Just finished Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, the author of the delightful The Elegance of the Hedgehog. In his dying moments, the renowned food critic Pierre Arthens embarks on a mental journey recollecting culinary experiences in his life, in search of that elusive flavour he so desperately needs. It got me thinking about those times in my life when I’ve chanced upon a taste of something sublime, a sensation so strong it left an indelible impression on me.
Udon- These thick, chewy buckwheat noodles swimming in a broth of umami goodness are pure comfort food. I had the wonderful opportunity of making them from scratch on an exchange programme with a Japanese school. The bowl of piping hot udon (udon I’d made with my own hands) that emerged bested any I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I was filled with a deep sense of contentment, and yet profound sadness as well because I knew udon would never taste so good again.
Sweet Potatoes– Freshly roasted on an elemental wood fire, bought from a man selling them by the roadside during a mountain drive in Kagoshima, Japan. I remember nibbling on them while gazing at a hauntingly beautiful, desolate landscape of natural hot springs spewing all around us and a deep crater filled with lava. We fed the leftovers to astonishingly docile mountain deer.
Bread– The taste of my mother’s freshly-baked bread, hot from the oven, has marked me for life. I’m utterly incapable of having refined, preservatives-laden, tasteless supermarket white bread.
Golgappa/ Panipuri– Crispy deep-fried hollow shells that I fill with a mixture of diced tomatoes and beans. I carefully pour in a good amount of green liquid to complete this simple ritual and pop one whole into my mouth. It explodes into an addictive mix of savoury, tangy, slightly spicy juices that prompts me to reach for another.
(this list is by no means exhaustive)