“If more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien
And so began merry. My otherwise unquenchable appetite finally had its fill. My senses were filled to the brim with tastes and aroma, and an abundance of color and sound in several languages. It was so overwhelming I panicked. I was being handed the entire world in a plate and my plate was too full. But there on my plate was culture and gastronomy in its vivid and authentic state. “Devour and digest everything slowly”: I told myself. I would be there for days and there was no sense hurrying a “SLOW Food” market. There should be enough time to behold, sniff and savor. And so, my palate savored one country after another, sampling food in its extraordinary diversity, ingesting the pleasures of the planet. There were figs from Afghanistan, baobabs from Sri Lanka, spiced coffee from Egypt, black salt from Russia, couscous from Palestine, and flower concoctions from Mali. I had to try the citrus wine from Croatia. And I couldn’t count the number of times I dropped by the Provencal 45 nougat flavors booth. They had stacks of nougat with Inca berries and dark chocolate you can buy by the kilo. I had never tasted nougat so soft; you could actually sense the kneading that came it.
The entire world’s cuisine was there for me to devour. Belarus had wild fruit. There were dates from Al Jufrah in Libya. Slovenia had herbs I didn’t know existed. Portugal had some dried flowers and figs while Uruguay asked me to sample their chilies. Then there was Motal, cheese in terracotta, ash and beeswax from Armenia. By the time I inched my way to Ecuador for coffee, my stomach was about ready to give up. But I had to try Huehuetenango coffee from Guatemala; it was in the “top 10 things to try” list. That one burned my tongue. Too bitter and I couldn’t find the promised hint of chocolate. I had to sample two more Joes, one from Costa Rica, another from Nicaragua. The coffee was too sharp or maybe I wasn’t quite the coffee connoisseur I thought I was. Then there were the salts from Iceland, so queerly and delightfully flat. I had to sample every bit. Smoked salt would be delightful on the next steak I would grill. I bought those, and added the white onion salt, that would be delish on my fish.
We dined on forgotten food and tastes: raw milk cheeses from small dairies. The stench was awful, the taste divine. There was meat from native animal breeds and the Euskal Txerria pig and my husband doted on the Basque jamon. We even sniffed and sipped wines from grapes long forgotten and rediscovered. Now my taste buds have been elevated to be partial to the Sangiovese grapes. There were still 1000 wines to experience at the Enoteca and I had a workshop to sip 5 different Lambrusco wines fermented inside the bottle. If I had to write about all the ales, the birras and the hops I got to try, I won’t be able to end this article. And let me not start telling you about the chocolates or the cheese. These artisanal products, I had an abundance of.
So on to the sausages. There was a pretty girl in a costume from the Slovak Republic and men were lining up to sample, the sausage or the beauty, I don’t know. I finally got a shot of Cachaca from Peru, the drink my brother-in-law once raved about on a tour to South America. The Peruvian man who insisted I chugged his 40% organic corn liquor and I couldn’t quite understand each other. But the hand signals and the alcohol were easily understood. And I kept drifting back to the Domaine a Lafitte booth. They had Armagnac brandy aged in oak barrels this was one drink I definitely wanted to understand.
Our (Philippine) booth had a culinary offering (courtesy of Margarita, Tricia, and Monica) as well. We had overbooked tables as diners feasted on Adobo, Sinigang, traditional mountain rice, lechon and suman. These and they we’re serenaded hours on end by the ethnic beats and Igorot moves of Django and Manny.
I am now home with a bounty of dulce de leche liquor and Polish honey wine, the rose, cypress and poppy chocolates, lavender jams, Armagnac brandy, truffle crèmes, salted butter and pistachio pates, spicy pork and flavored salts. And, I, finally understand humanity’s perennial obsession with food.
Food is immensely rich as it is full of wisdom and pleasure. Every bite is a history and a story. And each person’s, each country’s, and each region’s identity lies in their food. Sample a simple dish from Norway and you are somehow linked to the Fjords and its past of salting herring. Imagine how every wine you sup is a memory of a place, of the seasons and the heat and the cold it had to go through, of an entire landscape, or the exquisite taste of a single vine. And isn’t it fascinating how one can go places, relocate and live in another place, but will always hunger for the tastes of home?
Rushing through all the trappings of modern life, we forget how rich and vivid food tastes like. Everything is fast, often cheap, even easy. But food is so much more than just the food we gobble up. It can be an entire culture and whatever we chose to consume, spells the life or death of animal breeds, seed varieties, or even a small farm or community. And now I know why eating should be slow: unhurried in the way one delights in it, and especially in the way it gets to the plate. It is only when we see the wisdom and rewards of eating will we realize how much is at stake at the plate. And I say anew, “if more of us valued food and cheer above hoarded gold, it would be a much merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien
And so, have a merry feast!