A few weeks ago, I went to the Bao Bei restaurant in Medellin by myself.
I said, “Table for one.”
I showed up early and was number seven on the list. When it was my turn to be sat, the host asked if I would like to share a table with another person who arrived by himself. In the past, I’ve always said yes. But this time, I was reluctant. Here’s why.
I was in New York for a week earlier this year. A friend of mine was traveling for work so she let me crash at her place in Manhattan and I had the apartment all to myself! I’ve always wanted to just live in New York and feel like a New Yorker. My husband had gone to school in the Bronx and suggested that I check out a few restaurants. One of them was Grimaldi’s pizza in Brooklyn.
So one day, I went to Grimaldi’s for lunch. I stood in line for a few minutes.
I said, “Table for one.”
The host asked me if I would like to share a table with another singleton like myself. Without even giving it a second thought, I said yes and immediately met my companion. An Australian with Lebanese roots in her 40s.
We were both flexible with the menu and ordered two pizzas to share. We exchanged a few stories about getting lost in the subway and what brings us to New York by ourselves. By the time the pizzas arrived, I had drunk two cups of room temperature water. I wondered why I was suddenly a bit exhausted. I looked up at my lunch mate and her lips were still moving. Not only was she talking fast but she was also asking me the same question again.
I took a deep breath, I pulled out a slice of pizza from the medium-sized pan, careful not to begin my sentence with, “As I said earlier…”
I took another deep breath, this time to inhale the smell of the brick oven baked pizza. If I take a third breath, this women will think I’m insane and wonder if I heard her question or if I’m ignoring her.
I said, “Yes. I like Italian food, it’s not my favorite probably because I haven’t had much of it.”
I counted the seconds of silence between us: 1, 2 –
“This looks really good. I hope it lives up. “ She said quickly.
1, 2 –
“Oh, the pepperoni is spicy.”
I sprinkled pepper flakes over my slice, added some parmesan cheese.
“It’s not spicy for you?” She chuckled.
“I like spice, ” I said. [bite, chew] “I used to carry my own bottle of hot sauce in my – “
“Oh, really, that’s funny,” she interrupted.
1, 2 – “So, do you like sports?” she asked.
This is another question she had asked me earlier but I took my sweet time to answer. I inhaled deeply and I wondered, what incited this question, again? Here’s what she did, she turned her gaze to the TV playing sports over at the bar which prompted the idea of sports, thus provoking her to ask me, “So do you like sports?”
I grabbed my napkin and wiped my dry lips. Why is my mind behaving like a snob? This woman has a masters in public health. She’s not stupid, maybe she’s just nervous or had coke a minute ago.
“I’ve gotten into it. My husband is from Cleveland so I had to learn a few things. It’s part of the deal. Are you married?”
Yes, she’s married and she has kids. This means that she has an outlet. Though she hasn’t had an outlet for the past two days, can that be sufferable for some people? I have ADHD, I’m pretty sure I used to be this way, have compassion Jane!
Her lips keep moving. I do my best to keep up but she’s talking a mile a minute and my energy is being usurped. I’m not judging. I’m simply observing that her jabbering is usurping my mental energy. After counting up to 3 seconds of silence I give myself a break and let my mind wander.
I ask for a glass of white wine. It’s 2 o’clock, wine not.
For the next hour, I notice that whenever it’s my turn to tell a story or to talk or respond to one of her questions, she interrupts to tell her own story. I noticed that all her questions are yes or no types that serve as a springboard for her to launch into another soliloquy about herself. This is an imbalance and it’s unfair. I’m not a barf bag.
She’s a very interesting lady but like Trump, she only likes to hear herself talk and she doesn’t recognize my visual cues. Like when I take more than three seconds to answer a question, or when I close my eyes to savor my bite of pizza. Or when I told her how I like to smell the food in front of me for a few moments, maybe even a minute, before diving in… or when I purposely look out the window after she ends a thought. I feel exhausted and the wine isn’t doing anything to loosen me up. I just want to leave.
“So, what do you think about the pizza?” she asks.
1, 2, 3 –
She continues, “I think it’s quite yummy, we did good with choosing the ingredients -”
I interrupt her, “What do I think about the pizza, let me think…”
1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
I look down at the leftover crust, all three pieces of them.
6, 7, 8
I feel her getting anxious and I become anxious for more silence. What if I get my notebook out and tell her that I’m a food critic from Colombia and that in order to judge the food, I’ll need more than eight goddamn seconds to gather my thoughts. I’ll just pretend to write and instead, savor the food that’s in my mouth. I am tasting it. Wow, what a few extra seconds can do.
“I’ve had better.”
I decide to have fun and talk really slow. When will I ever see this woman again? Let’s hope never!
“I have haaad b e t t er, hmm, a c t u a l l y, hmm, the first time, hmm… that I, I mean, d u r i n g m y first trip to N e w Y o r k…”
In a very slow monologue that included more hmms than usual; I told her that I had better pizza in Staten Island, New York. James’s friend Chris got us a few boxes of pies when we got in late one night. The topping was penne pasta! Who puts pasta on their pizza? I was ravenous so I wasn’t going to turn it down.
I took one bite and time stopped. My four senses of see, touch, smell, and taste amplified as my ears became deaf to the TV playing a rerun of Chris’s favorite show, Impractical Jokers. I sat on the couch somewhat paralyzed, feeling a part of my heart slowly collapse from that one bite and my knees wobbled. I folded the delicate slice of pizza and heard the faint cracking sound of the crust.
Having the best pizza in New York is one of those unique experiences that only a certain place and maybe even time can enable; where the food is unlike anything you’ll ever taste. Some examples in my life include:
Xialong bao dumplings in Taipei.
Asam laksa in Kuala Lumpur.
Fried fish in Boca Chica.
Masala dosa in Singapore City.
Fish tacos in San Diego.
Street tacos in Mexico City.
Crab cakes in Baltimore.
Ramen in Tokyo.
Ceviche in Lima.
For those who can’t afford either the time or money to travel, you can eat. When I was in high school, I used to prop my bike on a bus and take it to the heart of Los Angeles. Somewhere near Rodeo Drive, I had my first taste of Indian food when I was 16. I had no idea what the red soup was but it looked spicy and it had this thing called tofu. Well, I was going through a vegetarian phase so I was stoked. Years later, I learned that the curry dish that transported me to some other world was vegetarian red curry.
“Where is this pizza place?” Asked my chatty Australian lunch mate.
“I, do not k n o w, I w i l l h a v e to check my phone.”
I usually don’t ever check my phone when I’m at a restaurant with friends but I made an exception then.
I handed her my phone.
“Hey, can you take my picture? I want to show my husband that I made it to Grimaldi’s”
Here’s the picture I took.
There were two slices left.
“You can take them,” I said. “No really, I’m going to a show and they probably won’t let me in with it.”
We split the bill. We hugged each other and went our separate ways.
Back in Medellin, at the Bao Bei Bar, the host asked if I would mind sharing a table with someone else who will be dining alone. I was reluctant and my face showed it. The host said, “You can say no.”
“Yeah, I think I would like to eat by myself tonight if that’s okay…” I said feeling guilty but the host immediately assured me that it’s fine. These Colombians are so freakin’ friendly, it’ll never get old! She sat me, she handed me the menu and I felt giddy.
I ordered a few appetizers and an alcoholic drink. I got my kindle out my cheeks lifted. I was smiling like an idiot and the couple next to me probably noticed and I d i d n ‘ t c a r e.