Taste the unknown

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The occasion was a formal dinner, a traditional South Korean meal in Seoul. We were a bunch of business journalists on a familiarization trip for an electronics major that was soon to open a store in India. There were a few vegetarians in the group and the hosts were very careful about what was served, especially Indian journalists. I had listed seafood and not beef as my food preference, and when the kimchi, pickled vegetables, radish soup, and grilled fish were served to me, the novelty of yet unseen Korean cuisine was like a breath of fresh air, on my palate. I was a rookie business journalist then, and even greener when it came to the world of food. Soon I was asked if I wanted to try a particular fish appetizer, which at that time appeared to me as cylindrical-shaped rolls in a green-colored wrapper, with pieces of rice sticking out of the middle of the roll. . Responding in the affirmative, and being served the same way, I pricked the appetizer with my fork and happily put it in my mouth and… froze. The unmistakable, heartbreaking taste of raw fish assaulted all of my senses at once. Almost gagged, I excused myself and rushed to the bathroom and after spitting the offensive food into the bin and freshening up, I could face the world again. Not without being, if not marked for life, traumatized by the whole experience, made unpleasant because my Indian palate was not accustomed to the taste of raw fish (or almost). It was 1996 and sushi wasn’t really a thing in India like it is now. It was at least a decade later, when I was recounting this experience to a senior hospitality professional, when I was given a lesson in demystifying sushi eating. He explained the how and why of eating sushi, i.e. sushi is best eaten whole and with the hand, and just drizzle a little soy sauce over the fish and rice so equal and only a tiny bit of wasabi should be placed right in the middle, and although the pickled ginger is for palate cleansing, it’s perfectly acceptable to also garnish the sushi and put the whole thing and bingo, this has always worked for me, as of that day. Today I enjoy my nigiri and maki, but I have to admit that I prefer California roll and sushi with crispy toppings, like fried prawns with cucumber and avocado, not the kind of toppings from raw sashimi that I had come across in Korea many moons ago. The California roll, considered an entry-level sushi for beginners, due to the use of fried crab sticks or fake crab sticks, is very popular on the Indian party circuit for the same reason, I suppose. But on a deep, subconscious level, dining in Korea will always remain a “sensory shock” dining experience, even if its consequences weren’t unpleasant at all, once I got used to the idea of ​​sushi. However, not all first tastings or, in this particular case, non-tasting experiences always end on a high note. I remember my first Ramzan in Hyderabad and witnessing the frenzy of haleem. Haleem was the food of the day, on every road and alley, and at dusk there would be queues of fasting (and non-fasting) Hyderabadis near haleem restaurants waiting for their daily dose, when it was still in season. A bowl of hot porridge consisting of cracked wheat, minced meat, ghee and spices would hold its spell over hungry humans for an entire month. A restaurant friend wanted me to try the special haleem they made and offered to send me some. The haleem came in two boxes, one with the “special” label and the other with the “normal” label. Obviously, I reached for the special label box and opened it with great anticipation. There were smaller boxes of haleem condiments like fried onion, cashews, mint leaves and a few lemon wedges. The box of haleem contained very hot haleem, of course, and came with an appetizing aroma of ghee and spices. But what was inexplicable was the rather large slice of meat on the haleem, especially when you’re told that in the haleem you’re just supposed to eat the meat, but not see it because it’s supposed to be perfectly mixed with the broken wheat. I turned the box over to see its contents and sure enough, the special part that seemed a bit of an anomaly, was the Zubaan or lamb’s tongue staring at me. Right away it went in the trash, even though I tried the other haleem, which was perfection personified. I shared the experience with my friend, who apologized for not preparing me enough, to which I replied that I still wouldn’t have eaten it! I admit to being a bit of a fence keeper when it comes to eating meat. I cannot, for example, take part in offal such as brains, intestines and other unspeakable goat or lamb, although I can always recommend to a friend a good place to fry bheja in town. Although I was introduced to the consumption of fish quite early in life, I draw a line under the consumption of fish head, which is considered a delicacy in Bengali and Odia cuisine. Returning to an enjoyable and memorable dining experience , implying a similar taste of the unknown, I would like to recount having obtained a taste of darkness, offered at the restaurant, called Dialogue in the Dark. Diners are seated in the dark and served a three- or four-course meal by blind employees, who leave you nothing on the menu except your choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Before you sit down to dinner, you’re also taken through a series of ingredient guessing experiments, where you have to identify legumes, spices, and more. in total darkness. This unique experience gives you a rare glimpse into the world of darkness, and for once the tables are turned when you inhabit the world of the blind who have an advantage over you as they are used to the dark, but you are not. not, then it’s their world against your mind, because you realize how much the gift of sight is taken for granted. If I remember correctly, the food in the restaurant wasn’t really worth writing about, but the dining experience certainly remains unique and distinct. The feeling of eating hot cheesy pasta or herbal tomato soup without seeing it was one of elusive but palpable emotion, indescribable in words, and an epicurean experience absolutely recommended. Ultimately, food, like religion, is a very personal experience. As we go through life, accumulating new taste experiences, we gain some, we lose some. But as Swami Vivekanand wisely said, “Be grateful for all food. It is Brahman. Its universal energy is transmuted into our individual energy and helps us in everything we do. You can write to [email protected] .com

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