While fighting the urge to strangle my friend in Amsterdam, I did also manage to have a few moments of fun.
The time that I ditched her (because she was, predictably, late meeting me during the one hour break I got from her) and ran back to the hotel for some quiet, I’d had cravings all day for Italian food. Pasta. Garlic. So when I sat down at a table on the outside terrace at the restaurant, my waiter asked if I wanted anything to eat. Well, as a matter of fact, I did. “I’m craving Italian, I said… specifically, garlic. Lots of garlic.”
He whipped out the menu and showed me the two Italian dishes on the menu, showing heavy preference for once dish in particular. I’d mentioned that I’m a vegetarian, and he asked if I ate seafood. I made a face – the face of someone who is not a seafood eater but who, in the right moment, might be convinced to try it. He raved about a dish, with vignoles – which he explained were like clams, but smaller (though I later found out that “vignoles” is simply the Italian word for clam), and which also was loaded with garlic.
It might have been because I was so completely fried from spending 48 hours with the most annoying travel companion ever, or maybe it was the glass of wine I’d already drunk, or maybe I was just feeling that adventurous, or maybe it was because I’ve long since been a sucker for twinkly Dutch eyes. I agreed to try this dish, though I had always declared clams to be the most disgusting food ever – the very smell of them, on the rare occasion that my parents made steamed clams at home, sent me running from the house for a full 24 hours because it was so intolerable. I went to a clambake with an ex once, and even he, being a seafood eater, was a little grossed out by the whole thing… once we discovered… ya know… those things POOP. In their shells. And you can see it. I mean, c’mon.
So now, looking back, I don’t know what the fuck I could possibly have been thinking – ordering a dish like this was just a stupid risk, in hindsight. But I did it. He offered to tell them to put the umm… “vignoles” on the side, instead of in the pasta, but I said, just make it the way it’s supposed to be made, I’m going crazy tonight!
My only complaint was, “You call that loaded with garlic?” Feh.
So he brought the dish out – a bowl of pasta with a bunch of little clams, in the shell, mixed throughout. I picked up a shell, with one hand, a fork in the other. I poked at the fleshy little noodle-like lump for a bit. I was both fascinated and stunned at the idea of putting this thing in my mouth. I called Chris, my waiter, over. “Is there any special technique to this? I’ve seriously never done this before. I just… detach this fleshy bit and eat it? That’s it?”
Yup, that’s it. (Though after passing by 20 minutes later and seeing my bowl full of empty shells, he pointed out the empty plate at my elbow. Ooooooh… I was supposed to put the empty shells in there.)
So here’s the thing. I don’t know how on earth I did this without puking. Seriously. I used to gag trying to get something like a tomato down my gullet, because the texture of raw tomato freaks me out. I’ve worked diligently and patiently to work tomatoes into my diet, to learn to like them, because I think they’re worth working on – after a year and a half of effort, I can now eat raw pieces of tomato without even making a face, so long as there’s none of that snotty seed stuff laying around.
Anyway. First I ate a piece of spiral pasta, to investigate flavor. It was reminiscent of tuna fish. That’s do-able – the only fish thing I’ve ever eaten, and like, is tuna fish. I’m rather fond of a good tuna fish sandwich on toasted wheat. Then I chose a shell and ripped the flesh from the hinge of the shell and, speared on my fork, held it up in the air for a good look. I took a deep breath and put it in my mouth, holding it between my back teeth for a minute before biting down. I bit down slowly and decided it had the texture of a noodle. A noodle – that’s not so bad, I like noodles.
But I could only bite down once before I decided I needed to swallow. Because then I started thinking about internal organs. And poop. I don’t know about you, but I can’t get excited about the idea of eating poop. Even if it is from the ocean and probably only consists of salt and… I don’t know… what does clam poop entail?
The grossness of it all was balanced out by my fascination with this whole process – the fact that I have NEVER EVER EVER eaten anything like this before. But one bite is all I was doing, m’kay? I felt obligated, both to myself for trying it, and to Chris (the waiter), who I’d befriended by this point. What to do? Ok, so one by one I popped them into my mouth… and um.. well, I swallowed them whole. Look, at least I kept going!
He asked me if I liked it and honestly? It was an experience. I tried something new and it didn’t kill me.
After that, The Travel Companion from Hell and I hung out with the restaurant staff after the place closed down. By that point, I’d had half a bottle of wine and she was tolerable. Then not only did I have seafood for the first time, but I drank BEER. I drank beer for the first time in ELEVEN YEARS. (Don’t ask. 11 years ago there was a drinking game. I lost. Badly. There was a lot of vomit involved.)
Beer and clams. Is it any wonder I got sick?