by Kristine Mietzner
“Share everything,” tops the list of kindergarten lessons in Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Although I learned to share as a child, later in life I developed an aversion to sharing food with friends when dining out.
When companions offered a taste of their food, I declined. Why wouldn’t I share food with friends at restaurants? I wasn’t concerned about germs. I wasn’t greedy for quantities of food. Instead, I was afflicted with a certain type of post-parenting malady that had to do with freedom of choice. I was starving to be the decider, at least in terms of what I ate for dinner.
For two decades, I cooked to please my children and husband. I plead guilty to being too lenient, too much of a “pleaser” when it came to my dinner-cooking practices. In my defense, no one went hungry on my watch. My daughter and son loved the dinners I cooked as long I served spaghetti, chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, tacos, hot dogs, hamburgers, or pizza. My husband’s food preferences had an even narrower range, from filet mignon to salmon filets. There were many moments of joy, but marriage and raising children left me feeling I had had enough of pleasing everyone else and limiting my own choices.
Once I became single again, I reveled in chances to order food that pleased my palate alone. After my divorce, I vowed I would enjoy the second act of my life with a wider range of food choices, which may have been a first step towards life choices. I took incredible pleasure in ordering exactly what I wanted when I ate out, knowing I would not share. I savored ordering by and for myself.
When I ate out with one particular friend, however, she asked me over and over if I wanted to taste her food. Debbie bubbled with enthusiasm.
“You’ve got to taste this. Here,” she insisted at one restaurant, as she she insisted at one restaurant, wagging a fork that held a glazed honey-walnut prawn.
“No, thank you.” I stabbed one of my delicious chicken-filled pot stickers with a fork. What’s hers was hers. What’s mine was mine.
“You’re going to love it. ”The prawn remained in mid-air. “It’s the best I’ve ever tasted.”
“No, thank you.” I loved my pot stickers. I drew a knife through one of them, lifted the morsel to my mouth, and savored the flavors and textures.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like you like to try one? Oh, come on, why not?”
“Thanks, but no thanks. These are great,” I said. And they’re mine, I thought. I smiled at my new-found culinary boundaries and continued enjoying my Chinese dumplings.
One evening when Debbie and I were having dinner with friends, our orders arrived as usual. Mine was a flaky sautéed sea bass covered with a lemon fennel caper sauce.
“Bon Appetit,” I said. I pressed a fork into the tender fish and didn’t ask anyone else at the table if they wanted a bite. I was having a blissful seafood experience.
Then I heard the question. “Would you like to try this? It’s terrific.” Debbie held up a forkful of her pesto basil gnocchi.
“No thanks.” I decided to be as firm about saying no to sharing as Debbie was insistent on sharing. Debbie's food didn't interest me. I had ordered exactly what I wanted, an utterly satisfying selection. What was the matter with her? I kept thinking, taking another bite of my fish.
A few weeks later, the impulse to travel led me to Barcelona. While there, I was drawn to the idea of a tour experience where I would dine where locals did. I booked a day with the Food Lovers Company, a high-end dining tour. My guide, Nuria, the company’s owner, met with four 30-something women and me for a day of dining.
“You don’t mind sharing, do you? We’re going to be having lots of servings of food at small places. Everybody can taste a bit of everything, yes?” said Nuria. She introduced the idea of sharing well before we reached our first stop, eliminating that sense I might have had of getting ambushed.
Nuria cheerfully explained that sharing was the way the tour would be handled, and sharing everything wasn’t really optional.
“Of course. Yes. That’s fine.” I was under Nuria’s spell. I can do this, I told myself. I nodded and got caught up in a whirlwind day of dining at small, hole-in-the-wall cafes that served fresh local food.
Our first stop was a venue filled with locals, no sign above the door, wooden tables, a small kitchen, an old bar, and a chalkboard menu. The aroma of garlic and olive oil wafted through the air. Nuria ordered multiple dishes of several items, speaking in Catalonian to the bartender.
When the food arrived, Nuria distributed it as evenly as a parent serving pizza slices to hungry children. “This is for the two of you. And this is for you, and this is for us.”
We shared everything: a tender six-inch squid sautéed in garlic and olive oil; crunchy, lightly-breaded anchovies; chopped onions and sliced squid marinated in olive oil and garlic. The squid and anchovies had been in the sea only hours earlier. The aioli on the delicate croquettes called bombas had been whipped up from scratch.
This scene played out at several places where we noshed and talked, sharing food and stories. By the end of the day, the other five women and I knew a lot about each other. Our spirits were lifted by the camaraderie of sharing. We had a group photo, hugged, and as I turned to leave, I knew I would always remember our day of good food and company.
Nuria had led me to back to the land of sharing, a teacher who appeared when I was ready to learn. I no longer wandered in the land of recovering from the past and felt a readiness to live in the present. I experienced a new lightness, which included a willingness to share food at restaurants.
Back home in California, I discovered, as so many travelers do, that my journey had changed me. Sharing food with friends had a whole new allure. Why had it taken me so long to figure out that sharing can be fun? What was wrong with me? My long hiatus from sharing ended. Just like that.
The next time I had dinner with friends, I channeled my inner Nuria. In advance of our arrival at the restaurant, I said, “What do you say we order some dishes and share everything?”
But wait. Not so fast. I discovered I was not entirely cured of wanting to keep my food to myself. I made one exception. So, if we ever eat together, don’t even think about asking me to share my pot stickers.
IF YOU GO
Tim: +34 688.740.530 Spanish mobile and WhatsApp,
Nuria: +34 607.634.015 Spanish mobile and WhatsApp,
Kristine Mietzner lives in northern California with her golden retriever Max.