Deconstructing a Take-Out Menu  


This post has nothing to do with Belfast Nightlife.

One of my favorite internet reads is this story from the satirical news site 'The Onion'.
CAMBRIDGE, MA—Jon Rosenblatt, 27, a Harvard University English graduate student specializing in modern and postmodern critical theory, deconstructed the take-out menu of a local Mexican restaurant "out of sheer force of habit" Monday.

"What's wrong with me?" Rosenblatt asked fellow graduate student Amanda Kiefer following the incident. "Am I completely losing my mind? I just wanted to order some food from Burrito Bandito. Next thing I know, I'm analyzing the menu's content as a text, or 'text,' subjecting it to a rigorous critical reevaluation informed by Derrida, De Man, etc., as a construct, or 'construct,' made up of multi-varied and, in fact, often self-contradictory messages, or 'meanings,' derived from the cultural signifiers evoked by the menu, or 'menu,' and the resultant assumptions within not only the mind of the menu's 'authors' and 'readers,' but also within the larger context of our current postmodern media environment. Man, I've got to finish my dissertation before I end up in a rubber room." 


This article is great, because as well as being very funny, it is insightful. It gives some 'food for thought' about food from different cultures and how we 'appropriate' them.

The article made me think about Indian food in British society, how we refer to 'ordering an Indian' and then order something that an actual person living in India has probably never heard of. For example the Tikka Massalla was invented in Birmingham I've never been to China, but I feel with some confidence that if I went there, I'd struggle to find somewhere that could serve me a recognisable number 7 special sweet and sour.

Given this, it's reasonable to say that food has become a sort of pastiche of the culture from which it (in the popular consensus) originates. I know of an Irish person who went to a Greek island and set up a 'Mexican' restaurant . The customers are English holiday makers and they get a 'Mexican' hat, poncho and fake cigar to wear whilst they eat their meal. Further, the whole experience is not a replication of Mexican culture, but the American appropriation of Mexican culture popularised in American media.

This, illustrates a recurring theme throughout the Anglo-Western world of appropriating and then serving a caricature of a culture or identity to be consumed, perhaps re-enforcing certain prejudices in the process.

Indeed, it seems prejudiced and the food industry often go hand in hand. Take for example this news story from my home town in England:

Padiham chippy sign is racist - claim
A CHIP shop sign announcing its new owners are English has been branded ‘racist’.
Paul Bradbury and his wife Rachel have taken over the Chippy On The Green in Hapton Road, Padiham.
They have hung a banner outside which says ‘Under new management with English owners’.
Calls have been made from Burnley’s MP and the mayor of Padiham for it to be taken down.
But Mr Bradbury remains defiant and said people who think it’s racist are narrow-minded.


This story is one of those very common occurrences of  "being subtly racists whilst feigning ignorance" that you read about all the time. Is there anyone out there who does not genuinely believe the 'chippy' owner intended to communicate something other than "I am a white person, definitely not an Asian, people who don't like Asians will feel at home here".

A rebuttal I have heard is that other establishments refer to themselves as "Turkish" or "Chinese" with no trouble, so why can't he. However a better comparison would be if a Takeaway called itself "Padhiam Curry House, owned by Sunni's". That would certainly raise a few eyebrows.

I've met a lot of Muslim people over the years, but now that I think about it, I've no idea if they were Sunni or Shiite. I wonder if they socialise together in towns like Burnley, and if they do that weird thing Northern Irish people sometimes do when meeting a stranger for the first time trying to feel for if the other is a catholic or a protestant.


What to do in Belfast Northern Ireland? Enjoy a pint of Guinness  


No matter where you go in the world, you'll always encounter familiar places (everywhere has bars for instance) but it is the small differences that stand out and you tend to remember.

The best and most immediate of course comes with Ireland's greatest tourist attraction - a pint of Guinness.

No matter where you go in England, New York, France or Australia, you're always going to get a terrible, rushed pint. I've often tried giving the bar man/women explicit instructions on how to pour a pint of Guinness and it all goes fine until the initial 'rest period' where you need to leave the Guinness to settle for just over a minute until you top it off.

When I worked behind the bar in Belfast, you'd serve another customer and then come back to the pint and top it up. Easy. However for some reason, when I tell the bar staff in England to leave it for a minute, they almost always just stand there staring at it. Even whilst other customers are waiting. And so you need to spend the whole minute making sure they don't come in to early.

