The unrepentant — and delicious — gorging on turkey and trimmings around our house this Thanksgiving reminds me of another gathering the missus and I recently attended. Like Thanksgiving at our place, there were just a few people in attendance — and a holy-cubic-hectare of food. Only this was no holiday. This was brunch.
That is, it was hailed as a “brunch”. But this was no brunch. Because I brunch. I’ve rubbed brunch-bows with the best of ’em, and this thing was not that. I’ve eaten brunch. I’ve piled it high and noshed and digested it. And you, sir — you are no brunch.
Here’s the thing. Brunch is a meal that happens between breakfast and lunch.
(I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this. Besides the fact that you may well be an accomplished bruncher yourself, the very word suggests its own meaning. It’s fairly obvious what’s being mashed together, as in ‘spork’ or ‘liger’ or ‘flaccipointing’.
And hope to hell you never have to use all three in the same sentence.)
“If you run in a fancier crowd, you might get crumpets or scones or cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off served by a dapper gentleman named Jeeves or Reginald, whose stiffly proper demeanor belies his secret wish to murder you all and stuff you under a hatch in your yacht.”
In my experience, brunch fare tends to fall on the savory side of breakfast. You might see omelets and hash, but less often pancakes. There may be nods to lunch in salads and grilled veggies, but probably not cheeseburgers. If you run in a fancier crowd, you might get crumpets or scones or cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off served by a dapper gentleman named Jeeves or Reginald, whose stiffly proper demeanor belies his secret wish to murder you all and stuff you under a hatch in your yacht.
(I’ve never buttled, myself. I’m just assuming.)
Anyway, this is brunch. There are small deviations, but certain parameters must hold to be a proper brunch. And this… “thing” we went to was not. Most definitely, it was not a proper brunch.
Because it was better.
First of all, it started at eleven thirty in the morning. That’s pretty late — perhaps too late — for a brunch. Anything after eleven, eleven fifteen tops, and you’re grinding up against lunchtime. That’s the simple temporal truth of it.
Sure, you can have mimosas and quiche and little miniature muffins on doilied platters at four-thirty in the afternoon — but you can’t call it brunch. You’ve missed the window. You’ll have to call it ‘tea’ or ‘snacks’ or ‘yet another reason for Reginald to loathe us’. I say, by eleven thirty, ‘brunch’ — conceptually as well as literally — is off the table.
Of course, this is also the first reason why this get-together was better than brunch. Who the hell wants to get up at a nine effing thirty for stale English muffins and spinach frittatas? I’d rather have the shuteye, thanks so much, Reggie old boy.
So we rolled over to the home of my wife’s friends, who were hosting the soiree. It was just them, us and another guest, for a total of five. For “brunch”. At eleven thirty in the morning. The host couple are both from China, and the wife really enjoys cooking — which may explain why the concept of brunch may have mangled a bit in translation, as well as what came next.
We said our hellos and chatted, and around a quarter til twelve moseyed into the dining room for what was still, stubbornly, being referred to as “brunch”. And there, we saw the table.
Strewn across the surface was the most impressive set of Asian dishes I’ve seen outside a Yan Can Cook episode marathon. And not just Chinese fare — this lady knows the ancient culinary secrets of many countries, evidently, and they were all staring back at us from the table. Garlic bok choy, salted edemame, Korean spare ribs, Vietnamese catfish, drunken chicken, Szechuan pork, lettuce wraps, Hunan-style chicken, and more.
I staggered at the sight of it. As humans, we were grossly outnumbered by the dishes awaiting us. It was two-to-one odds, at least. If we’d been ambushed thusly in a food war, we’d have laid our forks down and surrendered peacefully. I half-expected egg rolls and a bowl of be bim bap to appear behind us, just to confirm that we were surrounded.
We sat, and with our outrageously gracious hostess pouring tea — three kinds! — and coffee (Turkish, because why wouldn’t it be?) as the clock struck twelve, we dug in. To “brunch”.
I won’t torture you with detailed descriptions of the food. That would be cruel, seeing as how you weren’t there to enjoy it yourself. I’ll only say three things. First, it was absolutely delicious. I’d had most of the dishes before, but never homemade — and for several of them, hers was the best version I’ve ever eaten.
Second, you’d think the food on display would be plenty enough. We’d practically waved the white napkins on first glance, after all. But you would be mistaken. As the meal progressed, we were treated to more bits and morsels from the kitchen and exotic lands beyond. Seaweed snacks, spicy chili oil and starchy Tibetan desserts from a recent trip.
(The hostess worried about me regarding some of the more unusual fare. I was puzzled, since I’m always eager to sample new dishes, and will try just about anything once. She explained:
“Well, you’re originally from the middle of the country. I understand that many people there don’t cook or eat a lot of ‘adventurous’ foods.”
“Yep,” I agreed, as I bit into something exotic, unidentifiable and delicious. “That’s why I moved.“)
And third, this whatever-meal-it-was that started too late for brunch, included nothing resembling breakfast and could have been a buffet for twelve? We ate for five hours. And we still couldn’t finish. We carried bags of leftovers with us as we said our goodbyes and lurched back to our cars, speeding home to nap and to swear off dinner — which was only just an hour away now! — the better to midnight snack on our goodie bags later.
In short, this was not brunch. I don’t know what the hell it was. But it was spectacular and delicious and didn’t involve getting up early or eating beet salad next to poached eggs or asking Reginald to be a dear and kindly set up the croquet set on the lawn.
So the next time I’m invited to a traditional brunch, I think I’ll pass. I’ve seen the alternative, and the alternative is glorious. But the next time I’m invited over to the “brunch couple’s” house? I’m clearing my calendar, skipping dinner the night before, and bringing four bottles of sake as thanks. Also, a backup fork and maybe a sleeping bag. Viva la “brunch”!Permalink | No Comments