I like going downstairs first thing in the morning when staying in a hotel, anticipating a good buffet spread to start the day – even more so when suffering chronic jetlag. This time I had just arrived in Beijing for a conference that I was helping to organize.
I was not disappointed. The spanking new Holiday Inn had been kitted out with a very large food emporium. I wandered from station to station, examining the platters and opening up all the silver lids to peer in. Then I watched some of the Chinese fill their bowls with dumplings, spring onions and pickled fishes, topped by a token western pastry.
I turned to the last table that was discreetly placed to one side, and spotted the real McCoy – a set of local pukka dishes that looked very colourful and quite different from anything I had seen before. One was even labelled ‘grandmother drunk fish’! That tickled my fancy but I did not have the nerve to try it. Instead, I selected cornflakes, watermelon and a slice of brown bread.
Many years ago, M and I were staying at one of those posh Pousada’s in Portugal – a fine old castle that had been restored in splendid medieval style. The breakfast buffet was a work of art, voluptuously balanced like a Giotto still life. We piled our plates high with an assortment of fruits, cheeses, eggs and breads, savouring them with eyes closed. Mid-way through the feast M went back to get some more coffee. Trouble was he was enjoying the culinary delights so much that he over-zealously replaced the coffee jug on its heater base.
It made a mighty chrquesssrrrr bang and cracked wide open in spectacular fashion. The contents gushed forth all over the pristine white cloth that held the still life together. It continued to spread with its own volition – staining the front and sides of the buffet canvas, like a mudslide. M froze and gasped; he was understandably mortified.
We then both gulped at the enormity of the moment as the liquid snake continued its course to the floor; looked at each other like guilty children and stealthily left the dining room, red-faced and empty-handed.