When travelling, I feel that FOMO (fear of missing out) presents itself as a case of The Shoulds. The thinking goes, because this is my first/only time in this place, I should see this, I should see that, I should eat here, I should eat this. For example, at a most basic level, you should eat pasta if you’re in Italy. But what if you don’t? I don’t think your experience is less than, but is it different? Unfinished? Radical? I’ve always thought that someone’s vacation in New York City could consist solely of walking the streets and eating stale pretzels and dirty water dogs, and she or he would still have one of the best times ever. I have a hard time applying that sense to my own life when The Shoulds set in, however.
Case in point, I recently went to New Orleans for the first time for a work conference. This was by no means a vacation. With almost no personal time to explore the city during the day and a very modest Vacation Rhianna fund to supplement the company per diem and use for Uber, I felt constrained. The Shoulds were competing for money, time, and interest. I found that NOLA is definitely a place where people have opinions on what you should eat and what you should drink. Not being a big drinker, I am not too bothered about missing out on cocktails like the Ramos Gin Fizz and Vieux Carre. But with approximately only six meals, I also had to prep about not being bothered about missing out on a lot of the regional dishes and/or the specific places at which to try them.
I was pretty set on getting a muffuletta given my sandwich proclivities. But not at the famous Central Grocery in the French Quarter. A friend of mine grew up in the city and strongly advised passing, even on the sandwich in general. But The Shoulds wanted me to have one, so I planned on getting mine at Butcher, the sandwich shop offshoot of the acclaimed restaurant Cochon. The bread, meat, and olive salad were all said to be of a higher quality than Central’s, in an easier-to-dine environment. You order at the counter at Butcher, but then receive table service. It’s all very laid back, but still attentive. Exactly the kind of place I needed after sitting in a stuffy, hotel ballroom all day making nice with strangers. (I’m sure I will write a long post about my introversion one day.)
I was all ready to order the muffuletta when I arrived, and then I wasn’t. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want the olive salad. I didn’t want that round of bread. I didn’t want to eat what The Shoulds wanted. I wanted and got The Gambino instead. Kind of like an Italian Combo, it has house-cured cotto, coppa, and soppressata, with an arugula salad and a herb vinaigrette. It was need-to-squish tall. The bread had been very lightly toasted, momentarily masking its lack of freshness. While this was disappointing, the quality and flavour of the salty meats and acidic garnish did a good job of letting me largely forget about it. The highly recommended marinated Brussels sprouts might have been the clincher, though, for leaving me satisfied about my visit. Just a touch warmer than room temperature, the (I assume roasted) sprouts hit the textural sweet spot of being cooked just short of becoming soft. Neither the menu nor my memory can offer any info on what the marinade is, but know that I ate a bowl that was probably meant to be shared by three because the salty-sweet-sour notes sang strongly to me.
As I walked back to the hotel, I mentally checked the restaurant off my Should list but not the muffuletta. I didn’t know how I felt. A little liberated. A little embarrassed. As though I was someone who went to Italy and didn’t eat pasta. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I missed out on fuss and am wondering if I will regret it one day. The Shoulds aren’t afraid to scold. I mean, even if you don’t eat pasta, you’re probably eating like risotto, right? I’d hardly call that missing out, Shoulds.