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Futile search for hygge at Antonio’s Short Stop Diner, Lewisam

Hamburger and chips at Antonio’s Short Stop Diner on Enterprise Road.

‘What makes you happy?’’ This was the first question the late chef, journalist and story teller Anthony Bourdain would ask the cooks and chefs he interviewed for his TV programmes in far flung places like Myanmar, India and Japan.

After asking ‘‘What do you like to eat?’’ and ‘‘What do you like to cook?’’ he would taste the exotic specialities (some very unusual) and then cook them himself. These adventures in extreme cuisine brought him fame, wealth and popularity, but not enough lasting happiness — he committed suicide last week in a small hotel in France, while shooting an episode for his CNN show: Parts Unknown.
Happiness is an important factor when I choose a restaurant or fast food outlet to have a meal. Eating good food has always made me happy, so I’ll avoid revisiting restaurants where meals have been poorly prepared, giving me cause for depression. Eating food that’s kind to your body helps you wake up in the morning feeling good, so regular meals of burgers, pizzas or chicken nuggets won’t improve your health, or help you achieve the Danish concept of hygge (feeling of contentment and wellbeing).
While fast food may not be the most healthy, it is often enjoyable, and a convenient alternative to preparing a meal in your own kitchen, or booking a table at a restaurant. Two and a half years ago, I ate a delicious and memorable hamburger and chips at Antonio’s Short Stop Diner on Enterprise Road. It was served on a plate, came with a can of Coke, and cost $5. Wanting to catch up with one of Harare’s best-known food hounds and to celebrate my return to Harare after a month abroad, I invited him to meet me at Antonio’s for a mid-week lunch.
There was a steady flow of patrons at Antonio’s, some ordering take aways, others sitting down for a meal. As I had remembered it, the diner looked bright and welcoming. The black and white-tiled floor was spotless, the red plastic chairs comfortable, and new additions included a wash hand basin with paper towels and facilities to charge your cell phone. The volume of traffic, however, had increased over the last two years, and the roar of long-haul trucks and tankers accelerating down Enterprise Road often drowned out our conversation.
I placed an order at the counter — hamburger and chips ($6 including a Pepsi) for me, pork chops, creamed spinach and chips ($7) for my guest. We both drank Pepsi, a product of the recently-built Pepsi plant on Simon Mazorodze Road in Harare.
Eventually, our order was ready. The pork chops were served in a plastic container with a fragile plastic knife and fork; my burger and chips were presented in two small paper bags. A selection of condiments in plastic tubes was included. I asked for knives, forks and plates, as we would be sitting down to eat, but was informed that Antonio’s was a take away, but we were welcome to sit down if we wished.
My guest was able to eat the spinach using a plastic fork, but resolved to take the pork chops home to eat. Holding my burger in its paper bag, I took a few bites, but soon gave up. The meat patty had an unusual seasoning and tasted nothing like the magnificent burger of yesteryear, while the crisp, shredded lettuce I remembered had been replaced by a few flaccid lettuce leaves. Moreover, the chips were unevenly cut and over-cooked. This was not the celebratory meal I had imagined. Oh, oh, Antonio!
A number of patrons seemed undeterred by the lack of cutlery and plates, wielding their burgers manfully or dexterously picking up and consuming slices of pizza and oozing cheese.
‘‘Decadent’’ cake slices, medium for $3 and large for $5, were advertised on the specials menu. Did describing a cake as ‘‘decadent’’ indicate its deliciousness, or, as the dictionary suggests, an involvement in an immoral pleasure? I didn’t find out, as no cakes had been baked or delivered that day.
A slice of cake, had it been available, would have provided a sweetener to an otherwise disappointing meal at Antonio’s.  – A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff

Antonio’s Short Stop Diner
178 Enterprise Road
Tel: 0242 497127
Open Monday – Friday 11.00 – 21.00
Saturday and Sunday – 10.00 – 21.00
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