Not recommended: Burgoo

As I was finishing a long, hard day at my day job yesterday, Companion called and suggested that we go out for dinner. I was tired and dishevelled, but we agreed to meet at Burgoo.

There was only one table available, awkwardly placed between a divider and the bar, with just a narrow channel between our table and those perched on the barstools, along which servers and diners frequently squeezed on journeys to or from the kitchen or lavatory.

A heating vent under our table blasted air that must surely have been 120 degrees. Because I’d come directly from my day job and was still clad in a holey old white t-shirt covered in chocolate and whipped cream splatters, I felt compelled to retain my fleece pullover, inappropriate considering the elevated temperature rising from below the table. There was nowhere to put my bike bag, so I had it under the table, which prevented me from putting my legs in a comfortable position. Burgoo is also very noisy, and I was constantly straining to hear what the server or Companion said. Off to a bad start.

I have an odd relationship with Burgoo. This was my third visit ever. The first, to the North Vancouver location, was sometime early in the current century, which places my visits approximately three years apart.

That first visit was with Ex Companion, and except for the food being unmemorable, the visit was otherwise pleasant, though I seem to recall fairly clearly that she and I drank an awful lot of water that evening. [Note: foreshadow]

The second was with a Prospective Companion, the possible nature of which, at that moment, was unclear. We’d met years earlier, but had only recently become more intimately acquainted at a party at which, uh, costumes were not a feature, and neither was social intercourse of a vertical nature. You can fill in the rest.

As it happened, Prospective Companion suffered from an unfortunate lactose intolerance – unfortunate primarily because he’d ordered a meal that was apparently high in dairy content, which one might think would be challenging in a restaurant that specialises in stews. Regardless, I spent much of the evening at our table, while he spent much of it in the same lavatory mentioned in paragraph two.

There was never a second date, although I was interested. I’m not sure if this is because he felt too embarrassed about the circumstances, determined that I was not Mr. Right, or just because we were Vancouverites and therefore simply forgot to call.

Back to the current visit.

The idea of Burgoo is appealing to me because, generally speaking, stew is a highly desirable comfort food that in normal circumstances would make me feel better. I’d forgotten, though, that Burgoo’s stews seem decidedly unspectacular and disappointing, at least in relation to my stew expectations.

It may well be that my expectations are the biggest problem. Before I’ve even come through the door, my taste buds – in conjunction with cultural and genetic experience of the word “stew” – have generated an expectation that simply doesn’t match the multi-cultural reality of what Burgoo has to offer.

I’d like to point out that I’m not gastronomically conservative. I like foods from all cultures of the world. In fact, like many people of Scottish-Irish-English origin, I very understandably prefer foods from other cultures. I’ll take a good curry over a conventionally English dish almost any time (of course, one could argue that curry is among the most English of dishes).

So, when I get to Burgoo, I could, and probably should, order an Irish Stew, which presumably contains some variation of a traditional mutton-potato-vegetable-gravy combination.

I seldom do what I should do, however. Instead I ordered the Kentucky Burgoo, which contains “beef and smoked ham with lima beans, corn, tomatoes and okra”. That all sounds very innocuous. What could go wrong?

It was immediately apparent that it was going to be vastly too salty, and that the smart thing to do would be to drink lots of water with it. Unfortunately, Companion and I had ordered a bottle of wine. It’s not that we particularly wanted a whole bottle of wine – one glass would have been sufficient – but the stuff was $12 a glass, and a bottle was $30, and now that you can take home your un-drunk wine, the bottle seemed a mathematically superior choice (although no wine would have been mathematically more superior still).

Now, it could be that there was some other combination of circumstances to blame. Maybe the heat, that I was very tired, the noise, and the uncomfortable physical environment all conspired to wreak havoc on my constitution. Maybe drinking a bit of wine while being reminded of regrets about “what might have been” had things gone differently with either Ex Companion or Prospective Companion (funny how self-congratulation for “what-might-have-been-averted” doesn’t come up first) triggered an undesirable physical reaction.

Nevertheless, despite being exhausted upon arriving home, and despite being in bed and asleep by 9:45pm, I was wide awake at 1:00am and felt like I was on fire despite a cold bedroom. I was tormented by racing thoughts and acute anxiety and my mouth was so dry that my tongue could have been used as one of those little desiccants they pack with new electronics that have “do not eat” stamped upon them (despite the fact that the people most likely to think of eating them can’t read).

Possible combinations of circumstance aside (and barring a previously undiagnosed allergy to okra), I suspect that the primary cause of my distress was that there was something in my Kentucky Burgoo undocumented by the menu, and of which I know myself, from previous experiences, to be particularly sensitive: high levels of monosodium glutamate.

I’ve consumed a variety of substances through the course of my life, some fairly questionable, but I’ve never experienced anything as unpleasant an an MSG overdose. Even now, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I can still feel a remnant shakiness from its effects, and instead of working on my primary writing project, I’m writing about salt. I just want to hibernate, hydrate, and feel relaxed, safe, and comfortable again.

A nice bowl of stew would go very nicely right now!


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