My first thought on a recent Saturday morning went something like this: oh crap, I’m accidentally an a**hole.
The night before, a wonderful gentleman from Swaziland cooked an amazing meal for me. I repaid the poor lad with an epic, two-day hangover.
Here’s the scene: my friend Mfundi – a sharp twentysomething pharmaceutical consultant who has lived in New Jersey since graduating from Wesleyan two years ago – invited me to his East Orange apartment for a home-cooked Swazi meal on a Friday evening. The first time I met him, he told me that there are “plenty” of Swazis in the tri-state area. So I figured that there’d be a small crowd for dinner, and I brought two full bottles of hard liquor and a few mixers. It was the least I could do, right?
But then it was just the two of us. I’m not great at math, but I think that works out to one man per bottle. Until I started seeing double, which meant that I saw two men and four bottles, and that’s, like, 42 bottles per man.
At around 8:30 in the evening, Mfundi started preparing two dishes: pigs feet with cabbage and a Swazi beef stew with beans and vegetables. He said that the meal would take about two hours, so I channeled my inner bartender and made two monstrous vodka cocktails, served in gigantic tumblers.
As we waited for the pigs’ feet and beef neck to boil, I made a second pair of jumbo cocktails. We finished those, started to wobble, and then started working with the other ingredients.
Mfundi chopped the cabbage, and tossed it in with the pigs feet. Meanwhile, the beef neck had thoroughly absorbed the water in its pan, and Mfundi started to add other ingredients: garlic, onions, tomatoes, spinach, diced habanero peppers, lemon pepper seasoning salt, a dribble of milk, a splash of olive oil, and some kidney beans that we pounded with a wooden spoon until they were thoroughly cremated.
To be clear: I did exactly none of the work, other than pounding some kidney beans with a wooden spoon. That, and pounding our heads with cocktails.
I was trying to be useful, so I prepared cocktail #4 while Mfundi prepared two side dishes: greens stewed in peanut sauce, and some boiled sweet potatoes. (Incidentally, the sweet potatoes were not Mfundi’s first choice of starch: he originally planned to make mealie – white cornmeal porridge, similar to Malawian nsima – but couldn’t find the right type of cornmeal at the East Orange Shop-Rite.)
A full bottle of peach vodka and a half-bottle of mango rum later, dinner was served! At 1:00 in the morning.
Neither of us were remotely upset with the delay. After all, we were invincible by then.
The meal itself was slow-cooked and memorably delicious, even if your vision is blurry and you’re wobbling in your chair.
I was pretty excited about the pig’s feet as soon as we sat down to eat. “Ooh, pig’s feet. There are four on my plate. No, wait – now there are eight of them. No. There are four. Wait – eight!” Hopefully, I didn’t say any of that out loud, but I can’t really remember. I am, however, quite sure that I really enjoyed them – soft, fatty pork is perfect after a bottle and a half of hard liquor.
(Incidentally, Mfundi said that most Swazis don’t actually eat pig’s feet, but he happens to like them. “Swazis will read your post and say, ‘what the hell is this?’” he said, laughing, sometime after cocktail #2.)
The second entrée – the slow-cooked beef neck with beans, vegetables, spices, and a dash of cream and olive oil – bordered on divinity: a rich slurry of vegetables and crazy-soft beef, with a hint of citrus and pepper and garlic. I’d tell you the name of the dish, but the brain cell that registered that information was extinguished in a tragic rum accident.
By the time we were finished eating, it was 2:00 in the morning. Mfundi was barely upright. That, or he was perfectly upright, and I just didn’t realize that I was on the floor. I poured us both fifth cocktail, anyway. And then a sixth. By the time I finally arranged for an Uber ride home, it was nearly 4:00 in the morning.
Mfundi, being a warm-hearted gentleman, called me to make sure that my Uber driver had arrived. The following (Saturday) afternoon, he texted me, asking if I knew why he had called me at 4:00 that morning – he had only a hazy memory of the phone call. On Sunday, he sent me a message saying that he was still hung over from Friday night.
Clearly, Mfundi deserved something more pleasant than a two-day hangover after making such a great meal. I felt terrible about it.
But I can’t help but wonder: if he made such a great meal while I was wrecking his brain cells and liver, what could he do if I hadn’t bartended him into oblivion? If consulting doesn’t work out for him, maybe he has a future as New York’s first Swazi restaurateur. Especially if he doesn’t hire me as his bartender.