1. Feeding Frenzy, Part 1:
You’ve gotten a reservation at your city’s hottest, hardest to get into restaurant with a young, hipster chef who braises short ribs in Coca Cola and serves thrice cooked bacon over rice patties that look like scallops. The menu is so revered and so complex that you literally make a spreadsheet of what you plan to order. You consult others who have eaten there to find out what’s recommended. The day of the dinner, you send your fellow diners an email filled with GIFs which express your excitement about eating at this nearly-impossible-to-get-into restaurant where the folklore says that there is a Skid Row poster from the ’80s hanging in the lobby and a bathroom that pays tribute to “Twin Peaks,” which is your favorite show of all time. You will visit that bathroom later and wish that you had visited it before dinner, so you could have focused more on the decor and less on the urgency with which you needed to use the toilet.
When you finally sit down it’s nearly 10 p.m., but you just feel lucky to be sitting. Next to you, a party of six young men are inebriated and sweating profusely. They seem too good looking to have snot running down their faces in the manner they do. You ask them how it was. The guy closest to you blows his nose before answering. You notice there are tears coming out of the corner of his eyes. “I’m in a state of profound bliss,” he tells you, wiping another round of sweat off his face. “You must order the chicken wings, but prepare to sweat.”
You’re ready for the challenge. You can handle this. You revise your spreadsheet slightly to include the chicken wings. You consider crossing off the fried soft-shell crab with buttermilk ranch dressing dipping sauce, but you (wisely or unwisely?) decide you have room for both. Your table orders and you just wait for the ride to begin.
2. The Mouth Amusements:
You’re not waiting for long. The first dishes start fly out in no particular order. Entrees and appetizers are all mixed together. The way they will be in your mouth within moments. There is spice. There is heavy spice. There are fried, cumin and chili powder dusted chicken wings served over a bed of hot chills. You put a chili in your mouth and feel the back of your neck tingle. You have started to sweat and it’s only the first bite. You’ve stopped talking to your fellow diners, everyone is quiet, focused, inquisitive, trying to understand the wild ride their tastebuds are on. You look up and all 12 dishes on your spreadsheet have arrived, as if delivered by magical, spice-loving elves. You look around the table and note people’s different approaches to the meal. One picks carefully at each bite with a pair of chopsticks. One piles food on his plate and pushes it around like a snow plow and shovels it into his mouth. You put one bite of everything on your plate and alternate between soup spoon and chopsticks, not masterfully at all. The chopsticks fall, broth splatters, sauce smears. You need more napkins. Your fellow dinner knocks a bowl of boiled peanut broth onto his sweater. “I don’t care,” he says, “this food is worth ruining a sweater over.”
Silence, silence, silence.
3. The Spice Bliss:
When the silence passes and you’re comfortably into an eating rhythm, you start to have conversations, the kind you had in college when you were very stoned, about the philosophy of things. You stop intermittently to dab balmy face with a napkin. You ask for another napkin because your nose is running and you have fried something under your fingernails. “It’s like your mouth is on a roller coaster,” one diner says. You all nod in agreement. “It’s like the chef is challenging you to break free of your eating barriers,” you say. The table nods in agreement. “It’s like this dish has layers of flavor and they just keep unfurling.” Nods all around. “It’s almost medicinal at the end,” you add. Nods, nods, nods.
The diner whose sweater was ruined calls the waitress over to ask about the spice that creates the complex after taste. She explains that the Sichuan pepper is used in Chinese medicine. That explains the medicinal flavor. You feel pleased with yourself. You have stepped up to the challenge and you have succeeded. At what? You don’t know. Life is good. You are grateful.
4. The Meat Sweats:
Until you feel your stomach begin to gurgle. You have put a plethora of new spices in your body and your digestive tract is trying to make sense of them. You begin to feel tired, confused, you have a sense of being displaced in time and space. You are really sweating now. There is still food on your plate and you know it’s your obligation to eat it, but really, you can’t. You take a grain of maple syrup fried rice with tempura thingies and you stick it on your finger and put it in your mouth. This signifies the end of your meal. You slump in your seat and watch the eater next to you pull a piece of bacon up to his mouth with a chopstick. His breathing is labored. He’s sweating too, but he looks intent on cleaning that plate. You are immobile. You make eye contact with each other and exchange a pained glance. You both know what is coming next.
5. The Regretsies:
You excuse yourself and head to the bathroom, rumored to have “Twin Peaks” paraphernalia in it. It does. There is a picture of Laura Palmer hanging over the toilet. You feel strange, because Laura Palmer has been murdered and so has your upper and lower GI tract. The “Twin Peaks” theme song by Angelo Badalamenti plays softly in the background. You realize this meal was the equivalent of “Twin Peaks,” only meant to be understood intuitively or viscerally, but not rationally, a little bit scary, a little bit mysterious, but riveting. The words surreal and supernatural come to mind. You imagine your “Twin Peaks”-obsessed high school self knowing about this moment right now, and you imagine how in awe of you she would have been. But then, the stomach cramps demand your attention for many hours.
You pass out on the couch after your guts have quieted, a glass of water at your side, cradling your stomach, reality TV on as comforting white noise distraction, vowing that you’ll never eat anything again. You won’t, you won’t, you won’t.
6. Feeding Frenzy, Part 2:
You wake up in the morning. You feel as if you have a hangover, but you only had one drink. Is it possible to have a hangover from food? It must be because your stomach is bristling. There is pain behind your eyes. Your mouth feels coated with a Sichuan pepper film even though you brushed and flossed before you hit the couch. It’s like the Sichuan pepper took up residence in your entire body and reproduced while you slept. Like lichen on a rock, your body has been invaded by Sichuan. You burp. Chicken wings. You burp again. Peanuts. Pea shoot greens. Anise. Lotus root. You roll out of bed and to the fridge. Hair of the dog, they call it in popular vernacular. Bacon and rice cake patties. Maple syrup fried rice. Boiled peanut and pea shoot grean soup. Take two.