Overlooking the pleasures of food
There is no better season than summer to write about pleasures and food falls squarely within this realm. Yet, we routinely overlook its sensuality and fall into mindless, functional eating or succumb to overconsumption, missing opportunities to delight in its experience. POP concept owner, Aziz Mulay-Shah, recounts his love for food from Portugal.
“Ameijoas al Bulhao Pato” is translated in the menu as clams steamed with boiled duck. What?!! I turn to my pal Paulo, who doubles as my translator and host on this tour of the streets of Lisbon’s Chiado neighbourhood for an explanation. He is stumped and only when we engage with the owner of our dining establishment do we get an answer: The translation is a mistake; it should read clams made in heaven. This mom and pop restaurant has no name and a poorly translated menu; yet, it has “Ameijoas” , clams – Portugal’s earth shattering gift to the universe. Explained by the owner, Ameijoas al Bulhao Pato is the traditional way of preparing clams: steamed in wine, olive oil, garlic, and coriander. The saltiness of the tiny molluscs is perfectly paired with the slight piquant of the coriander and white wine broth. To add another level of sensation comes garlic: tangy and earthy. The combination is too much for taste buds to handle; they explode in goodness and yumminess! This simple starter is a culinary revelation. I now understand when master chefs harp about two essentials: “get the balance right” and “keep it simple”. The cuisiniers who invented Ameijoas al Bulhao Pato understood these maxims and culinary travellers as well as my senses are singing their praises!
Different cultural eating experiences
How do we get from clams made in heaven to MacDonald’s? Rozin et al. (2011) discuss the differences between American and French eating experiences. Americans prefer quantity as a symbol of goodness whereas the French emphasize quality, discrimination, and moderation. This preference for quality may restrict variety and choice, but sets the bar higher for what is “good” increasing satisfaction as the narrow choice removes the feeling of missing out on something else.
Americans also prefer to eat alone and food that is quick and easy, while the French see food as a reason to celebrate. Food preparation takes longer, is more interesting, and done communally. It is the main event – whereas food in America is often in the background, something to consume on the way to other things. The French prefer joys and making daily life interesting.
Enhancing eating experiences
How can we incorporate more joy, interest, and communality into eating?
Many of us eat out, but make mindless choices about where and what to eat deferring to chain restaurants that are recognized, uninteresting, and unsatisfying. We have infinitely better options.
Ask a foodie for recommendations. They are always experimenting, trying new places and know good food. They recommend locally owned restaurants known for creative specialties that may take longer, but will result in a far richer and intimate experience: you’ll meet the owners and chefs who have made this their professional calling and know exactly what’s in your food often sourced nearby. Keep experimenting until you find a place you love – it’s great to be welcomed by name and fed like one of the family.
Make taste the goal of your meals by trying several smaller plates instead of a big dish. You can share these easily and you might discover you like oysters after all! Choose a theme night and visit several restaurants, i.e., for Middle Eastern food, you can try one restaurant for humus and vine leaves, another for tagine and a third for sweets. Research ahead to know who specializes in what.
Make these events more communal by asking guests to bring a friend and prepare interesting conversation topics. Task them with bringing a dish, doing research on its origins, history, and how it came to be in your area. Food is just as much about people as it is about meaning.
Try a new recipe, cook with family or friends over wine and experiment with new foods altogether. Ask your grocer for suggestions and make it a savoring expedition by asking for recipes and samples.
Let’s bring more pleasure into life
Let’s bring more pleasure into life – from anticipating and planning for having and making good food, being curious about new food options, savoring taste, smells and textures, and strengthening relationships through these events – what easier way than to tie it to food, something with which we interact several times a day. Here’s to making life more tasty, juicy, and interesting – the way it was meant to be!
Aziz Mulay-Shah is the founder and creator of POP! A Dubai based culinary and arts and culture organization that celebrates gastronomy, arts and culture from regions around the world through the curation of pop-up events. Watch for the launch of the 2015-2016 season at www.pop-culture.me
Rozin, P., Remick, A. K., & Fischler, C. (2011). Broad themes of difference between French and Americans in attitudes to food and other life domains: Personal versus communal values, quantity versus quality, and comforts versus joys. Frontiers in Psychology, 2 (177).
Dr Louise Lambert