By Jane Bauer
Researchers believe that taste memories can be among the strongest one can have based on a principle called “conditioned taste aversion,” a survival tactic that helps one remember if something was eaten previously and was either poisonous or caused illness. This principle states that this memory biologically helps to prevent one from repeating the mistake in the future when this food is encountered.
-from the article Food and Memory by Joy Intriago
I love when something is so unexpectedly delicious that it imprints on me, creating a food memory that I will remember for years to come. It isn’t usually exotic foods, but an oddly delightful and unexpected pairing that causes my taste buds to perk up. Over 25 years ago in Brighton, UK, at a vegetarian restaurant, after watching The Wedding Singer at a movie theater, I had a combination of beet, cucumber, dill, something creamy and something crispy… maybe a piece of fried wonton. I have tried to recreate this perfect combination but have never managed to hit the same balance of yum.
About 13 years ago, on a chilly May evening, I had dinner in Montreal with my aunt and uncle at Laloux, a French restaurant. I had a combination of foie gras and apple that has made every time I have eaten foie gras since, feel like something is missing.
When I miss my father I can taste the pancakes with ham and maple syrup that he made for me on Sunday mornings. The beauty of a food memory is that you don’t just remember the taste but all the details of the moment get frozen and saved.
Last month I went to Mazunte for a 3-day silent meditation retreat. I was feeling a little dubious about going as I lived in Mazunte for a couple of years when I first moved here in the late 90s. Back then it was a dirt road village with a few palapas on the beach, one Italian restaurant and electricity in only a few parts of the village. Each time I have been recently I felt annoyed by its growth, and I felt even more annoyed with myself, for being that kind of person. Change happens, places grow, some evolve and some just get bigger.
Upon arrival for my retreat I was told that the retreat actually started the following day so I was left to my own devices for dinner. I wandered into the village. Stopped and visited the family that welcomed me into their fold twenty-five years ago and set off to find dinner. Outside the restaurant La Cuisine a blackboard displayed the evening’s specials and one was Tortellini de Conejo con Salsa de Zanahoria y Parmesano (rabbit tortellini with carrot and parmesan sauce). My mouth watered just thinking about it. It did not disappoint. Large tortellini with ground rabbit and a hint of fennel seed… I think, I tried to decipher each bite. The carrot and parmesan sauce was the perfect complement and I liked the cleverness of serving carrots with rabbit.
I had to admit, progress has its advantages in bringing new ingredients and chefs with different techniques. And it’s not new, it’s always been this way. Change is the only constant.