It has been raining almost every evening past couple of weeks and one such evening, while exploring my options for dinner, I was attracted to the idea of assembling a hot bowl of Pho with veggies of my choice (which most often translates to whatever bits of green is remaining in the fridge to be cleared away!). Something about a steaming delicious broth on a rainy day is very appealing, especially if it can be paired with munchies of your choice, like mushrooms, bean sprouts, a few chopped chilies, an aromatic herb like cilantro and of course, the wonderfully filling, piping hot rice noodles, soaked up in delectable flavors.
As I began my research for broth recipes on my favorite recipe hunting sites, I could not steer my brain away from viewing videos of sushi instead. This is the regular story of my life; I start searching for something and always end up being glued to something else, which in case of food, is anything sushi. Something about the chef’s fingers and palm, weaving magic around the white of the rice, the pink of the fish, the exact dot of wasabi here, the thin sheet of ginger there, is so similar to a ballet dancer floating around the podium or Pavarotti rendering the Nessun Dorma; you don’t have to be an expert in the form, just relish the experience with your senses (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZZZ5wxUf3U). We ‘taste’ art through our eyes, ears and ultimately, mouth in the case of sushi.
There’s a lot of research done on neurons, brain, gut, psychology, pathology, physiology, genetics etc that does point out that food is first devoured by eyes and then nose and then the signaling cascades from the gut to regions in the brain that also control hunger, sense energy equilibrium and last but not the least are centers of our memory (please see references at the end). But what if one can’t ‘see’ their food? Would it heighten other senses like the taste buds, touch, smell? I did experience this once at the Dialogue in the Dark outlet (http://www.dialogueinthedarkindia.com/ ); however unlike others who raved about the experience of eating in pitch dark, I came out disappointed, mostly, with myself. I kind of like appreciating my food with eyes first and call me insecure and mistrusting, have to be sure its hygienic with no foreign particles hanging around.
Although the same me, will not really think twice before devouring 20 roadside phuchkas in 5 minutes or relishing a kala khatta chuski with gay abandonment, completely knowing that the guy fixing the chuski has to do ten things before he puts his hands on the ice (the ice is another story….a friend who was wary with my addiction to chuski once told me that the ice they use is available cheap at medical colleges preserving cadavers….yuk! I know!…but it’s 0 degrees, and mostly nothing can survive 0 degrees, I think my brain understands that and also, my friend is really weird!).
So I think quality of care/service matters and hence when I walk into a good restaurant, I hope to be treated better with adequate attention to quality and taste and presentation; and on the other hand, am just experiencing the food item for what it is, during my roadside escapades. Interesting experiments with food presentation, does indicate that visual effects rate higher in taste even though two plates may contain the exact same ingredients. In this particular experiment, the same salad with the exact same ingredients was plated in three different ways, one usual, second neat (where all components were segregated and neatly spaced out) and the last one in the form of an art inspired abstract painting. Sixty participants were asked to answer a series of questions about visual appeal to taste and even though the ingredients were the same, found the artsy plate not only most appealing, but thought to have the highest tastiness quotient as well.
Have there been instances where I have been wowed enough to be apprehensive about dismantling and eat a dish that looked quite magnificent? Twice I think, many many years ago, was amazed with the layered ice cream treat aptly named ‘gadbad’ (trouble) at a newly opened Manglorean eatery near college (ahh! those were the days!) and then many years ago in some Southern Californian beach place, in one of those alfresco restaurants, was completely flummoxed when served an exquisite plate of torched figs over baked brie encased in puff pastry with a lovely flourish of walnut honey sauce (ahh! again).
However, there’s nothing like a simple, warm, fragrant bowl of Pho when you are hungry and rain drops are painting your window panes…..which brings me back to broths, oh well! that is a subject for another post isn’t it? And in case you are wondering what I ended up eating that night, well….I was lucky, there behind all the boxes and bits of refusals, the naysayers, the pick me laters and procrastinators in my refrigerator, was a small stash of spicy peanut sauce that was just waiting to be picked up and tossed in with some warm noodles…..Pho would have to wait for the next monsoons I guess!