Is chilli con carne the worst dish in the world?

Photo by Shantanu Pal on

Mother mainly likes cake

Mother is gently prodding a bowl of Nachos so she doesn’t disturb anything like the first Police Officer at a murder scene.

‘What is it?’ she asks my son, putting her fork down.

‘Nachos,’ he replies.

‘Is it Greek?’

‘No. It’s a Mexican corn tortilla covered with cheese and salsa.’


A thought catches her. She nods at me.

‘His godmother danced the salsa. She was Argentinian. It’s in their blood.’

She’s confusing nachos with Naxos, salsa with tango and Cuba with Argentina. However, she is right about my godmother who was a chorus line dancer and married an Argentine. However, she was born in Croydon not Buenos Aires.  

Sometimes this happens. Mother is a psychedelic signalman, who switches the points on the railway track, setting you off on a journey to an unknown destination. A simple conversation gets absurdly diverted.

‘Salsa is also a type of Mexican sauce,’ my son replies gamely trying to put the conversation back on track.  

She suspiciously peers at the Mexican take-away laid out on the kitchen table. Her radar locks onto an open polystyrene tub.

‘What’s that green stuff?’

Guacamole mashed up is not attractive

‘Guacamole,’ says my wife. ‘It’s avocado mashed up with other stuff.’

‘Other stuff?’ says Mother.

Mother doesn’t like the look or the sound of guacomole or anything else on the table. She likes cake, mainly. Events are running out of control faster now, the way the last inch of bath water appears to spiral down the plug faster than the first.

The take-away is her treat to us. A kind gesture to break the covid-19 lock down ritual of DIY cooking, clearing and cleaning and a way to assuage her unnecessary guilt she doesn’t contribute enough around the house.  

Instead, it’s turning into a family faux pas. We’re embarrassed we’ve ordered something she doesn’t want to eat. She’s embarrassed to admit it and is now racking her brain for an excuse to say ‘no’ to dinner, like a vegetarian diplomat trying to refuse a plate of exotic offal, without giving offence. 

It’s my fault, of course. I could have ordered something safe. She likes fish and chips, especially chips. With careful negotiation we might even have formed a consensus around an Indian or Chinese meal. But no. I decided it was time to experiment.

‘Mexican? Are you sure,’ said my wife?

Chilli con carne is only thing I’ve been consistent about

‘Chilli con carne is your least favourite food,’ said my son. ‘It’s the only opinion you’ve held consistently since I was a baby.’

‘Everything deserves a second chance,’ I said, exuberantly pressing the ‘Add’ button on my ‘Just Eat’ app for portions of enchiladas, burritos, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, tortillas and even a vegetarian chilli con carne. 

Now it’s arrived, Mother has come to inspect the gift she’s bought us. She’s standing next to the table tilting like a Tudor house, ground floor timbers leaning one-way, top floor leaning the other. As getting up from the table is a big effort so she’s weighing up things very carefully. Meanwhile my son snaps the lids off the takeaway’s plastic containers. Each snap sounds like a dull firework and infuses the kitchen with an aroma of plastic, cheese and chilli.  

It’s a kidney bean sludge, really

My son pours a kidney bean sludge into a serving bowl in front of Mother who turns away from the table with a faint groan, her mind made up.

‘I’m not very hungry right now.  I haven’t been feeling quite myself all day. So, I’ll help myself to some cheese and biscuits later if you don’t mind.’

‘Nachos is sort of cheese and biscuits,’ says my son, pointing at the yellow cheese on top of the pile of nachos, setting like lava as it meets the air. It’s his last roll of the dice. 

‘No, thank you, darling. I think I’ll go to bed. I’m not feeling well.’

Once she’s gone upstairs and my son has taken her a plate of cheese and biscuits my wife turns to me.

‘There’s a lesson here, isn’t there.’

‘Never order Mexican,’ I ask?

‘We should just focus on giving her food she knows and likes and not try to turn these moments into a foodie festival.’

‘She was fine until she saw the chilli con carne,’ I say.

My wife shakes her head.   

‘By the way, the chilli is disgusting,’ says my son. ‘One positive take out from this debacle is that dad has been right about one thing all these years: chilli con carne is the worse dish in the world.’


Published by Man in the Middle

Ecce Man in the Middle. The stale meat in the inter-generational sandwich.

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