Commentary: We need our restaurants back …. before we poison ourselves

Commentary: We need our restaurants back …. before we poison ourselves
Photo by Daria Obymaha from Pexels
Ian Haysom has been doing some home cooking but is starting to really miss restaurants.

Ian Haysom’s coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

I miss restaurants. I miss greasy diners and Japanese restaurants like Nubo on Pandora in Victoria and I miss the Sea Glass Waterfront Grill in Sidney which used to do peanut butter French toast stuffed with bacon, but stopped doing that, probably, I’m guessing because it was a health risk even before coronavirus.

I’m so desperate I’m even missing the BC Ferries buffet.

Basically I just miss food that I haven’t cooked myself.

Home cooking during the virus has been going fine, and  I do usually enjoy cooking, but, well there’s a limit to my repertoire. I mean. It’s A New Meal Every Night!  And lunch? The pressure. No sooner have we come up with a new dish, it’s time to come up with something else.

To be accurate, my wife and I do share the cooking duties. She just makes less of a song and dance about it.

I once secretly wanted to be a short-order chef, but now I’m not so enamoured with the kitchen. Familiarity breeds contempt. It’s tough coming up with something different and interesting that’s not a stir-fry every night.

Take last week. My wife had bought some tofu at her last stock-up at Thrifty’s because she thinks I like tofu. I don’t like tofu. But since I’m a latter-day pescatarian and a fan of Japanese food, I do kind of like Agedashi tofu – the deep-fried crispy cubed tofu usually served with a tasty sauce.

How hard could it be to replicate it at home? I found a quick and easy recipe online, heated some oil in a skillet, cubed the tofu, and reached into the cupboard for cornstarch, which the recipe called for. Or potato starch, which we don’t have.

I coated the tofu cubes in the powder and then plunged them into the hot oil. They crisped up a treat and looked quite authentic. We’d boiled some rice and cooked up some veggies and I whipped up a sauce with soy and ginger –  and then I tasted one of the cubes.

My mouth exploded. And started bubbling. It was like eating rubber coated with washing powder. Hot and spicy washing powder. I can honestly say it was one of the worst tastes I have ever encountered, and I’ve eaten my fair share of disgusting.

I cut open another of the cubes and the tofu had started to turn green.

“What did you do this time?” asked my wife. I’ve heard that line many times over the years.

“I just fried them in cornstarch.”

She reached up into the cupboard. “This cornstarch?”


“It’s not cornstarch. It’s baking soda.”

Oh, I said. Wrong box. Apparently fried baking soda is not a good thing. It’s certainly not going to be part of my planned coronavirus recipe book, though in my defence, I did invent a cool vegetarian moussaka last week, with a bechamel sauce that was only slightly inedible and wasn’t green.

We have done take-out a couple of times, but neither was a roaring success. First, we went through the A&W drive-thru and picked up their Beyond Meat burgers (which I love), and took them to the beach. I seemed to be a little too close to the server as she handed me the bag, even though she was behind glass. And then I wondered if the bag was contaminated. I mean, how many people had touched the bag in there?

So when we got to the beach I carried the bag, holding it at arm’s length, and wearing a disposable glove, as though the virus was lying in wait for me on the packaging. It would be ironic if I was killed by a veggie burger. I was comforted when Dr. Bonnie Henry said she’d been eating lots of takeout these days, but I still found my burger-eating escape more stressful than I’d wanted.

Well, better to overreact is my motto.

Then last week we got some take-away fish and chips and ate those on the beach too and they were dreadful. Limp batter (though, impressively, not a hint of baking soda), dry cod and cold chips. “I risked my life for this?” I thought, which was a little melodramatic, but I fed most of the fish to some passing seagulls, who gobbled it all down quickly, not being too picky.

But as Fran Lebowitz once observed, food is an important part of a balanced diet. So I will persevere, mostly because I want all these restaurants to reopen as soon as safely possible. And because I have a yearning for papadums, and nobody can make papadums at home.

And then, this weekend, all was forgiven. My daughter Jani delivered us – from a safe distance –  two croissants she’d picked up from the Mosi bakery on West Saanich Road near Prospect Lake.

The first croissant was almond-filled. The second was filled with mascarpone and berries. This latter pastry was, without a doubt, one of the most delicious things I’ve tasted since the pandemic began. Flaky, plump, buttery croissant and a smooth cheesy filling complemented by the sweet berries.

Was it good for me? Well, for my soul. My waistline? Some things are worth suffering for.

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Ian HaysomIan Haysom

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