AT THIS POINT, you don’t know whether to say it’s getting late or getting early. But holy shit you’re hungry.
The woman with the cart will be waiting in front of your hostel, and she’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. The cart is sizzling hot, and you slur as you order. The rice noodles are piled high on a plastic plate, and she mixes in dried shrimp, peanuts, and pepper. That brown sauce she’s pouring over it is fish sauce, soaking the noodles and saturating the shrimp until they puff out into the dish. She tops it off by squeezing a lime into the mixture and then hands it to you.
Your friends order the soup in a bag, and the woman behind the cart drops the beef and vegetables into one bag and the broth into the other. Back in the room, they will burn themselves as they try to pour the contents of one flimsy plastic bag into the other, cursing they didn’t order the noodles hanging limply from the corner of your passed-out mouth.
You really shouldn’t be hungry…all that lager filling up your belly. But it’s Munich — you know there’s a currywurst stand up here, somewhere between the biergarten and the skeevy underground electro-club. It’s calling you. Giant wurst cut into medallions and slathered with ketchup and mayonnaise, a snowfall of curry powder above that. Chips on the side, though in your drunken state you revert to calling them fries.
It’s like the best parts of Belgian, German, and Thai food had a baby and named it “Hangover Cure.” Currywurst is picking up in America (LA especially), but you’ll be dirndl’d if the German stuff isn’t a cut above.
It can be tough going out in Paris. The streets can be tight and hard to navigate, the locals even more so. As the crowds gush into the streets at closing time, most of the city is already ready to shut down, rolling over angrily in bed and pushing the pillow over their collective head.
But all hope is not lost. The mass of flowing humanity stagnates in the streets for a time until, like a drain in the bathtub, they flow towards the nearest crepes stand. Quick and easy pancakes, topped with fruit and created fast enough to satisfy the insane faction of drunkards they’ve been tasked with caring for. The fluff expands in the stomach, absorbing the alcohol and leaving the head clear for the morning. It’s Paris’ way of comforting the foreigners, easing their transition into another day of being denied directions.
It’s a Canadian specialty, poutine. Luckily, the Commonwealth knows how to share. The place is always packed, but the line cooks know the order before they’re made, and the drunken revelers sit at the tables outside, the warm night air keeping them company until their order is called.
The twice-fried chips are scooped into a cardboard tray, stray ends sticking precipitously from the sides. The cheese curds of Canada’s poutine are traded out for shredded cheeses, at least four kinds at once — cheddar, American, mozzarella, parmesan, anything. The shreds leech the heat from the chips and melt into their embrace, while warm gravy covers the lot.
You hear your name from the end of the line, and the woman hands you your chips, gravy spilling out and soaking into the napkins she holds underneath the tray. You hand it back and ask, “Can I have a little extra gravy?”
The how of ending up in front of the stand doesn’t matter. There’s too many ways to go about it. Whether the blackout is blocking your memory, or how you party in that country is just too different from the last time you found yourself ordering a kebab, the result is always the same. Mouth watering while a block of meat — is it lamb? beef? — turns around a heatlamp, taunting your willpower with every continued rotation.
The man with the stand asks you what you want. It’s impossible to make a choice at this point, so you say the only thing you can. “Everything.” There are too many kinds of kebabs in the world, and the implication of your order resonates across borders. The spicy kebabs of Asia. The sloppy kebabs of Australia. They stride boldly forward through experimentation, far more elegantly than the drunken stagger of the people who eat them. God bless Turkey for their contribution to the global welfare.
You drift in and out of consciousness, slumped against the window of the passenger seat while your designated driver takes the wheel. The roads are clogged with taxis and fog as the 2am exodus of the drunkards reaches its peak. You wonder why the bars don’t close later, like most other places in the world. The sun isn’t yet two thirds around the world.
But on the upside, as your driver points out, the greasy eats aren’t yet closed for the morning. The possibilities are endless: navigating the streets of New York to a pizza stand, ordering an animal-style burger or bacon-wrapped hot dog from In-N-Out in Los Angeles. Driving through a taco stand. Ordering takeout. America is a melting pot of cuisines and quick bites, claiming each origin as its own and turning them into something entirely new, something entirely satisfying to the stomach lined with ethanol and indecision, available in an instant.
And as you eat your greasy pile of fat and carbs in whatever form they take, falling into the footwell of your driver’s car, you’re thankful for the opportunity to eat it. No matter what you’re eating, when you’re drunk, it hits the spot.