My dentist said, ‘Have a good lunch before you come. Treat yourself.’ So I had it all planned – a toasted sandwich at The Playhouse, a place blissfully ignored by all Oxford in daylight hours. But the menu has changed and all the options were Really Fattening. Slabs of cheddar, cream cheese, etc. I looked over the choices twice before deciding I really had to go elsewhere, sob. So I walked on, to No. 2 favourite eatery in this city of eateries, Mortons in New Inn Hall Street, but all they had were baguettes over a foot long and so crusty I’d need another appointment at the dentist; and then wraps. Well, wraps are good. But duck in hoy sin sauce? Smoked goats’ cheese?
Suddenly I remembered my mother’s face when she first tasted grapefruit, and how I’d had to coax her to put a piece of avocado in her mouth. Her wail of ‘I don’t like it!’ was always met with my ‘You haven’t tried it!’ Well, I haven’t tried any of these things and I’m certain I don’t like them. Absolutely convinced. I don’t exactly want spaghetti on toast but you know what I’m getting at: something normal, something light.
Off to the open market, then, where I could be sure to find some street food. It must have been like this in Rome at the height of the Empire. Chinese fried noodles, Indian hamburgers, paellas, big dumplings (halal), Venezuelan arepas, Polish cheesecake, polenta, Vietnamese noodle soup, kebabs, Sri Lankan Roti, Gyoza buns (which apparently are Octopus balls), langos ‘n’ spatzle, and oh, at last, good old English hog roast, only I don’t fancy it. After all, cooking in the open air can’t be good in a place with the levels of air pollution we have in Oxford. Can it? And then I read, ‘Artisan Bread baked on the bus while you slept.’ Whaaaat? Which bus? The number six? The Park and Ride? Which? No coincidence that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland in this city.
So now I’m staggering and wanting to howl, ‘My kingdom for an egg sarnie!’ But then I remember the Nosebag, the good old Nosebag, which has been in Oxford longer than I have. Ten minutes later and I’m getting a small bowl of mixed salad with a blob of cottage cheese on top. And just to show the young man serving that I’m not a poor old lady, not yet, I pronounce quinoa ‘keen-wa’ when I ask for some.
On the way to the dentist, I find an unassuming cafe close by that sells paninis. Paninis! Now that’s what I’d been looking for: proper English food.