Forget cat vs dog people, are you swallower or curator?
Distinctions in dining
After years, nay, decades, of exhaustive research into the dining habits of my fellow human beings, I've arrived at the incontrovertible conclusion that people are essentially either swallowers or curators. My father is a prime example of a swallower. As a child, I used to watch, fascinated, as he scooped whatever dishes were on offer for dinner onto his rice before adding copious quantities of sambal and then mixing it all up until his food resembled very tempestuous fried rice. He would then open the book he was reading at the time, and proceed to routinely scoop food into his mouth as his reading continued unabated. Two things have troubled me since: 1) how my father could taste the food if everything was jumbled up and then coated with sambal, and 2) why he was allowed to read at the dinner table while we children patently weren't.
Apart from the obvious "do as I say, and not as I do" nature of his disciplinary teachings, my father was the very first specimen on whom the framework of my 'swallower' profile was built. Since then, I have repeatedly witnessed swallowers—the majority of whom are men—in action, from pedestrians who could devour a banh mi in four mouthfuls without ever breaking pace, to punters who had the capacity to vacuum a steaming hot bowl of Hokkien mee soup in three gargantuan chopstick-wielded portions. In fact, I would venture the opinion that most men, if left to eat in peace and untroubled by the inconvenient intervention of social niceties and manners, are natural swallowers. More than just a throwback to evolutionary necessities—I'll gulp down my food before someone tries to take it from me—it's also a tidy way of ensuring maximum consumption of food in the shortest span of time.
By that reckoning then, it is reasonable to infer that women, typically more fastidious (and conscious of the social disapprobation that would be the direct result of meals being hoovered), would largely be 'curators', carefully crafting each socially acceptable mouthful of food. And just as my father was the archetypal swallower, I perfectly exemplified the obdurate culinary curator. Because, regardless how ravenous I was, the thought that I might nonchalantly shovel food into my mouth horrified me. However, it wasn't politeness—the key obstacle, I imagine, to many women becoming swallowers—but flavour that drove me to gustatory perfection. Every mouthful I consumed had to contain at least a morsel of each key ingredient on the plate so that I would glean optimum flavour from the beginning till the conclusion of my meal. I never really realised just how OCD I had become about my dining habits until I watched a couple of TV shows in which I introduced luminaries like Rick Stein and Sam Brown to our local hawker food. In each show, I insisted that they pick up a curl of noodles, and then top it with prawn, meat, and fried shallots, say, before I would permit them to sample the food in question.
And while I'm not stupid or delusional enough to try and convert hardcore swallowers to my way of dining, I have this to say in defence of my life as a curator: just as I abhor wasting stomach space on bad food, I will also never know if each meal might be the last I'll consume. By ensuring maximum enjoyment of each thoughtfully crafted mouthful, I'm paying the food the respect and appreciation it duly deserves.