It's really annoying, often if you look down to just check your phone, or focus on the barperson and not the pint some other helpful member of staff will come along and destroy the pint for you. 

In Belfast, often you'll pay for it and then the barman will tell you to go and sit down and he or a glass collector brings the pint over to you. It's great.

Also, it's generally accepted that you can ask the glass collectors for table service. You don't get the formality of a bill (or even a tray sometimes), but if they say they will, you just give them your money and order and they bring you back the drinks and change. It's great for when things are starting to get busy in a place like McHughes. You should always tip a pound or two when this happens though, it would be really rude not too.

Another great thing about Belfast bars is 90% of the time you can hand over your phone and they will charge it up for you. I think if I asked at my local in England if they'd charge my phone for me they'd think I was a nutter.


Returning to Belfast  


I haven't lived in Belfast for almost 3 years  now. However I do make regular trips back and enjoy it thoroughly.

The last time I returned I flew out of Liverpool John Moore 'The Beatles' airport. Or at least I think that's what it was called. I was three hours early for my flight (I tend to be early for everything, it's a useful habbit) and so went to the bar and watched Chelsea get beat by a team I can't remember. I had about three pints and then started talking to the guy next to me, Andrew.

He was flying out to Mallorca to meet his family who had flown out earlier. He was about 45 and I often enjoy meeting much older people in transitional places like an airport. A brief friendship based upon circumstance is often as enjoyable as longer ones based on mutual interest.

By the time I got on the place I was about 5 pints deep and had a can of Stella whilst flying over the Irish sea (why do planes only ever serve Stella by the way??). It was a very enjoyable feeling to fly back down into Belfast and I even managed to see the top of the house I used to live in, in the Holylands South Belfast.

Upon arriving I saw that my kind auntie had came down to pick me up and brought my three young cousins along too and I was very pleased to see them. On the route to her house my aunt told me my uncle was in the local pub, 'The Parador' which I have written about here before, and she dropped my off outside there.

The Parador is a very interesting pub, if ever there was a pub with its solid group of regulars it is the Parador. I have been that place enough times to be considered a regular in other pubs, but in the Parador - no chance. Very often I stand at the bar for a significant amount of time whilst all the regulars get served first but that's just the way it is.

Happily for some reason Burnley were playing football at the time and after a lot of trouble involving projectors being re-commissioned and multiple extension leads connected, they were able to get it on the TV. Brilliant! Burnley lost 2-0.

After a few pint with my uncle and his friends, an Old man started speaking to us: "I remember the first time you came in here, you were a wee lad and were buckled after a few pints and talking about starting univeristy".

I found this strange as I had no memory of coming to this place before I started university, much less talking to him but I'm sure it happened and I'm pleased I left a strong enough impression for him to remember it three years later without meeting inbetween.

I soon got very drunk and had to go home. It's a problem I often encounter and when drinking Harp Ice it's even stronger. There is something in Harp Ice, much like in Pringles where you just can't stop drinking it. Harp Ice gives me an insatiable thirst which results in me being completely pissed at 8pm on a Saturday night. It's very strange, almost as if it's salt water I have a sip and then immediately want a bigger sip. Only ever with Harp Ice though. Having worked at numerous pubs in Belfast I've also seen people drink it in a similar fashion.

It's also true that Harp Ice is just the same as Harp, but just colder. Some times it comes out of the same barrel!

Harp is shit though, never drink it, it is the only pint I've ever bought and not finished, it was undrinkabe. Even Harp taps are covered in a load of crap, whereas Harp Ice taps are all frozen and have Ice on them. Why do I never see this in England, it is so cool.

The next day I had to accompany my uncle and cousins to the falls road swimming pool. It was really good and even had a sauna but I couldn't use it as "The key to this morning Dan is child safety, Enda (my cousin) can swim but you'll very quickly learn his limitations".

This was very true, he was constantly over estimating his swimming ability, swimming to far from the wall and too deep, almost drowning and then relying on me to save him. Then he'd do it again.

He clearly highly enjoyed swimming however and probably was mentally seeking a competence level much higher than the physical limitations of his age would allow him. I had a great time swimming with him though, I would love to be able to spend more time with my younger cousins.

Will continue later