I am someone who loves to try new foods and experiment with it – be it as simple as chili and chocolate or something more exotic sounding, like fruit and balsamic vinegar (smells good in perfume, but in food, even I had my doubts). As alike as we may seem, my sister didn’t always share my love for experimenting. Although better, this situation has not changed majorly. And then I met people who are worse than her, and I realized that a majority of the time, we don’t try cooking new dishes and cuisines because we don’t like trying to eat them either.
In the last year, my friends and I have gone out every Saturday, trying a different place each week. Now, since I live in ONE city in ONE part of the world, talking about these places and their dishes won’t really help my global audience, but flavors, tastes and combinations stay constant across the globe. It doesn’t matter if you are French, or German, Indian or African – nationality doesn’t influence our taste buds; that job solely belongs to the food you are used to eating. I have lived in so many different cities myself that my taste-buds are constantly changing.
But for those of us who have stayed put, lived in the same place our whole lives, our geographic solitude need not restrict our gustatory journey. Here are some things that I have learnt over the years, maybe they may help you too:
1. Dousing everything in spices doesn’t enhance flavor: Those of us used to eating spices need them in every part of meal, much to the point that we taste the spice better than we taste the meat/poultry/seafood/vegetable. Everything we eat, from the core ingredient of our dish, to the salt we use to season has its own flavor.
Tip: If you can identify at least 75 per cent of the ingredients in the dish you are eating, you definitely appreciate the different tastes.
2. The more spices you add to the dish, the less you like the rest of the ingredients. Just think about it, by the time you are done making your Jamaican Jerk Chicken or Indian Chili Chicken super spicy (because you say you like it that way), you taste more of the Jerk seasoning or Chili in the dish than you do the Chicken. Coq au Vin with extra Vin might does well be a cocktail with chicken popcorn instead of olives. You might does well be eating the chili or just drinking the wine. At least the chickens would live.
3. When you appreciate the individual flavors of the ingredients, you appreciate the combination of them even more. Today, chili chocolate has become a crowd favorite. But when it first came out, I’m sure there was a lot of apprehension with the combination. One after the other, we braved an attempt to try it, and many of us quickly fell in love with it; Have you ever watched a cookery show, where the chef on TV is gushing about the aroma of some concoction or drooling over the combination of flavors in the dish? If you think that they came out of the womb talking like that, then you couldn’t be more wrong. To be able to appreciate the combinations, however weird and far-fetched, one needs to be able to respect the individual flavor.
4. First think of how each ingredient tastes on its own. Then combine the tastes. Now add some seasoning to the dish in your head. If you can correctly identify each taste, chances are you have tasted the dish in your head even before it gets onto the plate in front of you.
Heston Blumenthal is quoted saying – “Food is an experience of all five senses.” Why not follow his example. The worse thing that can happen is an educational experience.