“If you never have you should,
These things are fun and fun is good.”
— Dr. Seuss
Who doesn’t love food served on a stick? Shish-kebabs, slouvaki, a roasted marshmallow, campfire wiener–delicious. Even club sandwiches taste better with a toothpick jammed through it. Perhaps part of the appeal is the context in which food-on-a-stick is usually served: BBQs, camping trips, festivals, restaurants, 2 am along the Danforth in Toronto after a hard night of drinking; skewered food and fun tend to go hand in hand.
Usually. I’ve had a few gnarly experiences that have shaken my love for this culinary genre.
Homer knows the score.
The first was Halloween night, when I was a young boy in Port Albert. Halloween in rural Southwestern Ontario is not like Halloween in urban areas. It often involves driving several kilometers to get to your “neighbours”, limiting the number of houses you’re able to hit up in the course of an evening. So every door we knocked on was preceded by fervent prayers to the candy gods that we wouldn’t crap out with some lame treat like an Eat More bar or black licorice.
One of our neighbours actually went to a lot of effort and made candy apples–another on-a-stick delight–for their trick-or-treaters. While under normal circumstances this may have been an awesome score, the unfortunate bit was that the family owned a massive St. Bernard who was prone to shedding.
Candy apple on a stick: cool Halloween treat. Candy apple on a stick covered in dog hair: not as cool.
My second bad experience with food-on-a-stick happened many years later while I was teaching English in Taiwan. One of my favourite things about traveling is sampling street food and the night markets in Chiayi provided ample opportunity for just that. I had seen these red, candy-covered balls-on-a-stick for while and finally got around to buying some. There were two kinds, but I couldn’t really tell what they were and couldn’t speak Mandarin to find out.
Candy-covered strawberries on a stick: very cool. Candy-covered cherry tomatoes on a stick: vomit-inducing.
My third less-than-exceptional experience with skewered snacks happened just last weekend at the Waterloo Busker Festival. After a fun night of street performers and a pint at the Duke, my friends Jared, Janele and I headed back down King Street to catch our bus. Before we did though we stopped by the standard carnival food cart for some dessert. Janele ordered funnel cake while Jared and I both ordered a deep-fried Mars bar on a stick.
Honest to God, I don’t understand the appeal. I felt absolutely disgusting after eating it. I’ll eat a dozen candied tomatoes that have been rolled on by a St. Bernard before doing that again. The greasy-chocolate-induced nightmares that followed that night made me question my faith in my favourite form of food.
My faith was restored however, the very next day when I discovered the greatest and most entrepreneurial food-on-a-stick option ever. I was in Blackstock, Ontario at my friend Marie’s birthday party. After supper I’m embarrassed to admit that I once again attended a demolition derby–my second of the summer/my life.
Over the noise of cars smashing into each other I heard the familiar call of food vendors “Popcorn! Who wants popcorn!” But then something else caught my ears: “Pickle on a stick! Who wants a pickle on a stick!” Surely my ears, ringing from the collision-fuelled cacophony around me, must have been playing tricks. And then, through the dust and smoke of a car with a cracked engine, the vendor emerged, a skewered dill in one hand and a bucket of fat pickles in the other.
I thought I had seen it all. There was nothing fancy about these pickles. They weren’t candied or deep-fried or seasoned in any way that I could tell. Just a big ol’ pickle on the end of a stick, for the low low price of two dollars. Brilliant. Still recovering from my Mars bar incident the night before, I passed on the pickle but Marie was wise enough to know a good deal when she saw one.
Eat a deep-fried Mars bar and discover an amazing new food-on-a-stick? Check.
Duane Elgin, author of “Voluntary Simplicity”, talked about the “invisible wealth of experiential riches.” My “I’ve Never Club” is inspired by this idea and chronicles my reflections on the novel things I’ve done recently.
Funny stories. Good advice. Josh Martin is the author of the book “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.