Few things in life are quite as entertaining as a good cooking failure, as long as it happens to somebody else. Is that mean? Maybe! It's a little like watching the universe play a prank on somebody, with an added element of "Gosh, I've done some dumb things in the kitchen, but I could never make a mistake like that."
There's nothing like a bit of culinary schadenfreude, so the internet was in for a treat when a Reddit user going by LanguineO started a thread called, "What's the worst meal you've ever been served in someone's home?" The answers did not disappoint.
Nearly 14,000 people responded, and judging from the responses, a lot of people out there do not know that it's not OK to serve guests raw chicken.
I'm going to let that sink in for a second. Raw chicken.
Many of the terrible food stories involved well-meaning friends and relatives mis-reading recipes in ways that defy all logic. Apparently, the world is full of people who are capable of mistaking cheese for flour, then serving the dish anyway. Fortunately for us, those people's friends have internet connections and stories to tell.
"A stir-fry with a cup of vinegar in it," was the worst thing Thallbetheday had ever eaten. "My friend misread the instructions that said 1 tablespoon, and put a cup in instead."
A stir-fry with a full cup of vinegar instead of a tablespoon? That might officially be worse than the time on Friends when Rachel's cookbook pages got stuck together and she added a layer of ground beef and onions to her fruit trifle.
"A guy I was dating in high school tried to impress me by making chicken Alfredo. He didn't have heavy cream for the sauce so he used french vanilla coffee creamer and didn't tell me," wrote a user going by karma_kaze13.
It's always nice to be invited for a meal at someone's home. But not every friendly person with a desire to entertain is an expert in the kitchen. Sometimes dinner is like a game of roulette. You just have to spin the wheel and see what you get.
"My mother in law … and once served 'almond cookies' for dessert, but bought Parmesan cheese instead of ground almonds," said a user going by pinupgal. "She realized this after she baked them, knew it, and still served them as dessert. Every single dinner there is a guarantee she'll say 'I don't know what I did wrong' with at least one dish."
That one actually sounds like it might be fun, like Bertie Botts' Every-Flavor Beans from Harry Potter, where everything is fine until someone finds the one that tastes like toe lint.
Another bewildering category of meal disasters is the "good enough" cooking fallacy, which leads people to make substitutions that make no sense at all. Don't have heavy cream? Use skim milk. Don't have a whole chicken? Substitute a cup of corn flakes.
"My mother-in-law once served lasagna which looked terrific," said a guy with the great username of 87th_best_dad. "Now my father-in-law is second-generation American from Italian heritage, so she had a lot to live up to. After a lot of fork dropping and weird looks she admitted that she didn't have any tomatoes so she just used salsa. Hot salsa. With lots of cilantro. Blech."
The poor vegetarians and vegans of the world have been served a lot of weird things by people who do not seem to know how to feed vegetarians.
"Sunflower seeds," wrote a vegan going by nielsrolf. "I was practising music with another dude and his mom would ask me to stay for lunch next time. I declined because I'm vegan and didn't want to make her effort, but she insisted. Next week she gave me a huge bowl of sunflower seeds, while they were having a warm meal."
Other vegans and vegetarians joined in to bemoan the kinds of substitute dishes they've been served by hosts who wanted to make "something special" for the person who doesn't eat meat. One suggested just not telling the host, on the grounds that it's easier to make a meal of side dishes than to deal with whatever fresh horror a well-meaning host has decided to make with seitan and maple syrup.
Bad Flavor Combinations
And still other recipes just came out of the bad-idea box to start with. Nobody misread an instruction or misinterpreted an ingredient — the cook just thought, "The people on Top Chef combine foods all the time. I'll do that! What could go wrong?"
"A friend, who WRONGLY thought of himself as quite a chef, served me licorice root tea with bits of sliced carrot and dared to call it a soup," wrote a commenter called lolandr1, who said the friend was actually very upset that the beautiful soup was not properly appreciated.
"Undercooked chicken with strawberry yogurt as a topping (cooked with the yogurt plopped on top) and an orange slice as a garnish. Truly bizarre," wrote ScullysBagel, prompting everyone to imagine an alien watching the Food Network for a while and deciding to try it out.
"Canned tuna, mixed with BBQ sauce and mustard, served on garlic bread with spray cheese and more mustard," wrote Slinkskull, and I feel an overwhelming urge to track that person down and make them a nice sandwich or something.
My Own Worst Food Story
It took me a while to come up with my own worst food story, because honestly they've never been that bad. One time, however, a friend handed me a cocktail that looked like a gimlet — clear liquor in a martini-style glass, with just a hint of cloudiness that I assumed was from freshly squeezed lime juice. I drank it, expecting a bright, refreshing mouthful of ice-cold gin and lime, but all I got was warm vodka and greasy pork fat. My friend had just finishing boiling a ham hock for a recipe, and rather than waste the ham water, he decided to mix it with vodka and serve it as cocktails.
I've been googling "ham and vodka cocktails" for 10 minutes trying to figure out if there was some specific cocktail he was going for, but I think it just seemed like a good idea at the time. He did drink his, though. And mine. And insisted they were refreshing, with just the right amount of porkiness.
What is the worst meal you've ever eaten at someone else's house?