One of the foods I miss the most is calamari.
My journey into the living hell of a gluten-free life started in 2012, and I’ve spent the past six years thinking about eight-legged sea creatures an unhealthy amount. I’ve never been the biggest seafood eater, and I mostly blame my parents for that. They are horrified at even the thought of eating something as small and adorable as baby prawns, and seem very happy on a diet of steak and chips. I’ve been a stubborn vegetarian since I was about five, so I guess my diet until I left home was basically chips. I had a hard life.
Calamari though. Crispy, and breaded, with a soft chewy middle. Like the savoury fishy equivalent of posh cookies.
I discovered calamari mostly by accident as a kid, when I was on holiday in Spain. I found these breaded things on the dinner buffet, labelled with a peculiar name I’d not seen before, and thought I’d try one, chancing that they were onion rings.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that I may have been a little mean about my parents’ diet. They don’t just eat steak and chips – sometimes they eat onion rings too. It isn’t unusual to go out to a restaurant and for my dad to order an enormous side portion of onion rings that he polishes off himself without offering to anyone else. My dad loves his onion rings.
Anyway, let’s go back to Spain (which is preferable to the cold winter evening I’m experiencing here in the UK right now) and imagine my childish curiosity when faced with this weird onion ring. Being an overly sensible child – or perhaps, less greedy than my parents – I get just one from the buffet. I sit down, and examine the onion ring. It looks delicious. I ditch the knife and fork and my manners and I pick it up with my fingers, and – as delicately as you can do as a seven-year old eating with their hands – I bite into it.
It is not what I am expecting, but actually, it isn’t bad. It’s a bit chewy, with a slightly strange taste I can’t really put my finger on, but it isn’t completely unpleasant. I have no idea what it is, but it seems nice. At this point, I look up to see that my dad is watching me. Well, correction, he’s watching the little breaded guy in my hand.
“You didn’t mention they had any of those.” The saliva is virtually dribbling down his chin. “What are they like?”
I look him in the eye. I am seven years old, but I am an awesome seven-year old. I smile. “Nice. A bit chewy,” I say to him, going in for a second bite.
He hasn’t even waited to hear past the word ‘nice’ – he is not a small person, and has to physically tug himself out of the chair to release himself from the table and he is basically running as fast as he can towards the trestle tables with the buffet. I watch him. He takes a small plate, and I count as he loads the calamari onto his plate. One. Two. Three. Ten. Fifteen. Eighteen.
“Ho, ho, ho,” he says gleefully as he arrives back at the table. Yes, I’m not kidding, he does genuinely say ‘ho ho ho’. He’s not emulating Father Christmas, I don’t think it’s a jolly “well, presents for aallll, ho ho!” kind of thing. He is just so pleased that he didn’t make the same mistake as me to just get one. No, he’s fooled the system. He has eighteen of the fuckers. He’s ho-ho-hoing in the ho-ho-hopes that he can eat them as quickly as possible and get another eighteen because he is possibly the world’s greediest person.
I watch as he takes a bite out of one of them. There is a small delay, before the horror reaches his face. He removes half the calamari from his mouth.
“What the-?!” he says, appalled. “It’s bloody squid!” My mum starts laughing. Then my sister, and my brother. Until we’re all laughing, and he’s sitting there sadly looking at his eighteen fake onion rings – not at all sad because it’s a waste that he’s just going to leave them, but sad because now he isn’t going to be able to eat eighteen onion rings in one sitting.
This isn’t the reason I miss calamari though. That was just the first time I remember eating it. And I have to admit it has left me with somewhat of a sweet spot for them.
No, the real reason I miss calamari is because they are breaded, so they’re cooked with wheat, and so far I haven’t found a gluten-free alternative. That means that it has been six years now where I haven’t been able to savour one of my favourite foods. What makes it worse, is that most of my favourite restaurants serves calamari as a starter, so I have this constant reminder every time I eat out that I can’t enjoy nice foods anymore.
So I guess this is really a plea to all the eight-legged friends out there – could you evade detection for the foreseeable future? If they can’t catch you, then they can’t cook you, and if they can’t cook you then they won’t cut off your delicious legs and cover you with gluteny breadcrumbs, and serve you on the menu in most restaurants I visit.
Also published on Medium.