots of oak furniture I believe. One of its key selling points was that they’d serve you pop in pitchers.
Pop in pitchers.
It was as though Sodom and Gomorrah had descended upon our town and we heathens were powerless to do anything sane again. At a birthday party, the parent in charge would order a pitcher of Coke, one of Root Beer, and then another of orange pop. Orange was my favourite. It would just sit there on the table, and you could help yourself. You could keep topping up that massive plastic cup with more and more pop.
And when the pizzas arrived at the table, by which point I should think I would’ve been utterly beside myself, they were covered in thick cheese, and the crusts were doughy and fluffy. Not at all like the pizza The Mom made us sometimes, which was made from rye flour and had only the most delicate dusting of cheese.
I think they had desserts at Mother’s Pizza, but I don’t remember ever eating them. In fairness the pizza and the pop would’ve done me in and I wouldn’t have been able to cope with anything more.
For me, though, the real food memories are a bit more diverse.
We had a steakhouse in town that The Mom would sometimes take us to in her weaker moments. Ponderosa steakhouse it was called, a chain-type place, and you got a steak and a baked potato, and probably some frozen veggies on the side – a couple of carrots and a thing of broccoli. What was exciting wasn’t that we were out eating steak, but just that we were eating out. You’d kind of sense something was afoot, but you knew better than to ask what, simply enjoying the fact that the waiter brought sour cream and The Mom was too weak to tell you not to eat it.
Personally, I have a series of Asian restaurants that I have fond memories of. Kom Jug Yuen on Spadina in Toronto, right around the corner from my first apartment, where I’d get the greasiest noodles ever once a week — even after a friend got a roach in his greasy noodles. I took The Mom there once, feeling quite sophisticated, and demanded that she get the BBQ pork that hung in the window. I’d always wanted to order it but being vegetarian at the time prevented me from that. She said she liked it, but didn’t finish her portion, which in fairness was probably over a pound of meat. But she ate there with me and pretended to like it. I had developed a fondness for the front of house lady who spoke relatively no English, wore a bright orange uniform that I’d only ever seen on hotel cleaning ladies before and refused to recognise me when I went in each week. She was endlessly fascinating to me.
There was another noodle shop that opened across the street, that one of my best friends went to all the time. It was billed as Thai but it was mostly just whatever in an Asian formulation. I also used to go in there on my own at weird times and eat soup. They did recognise me and my bestie, and so sometimes when I was on my own, they’d invite me to sit at the family table with their grannies and watch weird Chinese soap operas. When my bestie and I went in, we got free dishes, and once we got durian mousse. Durian smells like dying feet but it tastes delicious. We choked it down in order to avoid being rude.
There’s a Korean restaurant in Toronto, I don’t know what the name of it is, but another of my best friends and I have been going there since we were in our twenties. I order the dol sot bi bim bap and she gets the soon tofu soup. Everybody’s happy. They don’t recognise us, but it’s okay. High turnover.
Across the street is a place where they still recognise me, even after being away for ten years, though I do go in at least once a year, if not twice. It’s a taco shop in the middle of Koreatown. Makes little to no sense, but it’s the best taco place in Toronto. They have a granny with three gold teeth working the grill in back. They make their own hot sauce. I went in there at least twice a week when I lived in Toronto. They still know me and ask why I don’t come in so much anymore. I keep telling them I moved away but they’re not having it.
In Glasgow, there was a Korean restaurant I frequented. And in London there was what I referred to as the Green Vietnamese, because it was painted a bright mint green on the inside. It was my local Vietnamese for four years, and the people got to know me in there too, so much so that they’d spot me now and again if I didn’t have quite enough cash. This is impressive for many reasons, not least of which because you cannot book, if your entire party is not there when you get to the front of the queue then too bad, you don’t get a seat, they don’t want to take plastic and will make it very difficult for you to pay with a card. The food is delicious. Even now, and it’s been a good eight months since I’ve eaten there, I know I want the number 59 – the bun. It comes with a spring roll, BBQ pork, and vermicelli noodles in salad. It’s delicious. I always tell myself I’ll order something new but in four years I haven’t. Well, sometimes I order more – like the crispy tofu pancake like the one L’il Sis and I used to get at our local Buddhist Vietnamese – but I always get the bun.
In Bristol there’s a bao shop up from me that I want to like but I went in there for the first time and they were out of kimchi. Which is ridiculous.
But anyhow, back to pizza. In our most recent Skype chats, The Mom has been enthusing about a new pizza place near hers and how we’ll have to go when I’m home in August. I’ll forego trying to get her to go for Korean with me, and instead we’ll have pizza. Because she likes it and she’ll have fun. All my friends know I’ll want to eat Asian food and they’ll bend to my will, and The Mom will too if pressed, but I’d rather eat pizza with her. It’s more fun for me now watching her enjoy it than even a plate of fresh noodles.