Day 11: Eat food of a different culture

Day 11

Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate

I’ve never cared much about food. Food is grub, food is something you stuff in your mouth to get energy and feel better — but the actual eating? Meh.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t eat a lot. On the contrary, I have always been known as the guy who eats twice as much as everyone else and then some. In addition, I’m a slow eater: Dinners with me take forever and a day.

And still I don’t enjoy eating. I prefer eating standing up and drinking water straight from the tap, without a glass, to the dismay of surprisingly many people — “We do have glasses, you know!” As if I’m trying to insult them. If I make my own food, I cook pasta, cut some bread, make myself some muesli or take an apple or some other fruit.

And I put it into my mouth, chew and swallow, and that’s it.

I have been to fancy restaurants a couple of times. I have seen elegance and finesse on the plate, seen how the colours blend into each other or create refined contrasts, witnessed first hand how tastes from one country enhance tastes from another in exquisite harmony. My overriding feeling? For Christ’s sake, just give me an orange.

I have never tasted anything better than the clementine (or is that mandarin?) I picked from a tree in the mountain side in Gran Canaria. To do something with that fruit, to do anything with it other than peel it — mix it in a salad, put on top of a cake — would have been sacrilege.

The height of my culinary efforts: making a banana-blueberry-milk-strawberry smoothie (I used to make a liter of it from frozen berries and drink it so fast that I had to take a hot shower afterwards) — and buying my first pomelo. And here I am, trying to eat food of a different culture, explore its cultural context and become aware of your thoughts.

Well. We did have a Balkan dish for dinner today, bread crumbs and onion and cheese and something gratinated in the oven for half an hour or something. I have never tasted anything like it, and my wife called it a Balkan speciality after some nagging. (“Alright, alright, it’s something uniquely Balkan-ish. Can we talk about something else now?”)

(The one dish I know is from Balkan, is stuffed peppers. When we went there some years ago, I got stuffed pepper everywhere we went; it might not have been what made me sick, but there sure is a connection i my head.))

I did eat the bread crumbs-thing. I sat at the table and chewed and swallowed and tried to think about the cultural context of this food. They buy more bread than they eat down there, so they have lots of dishes with old bread crumbs? It tastes of the Adriatic Sea? It is one of those dishes that are famous for being from one place, since it has never spread? (Like smalahove?)

And how do you become aware of your thoughts about food? My food thermometer has, at most, four levels: repulsive, not very good, eatable and ok. I classified this dish as eatable. The rest of my thoughts weren’t connected to the food at all; I had nothing more to become aware of.

I realise that some people not only enjoy food, they relish it, the eat just to have the taste, like the old Greek (or was it Romans?) to went out to puke and then came back to eat some more. I get that. And I understand some people find pleasure in seeing of smelling or touching food prepared in different ways, making it look almost like som kind of art. And many people like cooking together, like making food with someone else, cutting the apples and boiling the potatoes as an ensemble, yes, yes, I get all that.

It’s just that I couldn’t care less. I have four or five different dinners in my repertoire, and when I cook, I almost always make one of them. They’re healthy, they’re ok, and that’s enough.

I did try today. I did eat this bread crumbs-thingy with mindfulness, thinking about the cultural context and about my thoughts about the cultural context. I am sorry to say that I came up empty-handed.

Wise old men may or not eat fancy dishes with French names. But they probably care about their food, about how it’s prepared and how it’s eaten, where it’s from and what the cultural contexts are. At the moment I don’t.

If anyone has some wisdom to share, some suggestions as to how I can teach myself to relish all aspects of food, from preparation to eating and everything else, I would appreciate it.