And he answered it.
The course of a life is dotted with many mysteries, with certain events concurring in ways that makes one question the existence of coincidences. Back in November when I was visiting my parents in Boston, turkey and stuffing on my mind, my mom got tickets to see Anthony Bourdain present – talk and shoot back shots of vodka on stage with that Russian bastard Zamir. At the time, my plan was to stay as a guest in my parents’ home for only two or three weeks before heading back to Uruguay but, well, the proverbial rug was discourteously pulled out from under me and I fell face-forward into a solid month of heartache and confusion. At the time I kept telling myself that I hadn’t seen it coming. But that’s not true. I had.
On a vacation to Miami, he had once asked my advice on what to eat and I had recommended a Cuban sandwich. During the follow-up phone call the next day, I learned that he had taken my suggestion, but that he had unceremoniously pulled the pickle out from under the ham. He told me, “Otherwise, it was quite delicious.” The conversation ended with sweet words, but the thought stayed with me for hours after. He had gone to a Cuban cafe and ordered a Cuban sandwich, a thing that has been around as a favorite lunch item for Cuban cigar factory and sugar mill workers since 19th century, one which was brought to Florida and made popular there by the influx of Cubans following the Communist Revolution, one whose recipe has evolved to perfection and has served as an inspiration, reinvented on menus such as that of José Andrés’s Bazaar. And he had pulled out one of the 5 ingredients that make it what it unique, distinct from the ultra-bland jamón y queso so popular in the Southern Cone of South America. He had taken the pungent-sweet, juicy, cool acid contrast away from the warm, savory meat and bread. He had wiped the red dot off the Miró.
But I let it go. That is, until something stirred this up again inside of me, as I was sitting in the audience that night in Symphony Hall. I felt an urge running through me, and I stood up, requested the microphone and asked Bourdain my question: Was it ok to do what he did? Yes, food is judged in a way that is subjective and – hey – if you don’t like pickles but you like everything else in there, why shouldn’t you have the right to take them out? After all, you paid for it. And you’re hungry. And you just don’t like red dots. So, is there really a problem?
The answer came pretty quickly and it was the one I had hoped to hear, one that soothed my soul and assured me that I was not mad. No. It is not okay. It is not okay to order a Cuban sandwich in Miami and take out the pickle. You have every right to do it, sure, and nothing will be said in your presence to ruin your dining experience. But you will be judged, because it is wrong by some ideologies, including my own, including Tony’s. And I’m good with that.
As fate would have it, the pickle-remover and I ended our year-long relationship just a few days after this night. The two incidents were not directly related by any means, but in a way which somehow makes almost too much sense to me, they really did seem to be.
One thought on “I Asked Bourdain a Question”
A pickle is a pickle. But with the sum of the other four ingredients, it becomes an iconic staple–El Cubano. The sweet, tangy, brine of a cucumber is an essential pillar of the Cuban Sandwich. Is a car without wheels the same? No.
And in this case, a pickle may have saved you greater heartache, a plane ticket, and upkeep to your values; what a cucumber.
Nicely written btw.