The topic came up a couple of weeks ago when nephew S stopped in for a visit during his backpacking trek through China.
Meal preparation is something I almost never do while living alone. It’s not usually the task but the time. The washing, prep, cooking, and cleaning afterward sucks up more time than I can allot. Although the occasions when I have cooked, usually on Sunday, resulted in quantity enough for a family — meaning lots leftover. Trouble was, after the first night the fare lost its appeal. The leftovers usually ended up in the can. So I stopped cooking. Buying cooked food packed for take-out is the norm.
As a backpacker, if you have a hankering for warm food, you’ve also got to rely on buying prepped meals. And, eating leftovers is the norm.
Ordering cooked food that doesn’t match your hunger level means you end up with not enough or too much. Most of us over-order. Better to have too much than go hungry. So what to do with the leftover?
Certainly the most thrifty, and at times, most practical way to handle leftovers is saving it/them for another meal. Certain foods are known to even taste better as a leftover.
In many of the restaurants I frequent I’m amazed at a number of people who leave large quantities of food behind. Sometimes family-style dishes loaded with delicious looking food are left to be thrown. Some diners will have the leftover packed to go, but most leave it to be dumped.
At home in NYC, if what is leftover isn’t much, one of us will say to the other, “botar en la boca?” Our short phrase meaning ‘it’s either down the gullet or thrown away.’ Mostly it gets pitched after thinking the only reason for eating something is to save it from the garbage. Sometimes I’ll stash leftovers in the refrigerator to avoid the guilty feeling of the immediate can toss. But most times the refrigerator serves only as a temporary stopping point to the ultimate destination of the garbage bag.
I definitely fall in the the over-order category. Most evenings I end up ditching what is left. I think of our NYC phrase and remind myself that I’d rather throw the leftover in the trash than down my throat.
Sure, I could keep the leftover for another day, but I’m not backpacking and there is a plethora of restaurants around that specialize in making good food packed to go. The idea of freshly cooked somehow continues to win over reheated grub. Not that there is anything wrong with leftover cooked food. There are times reheating leftovers is rather delightful, as well as practical and a time saver.
And I guess if you are backpacking, carrying leftovers is not just about watching the funds, but also having food when there is none around to buy.
Nephew S was relating during our leftover conversation that it’s not uncommon to have leftovers of leftovers. And, there are even times, he said, there are leftovers of leftovers of leftovers. I could see him thinking of the next iteration, but before he could confirm I asked, “why buy so much” if there is so much left over? It’s just the way food allotment can get if you are carrying everything you eat and drink on your back.
So during S’s visit, the leftovers from each evening’s dinner served as his lunch the next day. After he left, I thought I’d give it a try. I saved what was leftover each night. Each day I stared at the boxed food accumulating in the refrigerator during the week trying to determine when I’d heat it up. But the leftovers kept accumulating. It all became too confusing, some dishes mixed and matched in different containers, I could not tell what was what. The leftovers finally got ditched.
But I may try again soon. I bought a half roast duck today and couldn’t eat it all. It doesn’t feel right giving the bird to the birds. I’m committed to polishing it off tomorrow.