Bobby Winters Guest Columnist
I’ve traveled a bit this year. If you put it all of my flights end to end they would just about go around the world. In my life, I’ve been to Poland, Spain, England, Russia, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Canada. This is only counting places where I’ve slept. (True, in Argentina it was on a bench in an airport, but I’ve eaten calf-fries there so I’m counting it.)
I am not your classical hardy traveler because I am not an adventurous eater. For example, if given a choice, I won’t eat fish and if not given a choice I won’t eat much. But I have eaten soup that had a fish head floating in it when I was in a village on the shore of Lake Baikal. I looked it in the eye, and I ate it. I’ve also eaten something described as “fish in grease sauce” while in Poland. As Mary Poppins sang, “A shot glass of vodka helps the medicine go down...”
Throughout all these adventures, one item of food has been my consistent savior: the potato. There was potato in that fish head soup in Russia. There was mashed potato on the side of the fish in grease sauce in Poland. And my last night in Spain, when I was down to my last peseta, that one peseta bought me a tortilla de patatas, which is basically fried potatoes held together with scrambled eggs.
Potatoes may in fact be my favorite food in the universe, and frying my favorite way for them to be prepared. I’ve written a special article on my momma’s fried potatoes and I don’t want to retread too much of that ground. Let me just say that when I was a little boy I ate so many fried potatoes my mother told me I was going wake up one morning as a potato.
Look at me without my shirt and deny that has happened.
Instead of talking about my momma’s fried potatoes, I would like to explore the food item that has become an icon for America’s poor dietary habits: the French fry.
And when I say the French fry, I am not being specific enough because there is a wide variety of French fry. There is the steak fry, the crinkle fry, the curly fry, the McDonald’s fry, fries with the skin on them, and I could go on. These can be classified even further. For example, curly fries can be graded by their suppleness. There are those that are more chip-like and some so “supple” they will slowly slide down any wall you fling one up against.
This latter kind is my particular favorite, but it requires the eater to have a level of trust with the cook that one does not have time to develop when traveling abroad. Indeed, I like to be in countries where I (or my heirs) can sue restaurant owners before eating that kind, but l digress.
There are those who, perhaps, are not fond of McDonald’s-like French fries but even detractors cannot deny one of the virtues of this type of fry is that they can be widely replicated. Potatoes, hot oil, and cook them until they are crispy.
It’s not a hard recipe.
And that’s important. You’d like to think a cheeseburger would be easy to make, but you are wrong. At various times in high-quality, in restaurants in cosmopolitan cities, I’ve attempted to seek comfort in a cheeseburger. Bun, ground beef, cheese: you’d think a chef worth his salt could to this.
No. It’s on the menu; it looks good in the picture; your body, tired of trying to figure-out how to digest the local cuisine would be willing to accept just about anything; you take a bite.
Not a cheeseburger.
But the fries on the same plate are superb.
I’ve seen French fries bring an economist back from the brink of death. He was 5000 miles from home and suffering from failure to thrive. But then he smelled the hot, salt-laden fat and the singed starch, and hope began to creep back into his face. He dipped it into ketchup, put it into his mouth, and found life was again worth living.
I mentioned ketchup there and that brings up a sticky point. Ketchup does not flow abroad in the way it does here, even where they serve French fries. With TSA regs the way they are, I don’t know that you could carry ketchup in your luggage. But in the end, ketchup is a luxury. The salt and the hot fat will be enough to carry the day and the French fries will save you.
(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to “like” the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook. )