Thursday, September 15, 2005

I eats my spinach!

In his homeland sugar-craving children do battle with parents over the dinner table and real men don’t even eat quiche, but Teddy de Burca Jnr. discovers in Vietnam, digging veggies is nothing to be ashamed of

As a young whippersnapper my mother simply referred to spinach as “delicious”. “Eat your delicious darling,” she’d say, as I stared suspiciously at the soggy, green and oh-so-healthy vegetable in front of me.

When I wouldn’t play ball she’d remind me of the Herculean feats of Popeye, but I figured that to be just one big mothers-in-arms conspiracy to try and get fussy scamps, like myself, to eat it up. She had other lines – “Eat your greens and you’ll have rosy cheeks” or “it’ll put curls in your hair”, but what child would bite that bait?

Only one line would work, the lowest of the low, in my eyes, the thinly veiled blackmailing sucker punch – “If you don’t eat it, there’s no dessert.”

Of course there was a dessert, I could see it, a plump apple crumble by the stove, and I could smell it, a gentle waft of cinnamon and sugary apples hung in the air, the fresh cream, already whipped, sat by its side. But the way she said “there’s no dessert” seemed as if she could make it simply vanish into thin air, with a “now you see it, now you don’t” magician’s flourish. My mother had that sort of power, I had no doubt.

Within seconds my plate was licked clean, although I would try – to lessen the pain – to swallow the lump of remaining vegetable in one, so I could barely breathe let alone chew. Moving the vegetables from one side of my mouth to the other, gulping for air, I would watch my brother holding his nose, mouth agog in the air, dropping Brussel sprouts (his own personal bogey-food) down the hatch, as though trying to dispose of incriminating evidence.

Now, thankfully, my brother and I lived to tell the tale, and grew to be men, with no fear of vegetables, and there is no deep emotional scarring to speak of, though I still have a lingering doubt as to Popeye’s credibility as Brutus’ superior and my brother curiously never opened his mouth while visiting Brussels, years later, during a brief visit to the Belgian capital.

But the question is what do mothers do in Vietnam where – if you are a child you should sit down and take a deep breath – in homes there is often no dessert served, with the exception of fresh fruit. You can twist my arm with puddings and chocolate, sure, but a slice of watermelon or a bunch of grapes? I mean, perhaps, a slice to clean the palate before a triple layered chocolate fudge cake with crème anglaise and sugar on top – but nothing but?

Well, the answer is, they do nothing. The children, believe it or not, in my experience, eat the spinach, along with every other green on the table, even pickled cabbage. Now, try comparing that to my homeland – where meat and spuds are the staple, where continental cuisine is frozen lasagne, a fish supper is fish fingers, vegetables are spurned by children and everything they eat gets washed down with copious amounts of fizzy pop, before jelly and ice cream rears its wobbly head.

Or how about the men – at the bia hoi in Vietnam, if you look, you can find two tough looking locals, complete with tattoos and grimacing faces, sharing a beer, a cigarette and a plate of tofu garnished with freshly plucked sprigs of mint and finely chopped spring onion. Any man seen doing this in a pub back home would be accused of being, how shall we say, a little bit light on the loafers, and there would be tears before bedtime no doubt.

In these parts, while I tuck into breakfast I have seen parents buy children chocolate cake at nine in the morning, but that’s understandable considering that a) they’ve been up since five and b) they eat their greens. Let them have cake, say I.

So if my mother comes back in her next life as a mother, I hope for her sake she is one in Vietnam, a place where delicious is just plain spinach, and the children even cry out for more, and to prepare dessert all she’d have to do would be peel an apple. Then she could put her tired feet up while the children washed the dishes.

Quotes on spinach
“On the subject of spinach: divide into little piles. Rearrange again into new piles. After five of six maneuvers, sit back and say you are full.”
Delia Ephron from How To Eat Like A Child

“One man’s poison ivy is another man’s spinach.”
George Ade, American humorist

“Spinach, for decades, has been the Waterloo of kids all over the world, the one food no mother will take a ‘no’ for.”
Kanika Goswami, journalist

“Never eat spinach just before going on the air.”

Dan Rather, broadcaster

“No matter what my mom does to it, spinach always tastes awful.”
Kelly, an American girl aged 11

“Spinach is susceptible of receiving all imprints: It is the virgin wax of the kitchen.”
Grimod de la Reynie.

“I’m strong to the finish, ‘cos I eats my spinach, I’m Popeye the sailor man.”
Popeye, sailor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ly tells me that the secret here is to block the kid's nose and then when they open their mouth to breath, in goes the food... she then demonstrated on me, and it worked a treat... damn veggies