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Games and food are a real double-whammy, given that dice predate recorded civilization, and our own appetites come before nearly anything we can remember. So in creating Menu Mash-Up, it’s been a joy to bridge these two aspects of our primal selves.
When I first came up with the game, I thought that one of the best parts would be taking random ingredients (depicted on playing cards) and creating masterpieces. But now I know that the most delicious, impressive-sounding menus are only part of the story. Fundamentally, people can’t resist combining foods that aren’t supposed to go together, and doing things with food that they know they shouldn’t, or realistically, can’t. That’s why you might come up with “smoked caramel cheddar dumplings on a stick” (OK, those sound kind of good) or maybe a “melted anchovy salad over fried chocolate cake” (shiver). Kids get it right away – see my niece’s “shredded brain foam with potato” (love the bizarre and mundane together) – and adults hardly skip a beat. The voice telling us not to play with our food looms large. It’s a thrill to defy it.
Sometimes you do luck out with two cards that make a natural pair – say, spaghetti and meatballs, or pastrami on rye. But if not, maybe you’ll invent adorable “banana buns,” perplexing “pea ribs,” or monstrous hybrids that were never meant to appear on the same plate (or in the same dimension). Matching and mismatching – they make the world go round.
Apart from imaginative combos, some of the strongest menus are the ones that use only a single card, leaving other players to fill in the blanks. There’s the time recently when my friend requested Breakfast in Bed, and someone handed her “chips.” (Kinda paints a picture.) Or when my sister called for a Childhood Memory, and blindly picked my menu – it wasn’t chicken and waffles, or hot apple pie, but just “mustard.” The truth is our mom didn’t inherit a single good family recipe (except for our father’s mother’s matzoh ball soup), but she did make a mean salami sandwich.
Having played the game lots of times, I’ve discovered a few patterns and tricks. And I can say that there’s one card in the deck that will almost always win the round for you – whether combined with other ingredients or used on its own – at just the right moment. Hint: it isn’t bacon.
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