Memories of tingling tastebuds

June 10, 2010

Everyone has favorites when it comes to food.

For me, food is not just a means to survive…it is meant to be relished, savored, appreciated, and enjoyed.

I was never a fussy eater.

Sure, I would squirm and make faces when mom served me mung dal (a kind of lentil) or lauki (gourd), but I was never allowed to get up from the table while there was food on my plate. I’d sit for an hour sometimes while mom cleaned up the kitchen and dad watched the news…chewing slowly on small morsels in the hope someone would say, “It’s ok.”

Well, that never happened, so I’d keep at it, working on my food until an empty plate stared back at me.

With time I realized, I was unnecessarily increasing the length of my agony. If I have to eat it, might as well gulp it down fast!

Once I started doing that, dinner became a lot easier.

Now that I’ve started cooking, I can choose which veggies not to make, and which ones to experiment with, so they taste better. But along with that, I’ve also learned to open my world to new culinary adventures.

In this two-part series, I will share with you some memories associated with the following food pictures, so you can not only savor the visual deliciousness but also delight in the story that goes with it.

A taste of cactus

Despite the fact that we had traveled 23 hours to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, and this was the first “proper” meal of the day, I took the adventurous route. I ordered the cactus salad at Agave, Excellence Resort, without knowing what to expect.

It was a warm evening, we were the only ones sitting out in the courtyard abuzz with mosquitoes, and the servers spoke broken English. The menu had limited vegetarian options and our Spanish was restricted to “como estas?” and “muy bien.”

The waiter taught us the difference between “caliente” and “picante” when my husband told him we like our food “muy caliente.”

“Caliente is hot for weather…and your wife,” he explained grinning. “You want picante.”

The cactus salad arrived, a little warm, very succulent, and surprisingly flavorful. It wasn’t anything I had envisioned it to be — visually or in taste.

I thought it would be closer to a jackfruit skin — hard and prickly. But this was tender, tangy, and has a kick to it at the end (possibly because of the cayenne peppers mixed in). We followed it up with “muy picante” enchiladas and pumpkin turnovers (the only other vegetarian items on the menu).

An hour later, we returned to our room, full, exhausted, and covered in red itchy welts. But what stayed with me was the texture and the taste of a plant I had always dismissed as useless.

Potatoes taste good on anything

But not on pizza! The very idea of potatoes on pizza crust seemed revolting to me until I went to Cambridge 1 in Boston. They specialize in charcoil grilled pizza and our friends raved about the thin crust. We waited patiently in line for 45 minutes, eying the sizes and varieties of “refined, adult-like” pies being dished out from the kitchen.

The friends — an electrical engineer and a technical writer — engaged us with their description of the city, its history, landmarks, and people. We talked about sunny California on a chilly September evening.

There were a number of “interesting” items on the menu but the one that caught my eye was the potato, fontina, parmigiano, romano, rosemary, garlic combination.

How odd, I thought, to have potatoes on a pizza.

The friends assured us it was the best thing we’d eat in all of Boston. Tall claim, that. But sure enough the pizza lived up to the hype.

The crispy crust, rolled up like a naan — the crunchiness of the base contrasting beautifully with the soft, red potatoes — tasted just divine.

We loved witnessing the fall colors in and around the city, but what we talk about even four years later, is the potato pizza.

Barbecued tofu steals the show

California is known for its abundance of eating options and San Francisco is more vegetarian friendly than any other city in the States, but once you start moving further north, the culinary diversity takes a nose dive into the Pacific.

It was a challenge planning my husband’s birthday three years ago when we headed up Highway 1 to Fort Bragg. The countryside was beautiful, the weather perfect, but when it came to vegetarian food, the options were pizza or salad. Some Googling revealed a hidden gem — Raven’s Restaurant at Stanford Inn.

It had rave reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor and the owner, Jeff Stanford, seemed fairly friendly over e-mail. We arrived at 7 p.m., dressed for his special occasion and were escorted to a table decorated with birthday confetti, much to the surprise of my unassuming husband.

When the menu was presented to us, it seemed almost impossible to decide what to order — not because of a lack of options (which we’re quite used to), but for the sheer abundance of choices.

We asked our server to make recommendations. My husband got the garbanzo-filled spinach ravioli, while I opted for the barbecued tofu with beans and potato salad — and yes, the flower was organic and edible!

The tofu was firm, and the barbecue sauce gelled well with the seasoned potatoes and steamed greens. Even though I was full halfway through, my tongue kept telling me to take one more bite.

Later, our server brought out a candle-adorned chocolate tart and I sang “Happy Birthday” to him as he blew the candle and proceeded to stuff my mouth with a huge chunk of the triple chocolate dessert (now, I wonder if it was to make me stop singing!).

I have a mighty sweet tooth, but that night my taste buds were singing ~tofu tune~.

As you can tell, food is a big part of my travel experiences, and I hope you enjoyed taking this walk down memory lane with me.

I’ll be back with some more tempting offerings tomorrow.

16081BD1A60533E0F1173D28DE4F0D3F Memories of tingling tastebuds

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3 Responses to Memories of tingling tastebuds

  1. susan deborah on June 10, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Dear Mansi:

    Is there anything which you are not good at. Lovely to see the culinary delights accompanied by words.

    Yummy and now I am thinking of food!

    Joy always,

    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 11, 2010 at 12:05 am

      Glad to have made your stomach rumble! :P

  2. [...] with yesterday’s post, here are some more stories about dishes I’ve especially savored and which have special [...]

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