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A Black Iron Haven

Don't Mess with My Tabasco

Posted by Rick Mansfield

If you know me, you know that I have a "thing" for Tabasco. Normally if I were grading one of my student's papers, I'd count off for using the word thing because it is vague and nondescript, but it seems fitting for the first sentence of my post. I've written about my predilection (perhaps a better word) for Tabasco before (see "Confessions of a Tabasco Addict Aficionado").

I always feel the need to defend my Tabasco habit. People who see me carrying my own personal Tabasco bottles usually assume two things: (1) I like my food really hot, and (2) I must not really be able to taste my food at all with all that Tabasco on it.

Well, these assumptions are simply unfounded. First, I really don't like my food too hot. Really. I simply use Tabasco instead of the black pepper you sprinkle on your food. You'll never see me adding both to my plate. It's about flavor--flavor with a little bit of a kick.

And, for what it's worth, I don't actually put Tabasco on everything. But see, there are some foods that simply go with Tabasco. I can't imagine eating eggs without Tabasco. Tunafish without Tabasco? Unfathomable.

As I said, I carry a bottle with me. I'm trying to eat a bit healthier these days, so Kathy and I mostly cook at home. But occasionally, when I need to grab something quick, such as a night like tonight when I'm teaching in Louisville, I usually pick up a tunafish sandwich on 9 grain honey oat bread at Subway. There are actually two Subways that I frequent. One is in Simpsonville where I live, and the other is in Louisville close to where I teach. At both of these locations, I don't even have to ask anymore. After the person behind the counter puts the tuna on the bread, he or she will reach across the counter so that I can hand over my 2 oz bottle of Tabasco. Tunafish and Tabasco were simply made for each other.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Why don't you just put your own Tabasco on the sandwich later when you eat it? Well, I could do that, but most of the time I'm taking the sandwich with me. The Tabasco and tuna will taste best together if the two have had a few moments by themselves, to get to know each other better.

So tonight, I'm at the Subway counter getting my tunafish sandwich. I should really get to know this fellow who's making my sandwich. He's made so many of them for me. I should ask him his name. I assume he's either the manager or the owner since he's always there. He's been making me sandwiches for at least two years. He's of Indian (as in India) descent, always very nice, and, of course, he humors my Tabasco thing. I don't have to ask anymore. He simply reaches out his hand. I give him the bottle noticing tonight that there's very little left. I'll definitely have to buy some more before I travel later this week.

As he sprinkles the Tabasco on my sandwich--I don't even have to tell him when anymore; he just knows at what point to stop--I notice a new employee leaning against the door frame that leads to the back room. She's new; I've never seen her before. A lot of these folks come and go. All except my friend behind the counter who knows how to make my sandwich. He's always there.

In hindsight, I heard what she said. But I was so taken aback when she said it, I simply had to make her repeat it.

"I beg your pardon?" I said in a tone that sounded mildly offended, or possibly even insulted. She said it again, in that same matter-of-fact, I-need-to-set-you-straight tone: "You know, it's really against health department codes for you to pass an edible substance over the counter like that."

What? I knew she really said it because I made her say it twice. Did she know who I am? Did she realize that I have an "I love Tabasco" bumper sticker on my truck's rear bumper? Didn’t she know that my Indian friend and I had been following this same ritual for almost two years?

I did not lose my cool. I did not do anything unchristian. But I looked at her and said very seriously, "Well, there are plenty of Subways in this town. If this one won't put my Tabasco on my sandwich, I can easily go to another store that will."

The manager was red-faced at this point, but trying to keep his cool. He looked at me with an apologetic countenance. "It's okay," he said.

As I left, I saw him take her into the back room. There were other customers eating after all. Nevertheless, as I walked out the door, I couldn't make out anything being said, but I could clearly hear his raised voice--something I'd never, ever heard from this gentle, normally quiet man. The bumper sticker on my truck caught my eye as I rounded my way to the driver side door. Yeah, it's love.

Don't mess with my Tabasco.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at rick@cookingincastiron.com.

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