Why are we so skeptical of the things right in front of us? “Turns Out It’s Pretty Good” is a series that examines the path from resisting the well-known to wholeheartedly endorsing it.
In Elaine May’s 1972 masterpiece The Heartbreak Kid, newlyweds Lenny and Lila depart New York for their honeymoon. They’ve started to notice each other’s quirks, or rather, Lenny has started to notice Lila’s quirks. She sings badly, makes faces in her sleep, and takes too long to order when they stop for lunch, searching the menu up and down, umming and aahing herself to a decision:
“I’ll have a double egg salad please,” she says. A mic drop of an order. Double. Egg. Salad. Double the gloop, double the stink, double the dread that flashes across Lenny’s face.
A towering sandwich arrives at the table, the toothpick in each half rendered useless by the density of the salad bulging beneath it. Lila takes a bite; egg smears across her face, and her eyes roll back in ecstasy. “I’m an egg-salad nut,” she moans. So taken by her sandwich, Lila fails to notice that the man across from her has become fixated on leaving her, essentially because she’s that kind of girl — an egg-salad girl.
I come from a family of Lilas, the kind of women who order egg salad anytime, anyplace, and lose themselves in it. They don’t care if they get food all over their face, and they will eat every last bite, even if it means keeping fellow diners waiting (and very possibly horrified). In particular, my grandmother was this type of woman, an athletic egg-salad eater who would make giant vats of the stuff and smash it into her face, using her acrylic nails like tongs to pluck pieces off her plate and pop them into her mouth, oblivious to the abundance of schmutz.
As a teenager, I was turned off by egg salad’s sheer strength (not to mention the copious gobs of that cursed condiment, mayo). Egg salad is a loud food; it announces itself with a smell of sulfur and onion, its texture akin to that of the Blob. While other pungent foods have been prettied for the social-media age (see the gorgeous Mason-jar menageries of pickled vegetables scattered about Instagram or the hot-girl sardines from Fishwife), no amount of epicurean fussing can detract from egg salad’s fundamental plop nature. So when my grandmother offered up the Tupperware, I would decline. I thought egg salad was gross, and I thought to eat it might make me gross too.
Like many dumb childhood beliefs about myself, I never reexamined this aversion yet somehow treated it as gospel. However, just as the pandemic was taking hold, while I was on one of those harried grocery runs when I believed I was storing food for the rest of my life, I spotted a lone jar of mayo in the otherwise gutted condiment aisle of Target, glowing under the fluorescent lights. I lunged for it and took it home.
Months passed, and the mayo sat, until one day I found myself with a couple of hard-boiled eggs that I didn’t know what to do with. The emergency mayo burning a hole in my cabinet, my mind wandered over to egg salad. I instinctively balked, then softened; my former hang-ups seemed silly. I had no one to wine and dine but myself. Furthermore, despite my lifelong revulsion, I had never even tried it.
And so it began. I chopped my eggs and red onion, then opened the jar of mayo, which gave a brief, disconcerting wiggle, then settled. I mixed, I salted, I peppered and then, at long last, I tasted. My knees buckled; I didn’t even make it to the table. It was salty and tangy, the dreaded mayo rendered silky by its sharper accompaniments, creating a dining experience akin to accessing some new note on the food scale: transcendent. As I stood at my counter, flecks flying, I caught my reflection in the toaster; the woman staring back looked deeply familiar, an egg-salad nut like the ones I’ve known and loved — hunched, messy, and unafraid to enjoy herself.
Much like those I know who love it, egg salad is difficult and beautiful; it must be embraced for its essential grossness, its shameless verve, and enjoyed with reckless abandon. To sit in my home and eat egg salad in the ungainly, near-possessed manner of those before me — schmutz on the face, crumbles everywhere, makes me feel as though I’m fulfilling my destiny, connecting me to the egg-salad nuts I know and love so much.
More Turns Out It's Pretty Good
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- Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Enemies
- Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: The Grinch