Figuring out exactly what tickles your taste buds
When you’ve had a meal that was an utter emotional experience, and not just any typical occasion of fulfilling your biological need for calories, then you’re quite lucky. It’s not every month, or even every year, that you can have a meal that stands out above the rest, something like an elusive prize. But the truth is, even the most trivial of things can make a meal permanently etched in your memory bank. Perhaps it can be one of the following:
It can be revisiting that perfect mie ayam in front of your ancient elementary school after years of neglecting.
It can also be that marvellous nasi kapau that you get for Rp.15,000 near a rice field at Bukittinggi.
It’s the Mediterranean Sea that you enjoy along with that bite of cheap souvlaki too.
It’s witnessing the Northern Lights with a bunch of silly friends, right after annihilating buckets of divine buttery Icelandic Langoustines.
It’s also when Jiro-san, the eponymous chef of Sukiyabashi Jiro, stares through your eyes with anticipation as you slide that hamaguri nigiri down your throat, in which you follow with a slight nod and an obvious grin in retaliation. It’s also when he pretends to mute his annoyance when you pose like a fool during a picture-taking session.
It’s when you eat Joshua Skene’s sea urchin toast at Saison that transports you to an exhilaration that usually only existed in fairy-tales, or slurping on his comforting duck bouillon that becomes the tastiest liquid substance that you will ever put in your mouth. It’s basically when you eat anything that you’re served at Saison.
It’s seeing Koji Koizumi’s wide smile as he presents your gohan course during a perfect meal at Kohaku.
It’s also when you eat a perfect steak, because a perfect steak is hard to come by. And I’m talking about a perfectly charred, slightly crispy exterior, warm-red centre that’s overflowing with flavours but not overwhelmingly fatty piece of steak. It’s a steak that actually feels like a steak by having a texture, not an oil-laden, tofu-like piece of meat with a high level of diminishing return.
It’s when you have your first try of actual aged-balsamic vinegar from Modena, and thinking how you’ve been fooled all this time.
And the Palamós prawns at Asador Etxebarri should be quite hard to forget too.
But it’s also when you eat at your first three-Michelin star restaurant and leave the place vowing to never eat at fancy places again.
It’s eating at The French Laundry and hating it, although the amount of wine you drink might have a hand in skewing your judgment too.
It’s eating at Noma and discovering how it doesn’t live up to your expectations.
But when you finally eat at Restaurant Frantzén after years of dreaming and they exceed your expectations, which you will also remember.
It’s also when you try some weird things in your meal, like a tasty plate of crispy fried tarantula, or an ill-advised plate of boiled bull’s penis that can deeply scar you, or a handful of dried elephant faeces that can immediately cleanse your digestive system, which turned out to be sound advice.
But it’s the food that you can get at home – a simple nasi goreng, a hearty soto ayam, a straightforward bubur ayam – that is forever carved at the back of your head, particularly after a lengthy trip abroad.
And some of us can always recall the boisterous flavours of their aunt’s gulai kambing. Perhaps it was because of her secret ingredient of a lot of love that was mixed into the concoction?
Whereas others can also recall their ex-roommate’s entrancing Jambalaya, with an inherent spiciness that can make you sit up straight. Perhaps it was the beer that he pours into the stock that makes it more notable?
And when your past girlfriends rarely cook for you, it should be all the more special when they try their best to conjure up something, even if it’s just a pot of Korean noodles or microwaved popcorn.
It’s really just the arrangement of emotional and sensorial factors – the food, the environment, and the people you are with and interact with, your inner state, your inherent memory – that aligns and consolidates to form a bubble that becomes impossible to pop from your head. Sometimes it takes a lot of special things, but oftentimes it’s just the right measurement of everything. (HARDWI PINANDITYO)
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