Try translating this for your kids. ‘Five per cent of the sales from the nettle ravioli will be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Medical Foundation.’
I use the word ‘translate’ deliberately. We’re in Washington DC and, though the kids think we’re all speaking the same language, we quite clearly aren’t when it comes to menus. They can’t believe nettle ravioli is something an ordinary human being would eat. It sounds far more like a dish one of the aliens in their storybooks would devour by the green bucketload.
American restaurants are a challenge. They should serve the most family-friendly cuisine in the world. But for my kids, and many others, the quantities alone are offputting and the jam – sorry, barbeque sauce – that’s poured over everything defies even the sweetest tooth. But eating is such a large part of the American experience that you can, with some research, get it wonderfully right.
We got it right at Ben’s Chili Bowl– ‘Home of the famous Chili Dog’. (Translate Chili Dog to a six-year-old.) Ben’s been on U Street, once dubbed Black Broadway, for almost half a century, with menu and décor defiantly unchanged. Motown belts out from the jukebox. Nat King Cole and Bill Crosby have been among the customers who flock to this retro haven – not that my kids have heard of either of them. The only modern addition is the constant cackle of baseball on the TV in the corner. But even at Ben’s you have to exercise strict portion control. The chilli is on sale by the gallon.
To cool down after all that spice, we walked up U to Maggie Moos, an ice-cream parlour where they ‘mix in’ whatever you like right in front of you, so you can create your own flavours. My teenager had white chocolate chip with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and fudge. Now that’s a real calorific cultural experience.
At the Willard hotel on the Green, just a spit or cheer (depending upon your politics) away from the Whitehouse, we had tea in Peacock Alley to the tinkle of the resident harpist.
‘Thank you for coming. It’s an honour to have you here,’ said our waiter as we wafted out to the museums.
‘Who’ve they’ve mistaken us for?’ hissed my teenager.
‘Nobody,’ I told her. ‘People around here talk like that.’
DC is, after all, in the American South, and manners mean a lot. I told my teenager that, too.
You must think we’re obsessed with our stomachs. But when you travel with kids, if the food’s not right, they’re not right – and then neither are you. Bon appetit!