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Sunday, July 02, 2006


So imagine my embarassment when, while trying to eat my BLAT, I made the plate clatter loudly and scatter chips everywhere.

Let me start at the beginning.

This morning I bowled into the same coffee shop I went into last weekend. The same one where I bought my food and drink for my drive out to Akaroa. The same one where I tipped that cute waitress and she got all flustered.

OK. So I went back in today, armed with the Christchurch (herein and forever after referred to as "Chch") paper and time to kill. That cute waitress is there again. Sweet. This time, I order in: a hot chocolate and then I look up on their menu and I have to move fast. There is already someone standing behind me on line and I hate to make people wait.

The woman behind the counter had already asked if I wanted my hot chocolate in a 'bowl', and for a brief minute I panicked into thinking she thought I had ordered something else. Since when did hot chocolate come in a bowl? I was stumped. Then I guessed it’s yet another term the Kiwis use for things that we yanks know and love but call something else. So, I said yes to a bowl of hot chocolate please, and hoped I knew what I was doing.

I still had to make my lunch selection, and I spied something called a BLAT on the menu. It was closest to what I recognized as far as sandwiches went and I didn’t really recognize any of the other sandwich names, so I went with it. I finished my order with no worries, although it's amazing that even though I speak the language I can have such a hard time even ordering lunch!

Before I continue, there’s one thing you need to know about New Zealand. When you order food here, it is going to come with chips. Lots of them. I half expect that even things on the dessert menu show up on your table with a side of chips. The chips aren't usually listed in the menu descriptions, either. Chips are what we call french fries, and they're great over here.

I didn’t read the whole description of the BLAT (which it turns out is bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato – the avocado being a nice surprise). The sandwich arrived a few minutes later and it was a real whopper. The sandwich itself was huge – a thick slab of bread, lathered with mayonnaise, topped with plump slices of cooked ham, lettuce, tomato and slabs of avocado. I’ll get back to the sandwich and the whole range of problems it represented in a minute, but there was something else: The sandwich was nested on a large bed of chips, of which there were so many they were overflowing the edge of the plate! The cute waitress did exceptionally well just navigating her way to my table without so much as spilling a chip. They were so precariously poised that any attempts to manipulate the gigantic sandwich would undoubtedly end in spilling some chips over the edge of the plate and onto the table. Definitely not something I wanted to do in this crowded cafe, seated in full view of said lovely waitress.

As I pondered my meal, which was uncomfortably larger than I had been expecting or wanting – what would the cute gal think of my prodigious appetite? – I realized after some initial careful inspection that this was not just an open-faced sandwich. The piece of bread was just that – a solitary large piece of bread. There was no easy way to split it and put in the BLAT, making it a proper sandwich. I had to somehow eat this behemoth without upsetting the unstable bedding of chips AND fit all 4 elements of the BLAT into my mouth with bread without seeming like a pig.

Well, I tried gently carving bits of ham and tomato and even bread with the fork and knife, but only succeeded in slamming one end of the plate into the table, sending chips flying and the plate clattering. Red-faced, I dare not look up but knew I had made myself a spectacle. Undaunted, I picked up the scattered chips and put them back onto the fringes of the plate. I had my very own bottle of ketchup (called tomato sauce down here), so I figured the only way to ever have the sandwich in non-caveman fashion was to clear some space on the plate. That meant the chips had to go first. The chips down here are all lovely, they’re very crisp and tasty, better by far than the fast food joints provide back home. But… they’re also fattening and very filling, and weren’t what I had intended to order at all. The sandwich alone was more than enough to fill me up, but if I were to try and eat it as it was I may as well have started oinking to complete the picture.

Anyways, I managed to clear enough space for a proper ‘carving area’, but still fumbled with the fork and knife and never truly got a bite of BLAT and bread all at once. But the food was very tasty - it's an excellent cafe - and I managed the rest of the meal without any further spillage. Incidentally, the hot chocolate did come in a cup, although it was large and bowl-shaped.

I’m still pretty sure I didn’t eat the sandwich properly. Something tells me most Kiwis would just go for it and pick the whole thing up and start taking gargantuan bites out of it, falling chips be damned. But, there was no way I was risking that kind of tactic with that cute waitress present. It would be kind of hard to strike up conversation in the future with a serious face, knowing she had seen me singlehandedly down that BLAT monstrosity without so much as looking at a utensil.

Next time, I'm ordering the fish. Which, as it should, will invariably come with chips.


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