The cost of creating a memory

A die-hard foodie explains why she would rather splurge on adventurous culinary experiments than on other pricey pursuits

Words by Mam Sutheera; Art by Sruti Menon


The sound involuntarily escaped from my throat as I closed my eyes and savoured one of the best dishes I had ever had.

The velvety foie gras, perfectly seared and seasoned, was the first to make a grand entrance. Then, the sweetness of the rhubarb jam stole the spotlight before the tanginess from the unexpected cornichons sneaked in. At that moment, my world turned all sorts of different colours in my mind’s eye.

‘What an amazing piece of work!’ I thought as I opened my eyes. Slowly, the hubbub of the restaurant returned to my senses.

I found two excited faces beaming back at me. My friends, too, just came out of their trances and were now awaiting my verdict. I gave them a knowing smile and typed a number on my cell phone. We all flipped our phones toward one another at the same time.

“Aha!” one of them exclaimed as he saw my ‘9.2’.

I grinned back at his ‘9.0’ and winked at the other’s ‘9.1’.

“I know you are always partial to foie gras,” he said, mockingly.

Yes, as accused I am partial to foie gras. That probably explained why I rated this dish the highest among the three of us. The funny thing is that as we have fine-tuned our palates throughout these years, our scales seemed fairly well-calibrated. To check this, I once compared our ratings of each dish after a 19-course meal and, lo and behold, our ratings fell within one standard deviation of one another’s!

It has been our ritual as foodies to rate the dishes we taste (with one decimal place). We have developed a system where anything lower than five means “I wouldn’t have that again even if you pay me” and anything around six signifies the sentiment of “I couldn’t care less if I can’t have it again”. Seven, as you might have guessed, means we would be happy to taste the dish again. And, eight is “we would make an effort to try this again”, usually bestowed upon dishes at Michelin-starred restaurants. Mind you, not all dishes even at Michelin-starred restaurants earn our eight. And, then comes the golden nine. To get to nine means “I will remember this dish for the rest of my life”. And, yes, I still remember that foie gras to this very day.

With our rating ritual, each meal is a journey in itself, and each place is a new destination waiting to be explored. We searched far and wide, flying to places and making reservations months beforehand. We are eager to see how each chef can find new ways to impress us. And, we are willing to pay a big sum for such experiences.

One of my friends gasped with disbelief when she heard how much a meal at a 3-star Michelin restaurant cost.

“A 400-dollar meal!” she squeaked, trying to regain her composure. “That is totally insane!”

I eyed the Burberry bag on her shoulder and gave her a shrug.

For her, it doesn’t make sense to spend that much on a meal, and, for me, it is beyond my comprehension why she would want to spend so much for a bag. A bag costing less could function all the same, couldn’t it? Sure, each one has their own eccentricities.

Instead of a bag that would wear out or a shoe that could break apart, I believe, a meal can give you memories to cherish for a lifetime. When we taste a dish, not only are we creating a new memory, but also reliving old ones. As the food touches our tongues, our brains make instant connections.

When was the last time I tasted a langoustine this fresh and sweet?

Where was that place in France that served an amazing Chicken Rollatini, just like this?

How is this sushi rice compared with the one from that famous place at Tsukiji Market — a little firmer but less sour?

As we taste food, our mind drifts to those wonderful places and fond memories resurface.

A good pumpkin puree reminds me of autumn. Fancy spices remind me of exotic places I have visited. Warm broth reminds me of my grandma’s cooking. Some flavours can really bring you home and some others can transport you to an entirely different world with just one bite.

Food is a part of our lives’ stories, just like that song which, whenever played, evokes certain feelings in your stomach, be it joy or heartbreak. Fascinatingly, meals are also inseparable with life’s milestones — a birthday party, a big graduation feast or a wedding banquet. And, for us foodies, meals are our lives’ mission. We can feel the callings in our veins. We seek, we eat, and we talk about food with devout passion.

We have done it all, from waiting five hours in line since 3am, calling restaurants for hours to secure seats to driving hundreds of miles for culinary delights.

Some meals feel like a rollercoaster ride. And, some feel like strolling in the park during spring.

We have such an adventure through our dishes.

If you ask me whether the food itself is worth that much, sometimes it is hard to say.

But if you ask me how much the memory of such a meal is, that, I can easily answer:

“It’s priceless!”

Mam Sutheera is a doctoral researcher and teacher from Thailand. Connect with her here.

Sruti Menon is a freelance animator and illustrator, who tries to use her passion for art to bring stories to life. Follow her work here.