I wonder what it is that makes us crave specific flavours, specific foods. Or, resent them. Is it the flavours themselves? Is it their smell, the way it evokes memories? Is it maybe the mood we are in? Or could it be a subconscious need to externalise what we are feeling inside? Yes, I do crave a salted caramel cake when I’ve spent the day working and I want something intriguing to brighten up my day. There, it’s just its taste, the combination of salty and sweet which creates the craving. I know I resent my mum’s fasolada because it reminds me of a time I resented myself, its smell evokes memories of my confused teenage years, sitting at the table, bowl of fasolada in front of me, craving for something, anything but that, anything but myself.
Now…the most difficult part. What do you crave when you are happy dear reader? What do you crave when you are sad? Or, what is it lately that makes me…need bitterness in my foods? I never used to like bitter flavours. Of course, they say that as you grow older your flavour pallet evolves and you begin to enjoy the flavour of coffee or Campari which you didn’t when you were a child. For me, it’s a craving. A need. Something deep inside of me demands, in a powerful way, to be fed, to experience bitterness. So I wake up in the morning, often with nightmares still hovering in the light of day, and reach for the bitterness of black coffee. I don’t like its taste, nor its smell for that matter. Yet there is something about it that brings me to balance, like a punishment and a reward at the same time. But we’ll get there. I need lemon in my drinks, be it diet coke or gin & tonic, and I always bite the soaked lemon rinds, crave for them releasing their bitterness into my filled with sweetness mouth.
Tonight, I cooked, like I do most evening when I’m at home. I wait for the house to be quiet and I walk into the dark kitchen, turn on the lights, take out my knife and lose myself in whatever mundane prep needs to be done. It’s not that I am hungry. I need the silence. I need my knife. I decide to grill some leeks. It is spring after all and the allium family is my favourite one. Onions, garlic, leeks, spring onions. I like their sweetness and texture when cooked. But not tonight. Tonight I needed bitterness again. This need inside me is growing bigger and bigger. I taste some grilled leeks as I am cooking them; they are tender, mellow and the sweetness is beginning to come out. But I don’t want to be comforted with their sweetness. I want to be tortured. I let some of them burn. They turn dark brown, some of them black, and they are crispy, fragile like paper thin crisps. I taste them, I can feel the bitterness in my mouth, along with the flavour of ashes. Not immediately. In the beginning it is quite subtle, but seconds later it explodes in my tongue, filling me with…unpleasantness. The pieces of burnt leeks break all over my mouth as I chew them, their bitterness permeating my senses, growing even bigger. As the sharp unpleasantness for their flavour grows, a strange sense of comfort appears. And as I lick my fingers from the leek ashes I understand why. Taste takes what I’m feeling inside and externalises it. Somehow, by tasting the bitter leeks I replace my internal turmoil and bitterness with their taste. The internal suffering becomes external and then subsides. Comfort comes in.
My need for bitterness subsides. I take some butter out of the fridge and mix it with the burnt leeks, adding some salt and pepper. Dark ashes blend with the white creamy butter, creating something smoother, mellower, something I will probably offer to those who don’t need bitterness. Maybe to myself soon.