Sting or Stink

With little more than pepper as a meter for spiciness, I set off with my best friend for the Center of Culture and Creativity: Charlotte, North Carolina. Growing up in a small, almost invisible town in the Bible thumping, cholesterol craving, Evangelical South, the one thing I wanted to experience was life. Life, in its fullest, if not underestimated glory. Oh, I had been well-warned about the perils of bars, alcohol, and pornography, but I was not at all prepared for the good stuff. There were washable silks, clothes that breathed, life changing cosmetics, and the people, just waiting to share their good fortune with the unacquainted from out of town.
And the FOOD. At home, Friday night tent revivals meant fried shrimp, fried catfish, French-fried potatoes, and fried cornbread with a side of collard greens and ham hocks topped off with a dessert of peach cobbler and ice cream. Fried cornbread is not to be confused with a hush-puppy. Hot-water cornbread, was a gruel made with cornmeal and plopped into a vat of boiling oil before it hardened into a hockey puck. In fact, any leftovers could hardly pass for bird or dog food, and was often substituted for some form of athletic equipment accompanied by the word, FIRE. But after a fiery sermon on the pitfalls of Satan’s temptations, these fried concoctions of eminent coronary occlusion often led at least one parishioner to summon the preacher in the middle of the night and request absolution for some otherwise unbeknownst transgression and an to increase in the Sunday morning offering.
So after a mesmerizing shopping experience, my girlfriend and I decided to sample some authentic and classic Thai cuisine straight from the Orient. It’s was the sign said. We fell in love with the rich colors of the cushions and carpets and our waiter’s skimpy attire which looked almost identical to one of the statuettes. Definitely, not from the Christian home shopping channel. The menu was indeed a challenge as we were unfamiliar with the terminology but we did notice that dishes were arranged according to meat accompaniments. Thinking that a vegetable would be a good choice, we noticed that stink bean was included with every meat. Chicken and stink bean. Shrimp and stink bean. Lamb and stink bean. The menu itself was printed in oversize type and contained not only photos but quite a few typographical errors, so we decided the “stink bean” must also be a typographical error.
“Perhaps they mean string beans,” my girlfriend said. I agreed. Maybe they hadn’t translated fragrant correctly. Or they thought redolent referred to color. Nevertheless we decided that our limited knowledge of Thai cuisine was matched by a limited budget and they simply hadn’t had time to reprint their menus. Anyway, how stinky can a bean be? We were even more convinced of this fact when our waiter acknowledged that we had chosen a most traditional item.
“Sator very popular in Java. You like stink bean.” He said with a thick accent. It wasn’t a question.
“We don’t know,” I said. “We’ve never tried it.”
“You like, you like. Very traditional,” he said as he left us.
We waited while music in a foreign tongue might have been apprising us of our fate had we only known. The singer seemed to both wail and laugh at the same time.
Our appetizers were excellent but when our main dish arrived, it was obvious that what we had mistaken for an error was indeed our undoing.
The Bible belt teaches that certain manners are always required. We thanked our waiter and each of us placed a single bean upon our forks.
“You first,” my now, very pale companion proclaimed.
“Together.” I insisted.
Fortunately, I had taken a deep breath before I put the bean in my mouth but my girlfriend had not. When the aroma reached her sinuses, the color of her face matched the green of the bean, which she frantically began to wipe from her tongue with her napkin in full view of room.
“Elizabeth,” I scowled, trying to roll the bean in my mouth without biting it. “Have you no manners?”
“Did you eat yours?” she asked shockingly.
“Of course not,” I said, coughing the bean as politely as I could into my napkin.
We then proceeded to feign an important phone call, tipped our waiter handsomely to cover both our embarrassment for wasting what to some would have been a perfectly good lunch and for not respecting the truth in print.

Sting or Stink


Honolulu, United States

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

Funny true story about food and the uneducated.

Artwork Comments

  • Lee LaFontaine
  • leoaloha
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