Microwaved rice in the UK?
You would think having a local host in the UK would lead to the best of the best restaurants. It took me a few days to discover that if our host John liked it, I was guaranteed to hate it– and vice versa. John truly likes only white or brown food with no seasoning, and he won’t eat salad because he refuses to eat anything he has to “push around a plate.” On top of that, let’s add some very limiting food restrictions– no beef, lamb, pork, dairy, gluten, egg… should I keep going? I wondered how we were going to survive a week of meals together, not only because of our polar opposite tastes, but also because of our collective food allergies. Call me selfish, but at this point, I had to decide who was going to eat well. It was me or him, and I was determined to win. The prize: satiety!
I was able to take advantage of the situation when his friends were around. When asked what kind of food I wanted, I always replied emphatically, “I want good food! Take me to your favorite place.” This almost always led us to the right spot. Often times it was an ethnic restaurant, and while I knew John might struggle, I kept believing he would learn to enjoy being an adventurous eater. I justified my selfishness with this rationale: it’s okay if John doesn’t THINK he likes colorful food that tastes great, he just needs to be shown the light. Soon enough, he will come around, and he will be really happy.
One day in Bath, England my life changed. The usual dialogue about where to eat with John‘s friend, Pete, led us to Wagamama! A friend of mine had suggested I go there, so I knew it would be great, and I jumped at the chance. Four words: chicken itame = perfection. Pete did not steer me wrong. In fact, of the 7 remaining days in the UK, I ate there 5 (4 of which I stuck with the itame.) I had itame in Bath, Covent Gardens (twice,) and Manchester. I’m a bit ashamed to say I didn’t venture out beyond this; but some days we had limited time, I didn’t want to take any chances, and I knew this would always be delicious and healthy. We even looked online and discovered there is one inside the Heathrow airport. Yes, I had chicken itame for breakfast before getting on the plane.
Unfortunately for John, he could not find anything on the menu to order. I learned that if there is nothing on the menu John likes, he will just not eat. I think he would have preferred to run out and get this:
Our waitress made sure to accommodate him as we were all uncomfortable with the idea that he could not or would not find one thing on the menu. Because she tried so hard to make him happy, he finally agreed to a kid’s meal. John seemed uncomfortable getting a kid’s meal, but it wasn’t too weird for us because John looks like a gigantic baby. John described his meal as “dry chicken on microwaved rice.” What? How could they serve microwaved rice at a restaurant with such fresh ingredients and a tagline that says “Positive eating + Positive Living?” He was sure it was microwaved because the rice was “sticky.” Obviously I still have some work to do in converting him… I just need another trip back to London!
Maybe someday I will get him to like color. Seriously, isn’t this beautiful?
Wagamama can be found everywhere in the UK, in some other European cities, and even in Boston! It is an Asian noodle house that serves soup, rice dishes, curry, and ramen to name a few. When we asked about the food allergies of gluten, soy, dairy, and egg, they did not miss a beat. The server went and brought out a list of all menu items and the ingredients in each. Any noodle dish can easily be substituted with rice noodles, and they are happy customize a plate according to your needs. In a place where the local cuisine is mostly off-limits to me, this simplified my life. And, it was delicious too!
The day after getting home, I searched for a recipe for itame. No luck. I did find out that their version of it is not the same as a traditional Japanese itame. It may be one of the few dishes not in their cookbook– I think they know they have something special here. I am having serious itame withdrawal, so I will try a copycat recipe and let you know how it works out! If it’s any good, I’ll be sure to share it here.
A few more photos…