I eat, therefore I am (circa 2015)
Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are. — JBS
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s (JBS) captivating quote has been troubling my mind recently. Very often, I end up judging other’s taste choices and, at times, I extend that to their personality as well. Although I am sure such extensions are not justified often, there is clear pleasure in indulging such activities.
But then it also raises the question of who I am as a gastronome and as an individual. To understand this better, I shall indulge in one of my most pleasurable pastimes — reminiscing in the best meals of the past. And 2015 was indeed a fantastic year for me as a gastronome. So as you enjoy the below three stories, feel free to judge me not only as a gourmand but as an individual as well.
Fishball soup, Taiwan
This deceptively simple-looking dish may look boring to some, but it’s exactly dishes like this that bring me those incredible wide grins. However, let’s start with a quick background. Here I am at Changbin, a tiny township that has a single 1km road with a scattering of houses on both sides. This is the night halt after the 2nd day of cycling along the gorgeous east coast of Taiwan, with the mighty Pacific ocean providing a perennial backdrop on the left and lush paddy fields and mountains on the right. As it turned out for a town of this size, there was just a single restaurant and obviously nothing on the menu was decipherable. After peeking into other tables and talking to others, this fishball soup was ordered along with some greens & chilled Taiwan beer.
Fishballs are basically minced fish packed into balls, much like a Kashmiri Goshtaba. However, the magic here is that these have been sliced in 4 wedges and have perfectly absorbed the fantastic fresh seaweed-enriched stock. Every piece was a pure explosion of the taste of the sea.
Though I must warn you that all my future attempts to try this dish at other places have only resulted in cardboard like flavours. So for the real deal, plan a cycling trip to Taiwan’s East Coast. You will not regret it!
Oysters, San Francisco
I had been trying oysters in various forms prior to this. But all of them were cooked in some manner — either grilled or folded into an omlette — and failed to impress me much. But here I was at Hog Island Oyster Co, after a beautiful cycling trip across the Golden Gate bridge to Sausilto and back from a ferry with the sea breeze blowing gustily, ready to feast on this beautiful platter of freshly chucked oysters.
One slurp of these briny oysters and I was hooked! That taste of the sea distilled back in it’s purest avatar. I knew I had to have a repeat of this platter.
I guess the theme we are looking at now is that seafood tastes best after a cycling trip. Well here is one my favourite quotes that I find quite apt.
Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life. — Anthony Bourdain
Pig trotters & Pig desserts, London
Taberna do Mercado was a revelation for me in London’s dining scene. I visited this Portuguese place a day after a rustic meal at St. John’s — a champion of nose-to-tail dining. And, I felt this place was a fine representation of how well that concept can be executed.
To begin with, I must admit I had no clue pig trotters referred to the feet of pigs, before I had this dish. But this pig trotters and cuttlefish cooked in a coriander-based broth was one of the most umami-packed dishes I have ever had. The pairing of the porky goodness and the perfectly cooked cuttlefish married together in a curry-style broth, resulted in much delight in every bite.
As a bonus, they do this fantastic dessert — a pig fat-laden, steamed egg yolk, floating in a caramelized sherry bath, topped with sea salt. Desserts, rarely, get better than this!
The Portuguese Tourism department should be sponsoring this restaurant, because Portugal just got added on my bucketlist.