The Kebab Gospel: A Snarky Ex-Mormon's Word on London Kebabs

If you’re ever a Mormon missionary, go to London for the food.

I know what you’re thinking: “Said nobody, ever.” I know what else you’re thinking: “Aren’t Mormon missionaries given their assignments? As in, they’ve got no choice in the matter at all?” But I’m bearing my testimony here, the food in London is incredible! There’s a chippie in North Finchley—“chippie” is slang for “fish and chips shop”—that will change your eternal life… And curry. You wouldn’t believe the Indian curry: foodies swear-not-swear, up and down, in heaven and on earth, that London curry is better even than India...better than the curry of the Celestial Kingdom!

My only caveat? Don’t look for Mexican food. It’s a sin. And trust me, you’ll never find it anyway. London is Outer Darkness for all Mexican food.

So I’ll say this one more time: if you’re ever a Mormon missionary, go to London for the food.

To prove it, I’ll tell you a story. Well, several stories. And while these stories are what me and my fellow Mormon missionaries might have called “faith promoting lies”—you know, the kind of stories that serve as confirmation but are really nothing more than nice, nourishing, and entrancing anecdotal evidence—I still think you’ll find them useful, whether they’re exactly true or not. Because let’s be honest: what’s true isn’t always faith-promoting…

The principle is simply this: you don’t need to take this one on faith. Lemme start my story. And it came to pass…

I was a missionary—back in 2001 through 2003—“Elder” Kulisch for the England London Mission, reporting for duty. I had my “little pocket protector with [my] name engraved,” as the poet, DA Powell, would say. Just after my 19th birthday, with maybe three weeks left in high school, my parents and siblings gathered round our little wooden kitchen table and opened up my “Mission Call”—the sort of vernacular nickname for the stuffed envelope you get from Church Headquarters assigning you your two-year mission.

And when I read it aloud? That little two-page letter? The one that little Mormon boys and little Mormon girls—the girls are a year less “little,” allowed only to apply at 19 (instead of 18) to give them an extra year to get married off—treat like tender Mormon Scripture, tendered to them individually, as if it is personal revelation? That “Call”? My “Call”?

It made my mum start crying…

And here’s the second reason you shouldn’t take my story on faith. Because not two months before this little gathering, “Elder” Kulisch confessed his gayness to his Mormon parents, his Mormon siblings, his Mormon leaders, and pretty much all his Mormon friends—not six months before his little mission. But also because “Elder” Kulisch would (years after his mission) take his gay-ass out of Mormonism for good—at the ripe old age of 27. You’re talking to a GAY EX-Mormon now—with all the benefit of hindsight and a lot of snark—and while “gay” certainly recommends me under stereotypes for offering up stellar food advice, it doesn’t do much for me on issues of faith or obedience.

Which is probably—given my mother’s uncanny knack for understanding the present and its particular defining scarp on the future—why my “Mission Call” made my mum start crying…

You see, London was full of temptation—not food—according to my family. Chock full. And well-intended though they were, my family was nearly as clueless as me on the issue of the gay temptations of the day. So what exactly was my Mormonism? My Mormonism was pre-“gay marriage” Mormonism, pre-Prop 8, pre-Obama. Heck, my Mormonism was barely pre-September 11th. And my family, well-intended though they were, had no resources and no help beyond a few kindly, ecclesiastically-trained white men in Mormon leadership positions. And while Mormonism would eventually (presumably) raise the bar on those resources in the coming years, then, at 19, London did look like a veritable nest of vipers.

My mum was, I suppose, not without reason to wonder... I certainly liked football players—real ones, mind the gap, thanks, not those silly American Football players. (Mmm, soccer calves.) And I certainly liked British accents, too, relishing the lilting musicality of Elijah Wood’s passable British accent in the trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring about as much as my friends relished taking the mick out of me for being unable to see it. (Missionaries are not allowed to see movies, read books, or really participate in regular culture.) In truth, maybe my mum was right to be crying.

And, yes, knocking on doors for ten hours a day did not seem like fun to me. Especially when insanely depressed that my family really didn’t want me to be gay.