The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Zen Burgers and the Condiments of Life




By Craig Terlson

Ever since I saw the news item on the $100 burger in the Florida restaurant, I have been thinking about burgers. No wait… I always think about burgers. They are the staff of life for me. I wax eloquent over the pungent memories of foil-wrapped burgers from the hockey rinks of my youth – places where aromas of burnt cow mingled with the smell of sweat, powdered hot chocolate, popcorn and the funny smell that came from the Zamboni. The burgers were similar in texture to the pucks being fired across the ice – but the smell released upon the ritualistic unwrapping was heavenly.

The condiments were minimal. You had ketchup, mustard, and maybe relish. I don't mean, "maybe there was relish available", I mean, "maybe the green glop in the chrome bucket was relish." It was best not to contemplate.

In my young adulthood, the world of better burgers and diverse condiments began to expand. As I moved across the country, I had new beef on a bun experiences (B.O.B.); some were life changing. There was the burger with alfalfa sprouts in a small hippy diner, the mysterious B-B-Q sauce of Peter's Drive-in, the weirdness of the peanut butter burger in that gourmet place, and the enormity of *Big Dicks Monster Burger (*real place) matched with a mustard that could peel automotive paint.

Even commercial chains were involved in this new bovinian zeitgeist. This was around the time A & W started putting tasteless white cheese on burgers (not that it was much different than the tasteless orange stuff).

Flash forward to my adulthood and witness me, the traveller of Canada and regions beyond, as the possessor of a fridge bursting at the hinges with exotic condiments. Korean Kimchi shared shelves with Japanese Wasabi, German Mustard, African Peanut Sauce, Jamaican Jerk Sauce and other strange concoctions bought in markets around my culturally diverse city. And when it came to burger adornment, they all begged for my attention, jostling together and clinking their lids like competitors in a culinary world cup where only one sauce makes it to the final.

I did go through a phase where I would use them all. My burger looked like a reproduction of the Tower of Pisa post-collapse; not only was it a mess to eat, the flavours fought each other. The mustard argued with the Teriyaki, the Dijon mayonnaise swore at the peanut sauce, and the urbane organic ketchup looked down its glass nose at the provincial Bick's relish.

And it didn't taste that good either.

Lately, I have drifted back to those days at the hockey rink. The simple neon colours of red, yellow and really strange green, beckon me. Simplify your condiments, simplify your life.

This has been freeing. Both in my life and in my subway crowded fridge. The metaphors abound, but I am trying to avoid them – how grabbing that perfect condiment is like finding the perfect verb for a sentence, or watching a perfect sunset, or even a perfect mate.
But it's really about the burger.

I had a burger today, the cheese was orange, the bun white, the ketchup a deep Heinz red. It was a near perfect, Zen-like experience. But something was missing, the flavour longed for one more layer, one tangential wisp of something sweet, crunchy, and somehow unnamable.

Tomorrow, I go on a quest for the relish of my youth.

9 Comments:

Blogger Fran Friel said...

Great blog, Craig.

I have a brother who we used to say loved all kinds of food, burgers with ketchup, burgers with pickles, burgers with fries... You get the idea. He loved burgers SO much he even had a nightmare once about the last cow on Earth.

I've recently become a vegetarian (a seafood cop-out veg, at least), so real burgers are a thing of the past for me. I still crave them by habit when I go by a great burger joint, but then when I think about the cows, their treatment, etc, the craving passes more and more quickly.

Enjoy a burger for me...swiss and sauteed mushrooms, please.

Best,
Fran

Sun Jun 25, 03:31:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

There go my plans for a healthy dinner.

Sun Jun 25, 05:00:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Ahh! Great post, Craig. I condiment you!

Sun Jun 25, 08:58:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

You're kind of the Dagwood of the burgers aren't you? I enjoyed this!

Mon Jun 26, 12:05:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

I LOVE THIS!!! so many great lines, you burger freak you!!! it's allll so true!! condiments are a form of experiencing something different, something, I don't know, I just know that whenever I leave town, all I want when I come home is a White Spot Burger with extra triple O sauce...this is great Craig, you should send it out to a canadian food magazine...to anywhere, it's great..xo

Mon Jun 26, 04:10:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

thanks so much all!

"bovinian zeitgeist" has been making me laugh out loud lately - I crack myself up, or that's what my kids tell me anyway.

Mon Jun 26, 10:17:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

The Works in Ottawa. My favorite burger place. Now I'm hungry dammit!

Mon Jun 26, 01:11:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Tasty piece, Craig :) I'm a burger lover too - I drive across town for a Peter's treat twice a year. Mysterious souce, yes, and two patties in the single burgers - never did understand that!

Mon Jun 26, 08:47:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Hmm, do you have that boiger in the veggie-variety ;) I remember skating rink burgers. It's a special kind of hunger you have to have to eat one of them.

Tue Jun 27, 01:29:00 pm GMT-4  

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