My downstairs neighbors, who you may recall from tales of hot buttered rum and celebratory cakes, have been hosting their Romanian grandmother for the past few months. Which means the hallway between our apartments has been filled with incredible cooking smells, and I'm often handed a steaming plate of whatever just came out of the oven.
In this case it was... well, I don't really know what it was. I rarely do, and that's why I so relish these exchanges. How often do you get to eat something having no idea what it is?
The dish pictured above was some sort of rustic apple cake, a not too sweet hybrid between an apple pie and bread pudding. There was a bit of a crunch to the crust but the rest was moist, dense, studded with fruit and somewhat chewy. In other words, delicious and novel.
Remember your first taste of Thai food? I do. At the time I'd never had anything like it, which is of course why I remember it so well. Same goes for sushi, goulash and several other firsts. What's so wonderful about them is the surprise factor, an ambush on your senses.
As a kid my palate was trained to sandwiches and my mom's cooking, so when I had my first sip of tom kha gai, my culinary consciousness was so expanded that the mushrooms floating in the fragrant broth might as well have well been psilocybin.
That sense of discovery rarely happens as an adult because I've eaten many kinds of food but also because I have the sense memory and deductive reasoning necessary to imagine the things I haven't eaten. I've never had the Icelandic thunder bread that is traditionally steamed in a geothermal spring, but I can imagine it. (I'm thinking of B&M's bread in a can, only somehow better.)
And isn't that what restaurants are always trying to do: trick us into thinking we're eating something that we've never had before? Sure you've had chicken, but have you ever had it.... TOPPED WITH A FOAM!?!
Soon my surrogate Romanian grandmother will be heading back to her homeland, and I'm going to miss the little gastronomic ambushes I've gotten used to (though if I've gotten used to them, I guess they're not ambushes). I'll also miss our system: she takes from our (diminishing) root cellar and gives us some of whatever she makes from it.
I particularly liked the butternut squash... thing.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Posted by Aaron Kagan at 10:43 AM