Mayo, sir?
Woolworths TASTE|November/December 2021
In which Jonathan Ancer makes peace with the most embarrassing meal of his life, after learning that his food phobia has become family-table folklore
Jonathan Ancer

I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. I was 17 and meeting Caroline’s parents for the first time. Caroline was a friend I was hoping would become a girlfriend. I think the feeling was mutual because she’d invited me to a family meal.

As I heard heavy footsteps pounding their way to the door, I realised I’d broken the first rule of meeting the parents: I’d arrived empty-handed.

Caroline’s father opened the door, glared at me, squeezed my clammy hand, and escorted me to the table where Caroline, her mother and an assortment of relatives were seated.

I have a large family and our meals are filled with laughter, friends, food and that invisible force that binds us all together – family folklore: traditions, in-jokes, nicknames, quirky stories, and our own esoteric words, like “pantossel”. At some point in the meal, my father always points at the bean salad and asks: “What’s that?”

“It’s bean salad,” someone dutifully responds, to which he always replies: “I don’t want to know what it’s been, I want to know what it is.”

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