Eating Authors: Nicky Drayden

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Nicky Drayden

I’m catching my breath, having just returned home from two weeks of travel that included both the Worldcon in Finland and side trips to Iceland (both before and after) as well as a visit to Sweden that included some research. I think I have three or four competing sets of jetlag — and my sleep cycle is a mess at the best of times.

But it was a great trip, and if I didn’t get to see a few dozen folks I’d intended to I ended up meeting a lot of new faces and that always brings new and exciting possibilities. Travel, after all, is broadening. This is true in both the expanding your mind sense as well as the expanding your waistline interpretation (and my wife found us some incredible restaurants for the trip).

All of which is my official segue into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, because Nicky Drayden‘s most memorable meal is rooted in travel, and of course eating.

Nicky’s first novel, The Prey of Gods, came out two months ago from the folks at Harper Voyager. It’s got robots, an ancient demigoddess, drugs that tap your inner animal, young love, and so much more. It’s a debut novel that will make you sit up and take notice and ask, “hey, when’s her next novel coming out?”

LMS: Welcome, Nicky. So let’s just leap into this. What’s your most memorable meal?

ND: Traveling as a vegetarian is never easy, especially when you’re visiting another continent. But when you’re twenty years old and possess a delicate and underdeveloped palate, it’s also a convenient shield to wield when your gracious hosts thrust foreign foods drenched in even weirder spices in front of your face.

“Sorry, I can’t eat that…whatever it is. I promise it’s not your cooking. See, I just don’t eat meat.”

The Prey of Gods

Many years later, as a reformed vegetarian (who eats way more vegetables now than I ever did back then), I regret not opening my experiences up to the full course of offerings during my visit to South Africa. However, I still remember visiting the local dives, stuffing my mouth with close to an entire loaf of beer bread, hesitating before sampling soured milk, and reveling in the elaborate meals and love we received at the townships we toured.

But the meal that most sticks out in my mind was our very first in South Africa.

After twenty hours traveling, subsisting on airline food and stashed granola bars, our group of fourteen teenagers, two peer counselors, and a few staff members finally checked into our hotel, The Caboose — a train themed hotel near the beach, where the rooms were the size of sleeper cars. I could touch the side walls with my hands outstretched (I am not a tall person) and the bathroom was a tiny walk-in shower with a toilet and sink tucked in the corners. After our long journey, we were desperate to stretch both our legs and our stomachs, so our group walked to a restaurant within spitting distance of the hotel.

Delightfully Twisted Tales: Close Encounters of the Worst Kind (Volume One)

When you travel to Africa and your world experience is very narrow, you have certain expectations about what the food will be like. Maybe you’re a little scared. Nervous. Intimidated. Or maybe you’re feeling adventuresome, ready to try new things. What you don’t expect, traveling 9000 miles from Houston to Port Elizabeth, is for your first meal to be Tex-Mex.

We ended up at a restaurant that looked a lot like a TGI Fridays from the early 80s, wood paneling and tschotskes all around us. Our server certainly had the requisite twenty pieces of flair on display. After we’d crammed ourselves into adjoining booths, the server proceeded to take our orders, all eighteen of them, without writing any of it down. We were dubious. How could he get it all right? We had a few high-maintenance eaters with us, and they insisted that he jot down their special requests, but he was certain he didn’t need to. And surprisingly, he got it all right, and the food came out exactly as we ordered it.

Delightfully Twisted Tales: The Future of Future Planning (Volume Nine)

But. But. But…

Now, growing up in Texas, I’ve eaten more than my fair share of Tex-Mex, both good and bad, and I can honestly say, I’ve never had Tex-Mex like this, neither before, or in the years that followed. The texture, I’ll never forget it. I had the spinach enchiladas, and the tortillas were spongy? And a little soapy? Like they’d been marinating for days in dishwater. The flavor was all wrong. So wrong, like they’d never even heard of onion powder, or cumin, or cilantro. And the cheese was both slippery and gritty, and I’m pretty sure it didn’t originate from any mammal I’m familiar with. It tasted okay enough, and I was beyond hungry, so I ate it. But I wonder if they’d gotten their recipes from an international game of “telephone” a hundred people long. Did she say “salsa” or “balsa”?

Balsa wood would definitely explain the tortillas.

But the mood was cheerful and our server was delightfully chatty, and we left with our bellies full, and our minds more open to all the possibilities the country had to offer.

Thanks, Nicky. Pardon me while I do a google search on the availability and variety of cheeses made from less commonly milked mammals.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

author photo by William Ting

#SFWApro

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