The Library of Table

Given an infinite combination of games & food . . .

Potatoes in Vinegar Sauce

A few years back, while I was working as a temp at an insurance company, I decided to read Moby Dick on my lunch break. (I know, MoFoers, not the most vegan of books, but hold on, there’s more to this.) I was shocked by how much I was enjoying my slow, leisurely stroll through this mammoth of a classic.

For months, I looked forward to my lunch hour (more of a half an hour, when all was said and done) and the time I got to spend with Melville and his whaling crew. During those same months, I was rarely on the ball enough to pack a lunch. I had to fend for myself in the financial heart of New York City. It was during this time when I discovered the falafel cart.

$2.50 for a platter of stuffed grape leaves, freshly fried falafel balls, hummus, baba ghannouj and a spicy giardiniera salad all drowning in rich tahini. And warm pita on the side. Heaven!

Every week day I sat in that tiny break room with my wire book stand and my falafel platter and disappeared into Moby Dick. And after pages and pages of sensual details of whale hunting, an activity I had absolutely no frame of reference for, I began to trick myself into associating the various alien smells and tastes described in the book with tahini, falafel, and company.

I had not realized this until, long after I finished reading it, I was enjoying a falafel sandwich and thought to myself, “I bet this is what whale tastes like.”

In much the same way, I’ve trained myself to associate Chinese takeout with D&D. After months of meeting up with folks twice a month to enjoy a little General Tso’s Tofu while pursuing the minions of Demogorgon, I managed to permanently link frustrating die rolls, exploding monsters and that deliciously sweet-with-a-hint-of-spicy sauce of the general’s.

But this story isn’t about D&D or the white whale. It’s about potatoes in vinegar sauce.

Elsewhere in my gaming world, there is a group of explorers known as the Imaginauts. An intrepid squad of experimental gamers willing to delve the depths of not just one game, but a myriad. A myriad, I tell you!

And when the Imaginauts meet, we often order Chinese takeout as well. From a different restaurant, because we love variety and because we meet in a completely different neighborhood than my regular D&D group. The chefs at this particular restaurant like to lean a bit on the spicy lever as they go along.

Now, I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to the hot stuff. Some of my favorite meals have left me sweating and in an alter state. And while this place has yet to elevate my conscious, it has managed to make my eyes water just for opening the containers dinner came in.

I love it.

By far my favorite dish of their’s is tofu in spicy black bean sauce. But every time we go to order, I find myself in a quandary. Because, just two spots above the tofu in spicy black bean sauce on the menu is one of the most simple, concise and enigmatic dishes I have ever encountered. Potatoes in vinegar sauce.

Potatoes in Vinegar Sauce

It is what it says it is. Potatoes. And they’re in a vinegar sauce. The potatoes are not fried. Nor do I think they’re baked. Perhaps boiled or steamed, or otherwise warmed. Grated, tricking your brain into expecting hash browns. And vaguely vinegar-y.

The Internet tells me, through context alone, that this is a Sichuan entrée. Which makes sense, given the rest of the menu; but to my North American, excessively corn-fed palette, they are a mystery.

Part of that mystery is due to the fact that I have a poor memory for tastes. And I swiftly forget what they taste like. And every few weeks, when we pull out the menu, I see it listed, with it’s tantalizing title: potatoes in vinegar sauce. And I think, “Oh, that would hit the spot right about now.” And the temptation to order it would grow.

But the thing is, there’s nothing to this dish. It’s not all that appealing. Not to say it’s unappealing. It’s just bland. Which is very hard to believe. I know. I mean, vinegar and potatoes were made for each other. Vinegar potato chips. A nice malt vinegar on french fries or a baked potato. These are some of the best things in life.

But potatoes in vinegar sauce pales in comparison. It’s a shadow of a potato caught in the hint of vinegar. Neither sharp nor . . . potato-y. Kind of just there.

And yet, it’s a struggle not to order them. Every time. We’ve even annotated the menu with instructions not to order them, even if I want to. And still I have to depend on the rest of the Imaginauts to talk me out of it.

I can’t explain it. I’m not a fan of this food, I don’t particularly enjoy eating it, but I can’t shake my desire for it.

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2 Comments»

  Epidiah wrote @

Wow, that was windy and pointless. I swear this VeganMoFo thing would be easier if I just photographed my dinner every night.

  Keren wrote @

Don’t eat the potatoes!


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