Monday, November 19

day 11304: eating cheaply, but eating well

About a year and a half ago, I did an experiment to see if I could eat on $20 a week or less (including coffees and snacks, but not dinner and definitely not drinks after work… egad). And while it was successful in terms of money, it failed in terms of healthfulness. My diet sucked that week. I lived on fast food dollar menus and months old crap I cleared out of my freezer. I survived, but it’s not something that I would care to repeat again.

Throughout my childhood, cheap eating was a recurring theme. There were years of simple dinners of chicken wings (before the advent of buffalo wings) and egg drop soup (made with canned crème of corn) accompanied by bowlfuls of rice. Grocery shopping trips to Chinatown would net scores of cheap finds of animal parts that major grocery stores would reject. I’m talking face, feet and innards. The budget was stretched, but we ate well. Everything was homemade, even the yogurt.

As we got older, all-you-can-eat buffets began to grow in popularity. It became a family tradition of sorts that every Christmas one adult would take 10 children (cousins too) to a buffet where for the low, low price of $6.95 per child under the age of 11 we could eat to our hearts content. We were always under the age of 11, if you get my drift.

And so we ate until we could eat no more. We had contests to see who could eat the most plates of food. There was a mussel eating contest in Boston once. A cousin, who probably had a promising future as a competitive eater, devoured an astounding 70-something mussels… on top of the other food that he ate. Another time at a hot pot restaurant, we were served 23 plates of beef before the restaurant decided they didn’t want to honour the AYCE.

On family trips, my parents would eschew the restaurants where other tour members would dine, and instead we’d walk alongside the river bank, country field, etc grasping a baguette and fresh roasted chicken in one hand and a refilled bottle of something in the other. This was years before bottled water became popular. Or maybe this was years before I could fathom that people would want to pay for water that came free out of a tap.

Later on, even on my own trips, we ate cheaply. Cousin Bo, Min and I survived for a week in San Diego on pepperettes and stolen airplane food, supplemented by free conference food and the occasional (very occasional) dinner out. Best meal (and worse meal) on the 2003 France trip was a round of brie, baguettes, roasted chicken and some bad andouille (yuck) while sitting on a stone wall in the middle of Bayeux.

These days, I go through phases. I’m constantly looking for something new to try and have spent a lot of money doing so over the past few years. For the most part, things have been good, but for a lot of it, things have been disappointing as well. Everything tastes the same these days. Half the time, I don’t even know what I’m paying for.

My next goal – to eat cheaply, but to eat well. So for the next little while, I’ll be rediscovering the city in hopes of reawakening my palate. Whether it be something I make myself, or not, something has got to give. Somewhere out there I’ll find something soul-shattering.

All you out there… if you’re out there… post up suggestions. Results to be posted on almost a foodie.


teahouse said...

What a great post!! I love reading about food. Mmm..baguettes...

Anonymous said...

Pho. Good. Cheap. Yummy.

schmassion said...

Thanks teahouse!

mmm... pho...

Anonymous said...

do it yourself hot pot...or go out - uptown hot pot.