At more than one Korean restaurant, servers have taken time to school me in the proper way to attack a dish. For instance, with bibimbop, I usually like to keep all the vegetables, proteins and rice separate. At least twice, however, I’ve had the hostess/server come by my table, tsk-tsk and correct me in the proper manner of consuming what is probably Korea’s most popular dish.  “Everything should be mixed up,” I’m told, as the helpful person proceeds to enthusiastically amalgamate all components of the dish for me to enjoy before she steps back and stands there watching me as I eat a forced smile, nodding as though to confirm, “Oh, yes, your way is definitely the best.”

I usually find this here’s-how-you-should-really-eat-it helpfulness to be only slightly obtrusive. I know the good people at these restaurants mean well, so I just go limp and consume the damn thing in whatever way I’m told.

However, there are times when I am so appalled by the dining behaviors of others that I can barely contain myself …though I always do.

At a recent oyster buffet at Shaw’s, I was enjoying dozens, including my favorite, the Belons from Maine. These oysters are originally French, and the name is actually “protected” by French law, so although I and others refer to them as Belons, it’s probably more proper to refer to them as European Flats.

I adore Belons/European Flats: they’re lush, meaty, almost crunchy with gracious mouth-filling flavor. The shucker in Shaw’s kitchen, who I was told also works at Benny’s, is a master: each oyster was cleanly opened, the adductor muscle expertly cut, with an ample amount of liquor retained in each opened half-shell.

Drinking this liquor, as any oyster lover will tell you, is at least half the enjoyment of eating oysters.

Thus, at Shaw’s, did I watch in horror as an older gentleman, about my age, stood at the generous buffet, lifting oyster after oyster – including my beloved Belons – and then, with the expressionless face of a serial killer, proceed to drain the liquor into the ice bed before transferring the oysters to his plate and refilling each of them with what looked to be a few teaspoons of squeezed lemon juice.

Aware of my own many shortcomings, I’m fine with people eating food in whatever damn way they please. Different strokes, etc., though I do wince when this guy savaged the oyster, or when people pour ketchup over a good steak or, as I saw one woman do years ago (and it has scarred me forever), put a teaspoon of sugar into red wine to sweeten it up.

Now, if you’re going to mess with the natural flavor of oysters, which I rarely do, then lemon is not a bad way to go – far better a squirt of the citrus than a dollop of horseradish or cocktail sauce. But to first dump the oyster liquor, as though it were some inedible food-related waste by-product like a chicken bone or gnawed-upon artichoke leaf, that’s just wrong, it’s disrespectful, it’s, it’s…a crime against food.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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