A couple of weeks ago, I read an article in the Guardian about the complex (and somewhat American) art of hacking a menu. Hacking the menu (for those who, like me, have no idea what this is) means either a) asking for things that aren’t on the menu at all (signature dishes that only those in the know are even aware the chef has in their repertoire); or b) ordering something that is on the menu but then customizing it to within an inch of its life. Asking for bacon instead of cheese on your burger, for instance, before requesting a gluten-free bun and a side of onion rings instead of chips.
The Guardian article suggests, with good reason, that the concept of hacking the menu has something innately un-British about it. We’re all programmed to either eat what we’re given and be polite about it, or eat what we’re given and then delight in moaning about it afterwards (I guess I fall into the latter category). But one thing us Brits will never do is just say what we actually want.
Determined to buck the national stereotype, I found myself in new brunch joint Paper Planes with a dilemma: should I order the porridge, suck up the fact that I don’t much like cinnamon (except in tagine), and forego the fresh fruit? Should I opt instead for cool natural yoghurt (literally one of my favourite things in the world) with fresh and dried fruits, and just accept the fact that this was not going to be a morning for carbs? Or should I (shock horror) just ask for what I damn well want?
I think you can guess what’s coming next: yes, I hacked the menu. I felt like an American: I could do anything! This was the land of the free! Yes we can!
My porridge arrived with dried fruits, seeds, fresh apples and bananas to boot. But the porridge itself was kind of dry, so – still riding my menu-hacking wave – I asked for some cream. They didn’t have any – so they offered me yoghurt instead. Oh what joy! I got to have my porridge AND eat my yoghurt! This – I thought conspiratorially inside my little British brain – this is what it must feel like to be a New Yorker…
Afterwards, I discovered that Paper Planes’ goal is “to create a Los Angeles vibe that we may sometimes miss in this lovely city”. Well, no wonder my menu-hacking was such a success… and thank god I read this before I tried it out in a brown café (“Yes, I’d like bitterballen with ketchup, please!”) and told to f*ck off. Because at the end of the day, I doubt that menu hacking is likely to take off in Amsterdam – just as it’s unlikely to take off in the UK. Us Europeans just aren’t trained for it.
But if you’re feeling brave, confident, and ready to put on a teensy bit of American swagger, get down to Paper Planes to practice your hacking skills. It’s strangely liberating…Leave a comment...