i never imagined that my stomach would teach me so much about matters of the heart.
thanks to yelp, i met mamoun’s falafel restaurant in greenwich village for the first time this summer. i wanted to i grab some grub en route to community group, which meets in the basement of a dorm building a few blocks away. i had $5 in cash on my person, which was more than enough to buy a falafel sandwich (psst, it’s $3).
i spotted a bright red squirt bottle that housed a deep carmine sauce speckled with black pepper. “it’s very hot,” someone warned me, so i proceeded with caution.
i put a wee bit on my already tasty sandwich and they were right — ’tis indeed one potent condiment. if sriracha had a mischievous distant cousin from the middle east (or, as mr. badgley, my global studies teacher from my freshman year of high school would refer to the region, “southwest asia”), this hot sauce would be it.
this culinary accoutrement skirts real close the border between the “it hurts so good,” and “my palate is burning.”
i made a mental note to skip the sauce in the future.
one tuesday in september, i decided i’d show up for community group early, to give myself time to play the piano just outside of the meeting space. and en route, i popped into mamoun’s for the second time.
i ordered the falafel sandwich again but this time, i asked for hot sauce on the side. the lovely folks behind the counter obliged and dropped a pre-filled cup o’ sauce into the brown paper bag.
upon reaching my destination, i sat down to consume my tahini-sauced falafel-filled pita. remembering how spicy the sauce was, i dispensed the smallest drop i could.
and that one drop, no bigger than a 18-pt times new roman period, in that single bite of sandwich overwhelmed my tastebuds. one would think i should’ve quit while i was ahead and proceeded sans sauce — especially since i had nary a beverage.
“i bet you can’t finish the rest of the sandwich with the sauce without water,” said my will to my tongue.
there was still plenty of sauce left in that cup, about a couple tablespoons, by the time i finished my sandwich. i managed to eat the entire thing, dotting every other bite with the redness; each bite left me a bit breathless, numbing my tongue.
the third time i had mamoun’s falafel was after community group. (at this point it might be worth nothing that this location stays open quite late.)
“i’d like a falafel sandwich with a side of falafel,” i asked.
“and could i have the hot sauce on the side, in a cup?” y’know, since i survived the hot sauce just fine the last time.
i enjoyed this sandwich while riding the train, so it was all the more miraculous that i dispensed the sauce from the foil-covered styrofoam cup onto my sandwich without spilling it on me. by now, i was familiar with but no less surprised by the punches the sauce laid into my tongue.
i waited until i got home to eat my extra falafel. i dipped the delicious morsels into the flaming lagoon. perhaps due to the greater surface area, each bite of falafel + sauce set my lips ablaze. i’d suck my teeth and breathe, as though i were in lamaze class. or something.
and then the onset of heat. it radiated from my belly like a forest fire; i felt a spike in body temperature in my legs. all of it was a harbinger of the digestive tribulation that followed.
the gustatory excitement the hot sauce offered disguised its true nature: a gastrointestinal wrecking ball. but by then, it was too late.
then, an epiphany: substitute “bad boys” for every instance of “hot sauce” and i have a fable that explains why girls might like bad boys and why bad boys are so bad.
i’ve rarely found “bad boys” attractive in the holistic sense. the intensely apathetic smoldering look that’s the trademark of characters like ryan gosling’s in crazy, stupid, love.? meh.
guys i’ve been interested in and/or dated are all “nice guys.” i’ve never fancied myself as a sandpaper woman, the kind who looks at a guy that’s rough around the edges and thinks she’ll be the one to smooth him out.
so ultimately, this allegory mostly helps me relate with women whose taste in men differ from mine. in fact, i think i can better sympathize with guys who go for “bad girls,” guys who, unintentionally or not, follow in the footsteps of pygmalion.
in conclusion, here are the bonus nuggets of wisdom i got from mamoun’s falafel:
- to beware of overestimating my ability to change someone. viewing a superficially appealing but subpar guy as a fixer-upper with lots of potential will pwn me — serves anyone right for seeing a person as a project.
- the constant consumption of overly pungent food will desensitize my taste and mess with my entrails, sucking me into a downward spiral of escalating spiciness threshold and ulcerations. in the same way, bad boys are habit forming, a penchant for bad boys left unchecked will devolve into a pattern of emotional destruction.
- nice guys finish last because they’ve entered the wrong race; the “bad girls” they chase after are false bait-and-switch prizes. meanwhile, the good women they should pursue never get a chance to run at all.
- to ask mamoun if he offers savory but less intense sauces to accompany his delicious falafel.