You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food. ~Kurt Vonnegut
I grew up, blissfully unaware that food had flavor, that food could be more than something to fill a rumbling belly. My staples growing up were CBS, Chicken, Beef, and Spaghetti with the universal spice of salt slathered on to my mom’s content. Not content with just salt, she also liberally applied seasoned salt to many of our meals based on her rationale that “seasoned salt is not really salt”.
Coming out of my youth, haute cuisine was, to me, steak, probably because it was such a rarity to kids fed more typically on hamburgers, and tuna casserole which is still a favorite which boggles the mind of many of my friends.
I have had the good fortune of traveling to a number of countries during my life. Besides my home country of the USA, I have been to Canada, Jamaica, England, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, India, and, most recently, Turkey. During my travels, I learned to indulge in then to always partake, exclusively, of the native faire as I feel it is important that my pallette be stretched to new limits. This wasn’t too difficult because my first real trip abroad where I was forced to eat the native foods exclusively was to England and, well, the blandness of English food makes my mom’s dishes seem quite flavorful.
I had a similar experience in Germany when I ate Bavarian food which I found to be on level of blandness that would rival the best food in England.
Jamaica piqued my interest with their wonderful Jerk Chicken which, when combined with the local Scotch Bonnet peppers, is a savory delight that leaves the lips tingling and the mouth watering.
The food I eat in Canada is almost always freshy caught fish, fish caught by me and my team of fishermen, that is cleaned and eaten within minutes or, at most, a couple of hours, of being caught. It is spiced and cooked by Americans so it can’t really be called Canadian faire. It is, however, the freshest food I have ever eaten.
Swiss food, no matter the cuisine, is always tasty with the possible exception of the fondues which I find to be on the bland side. I like a kick to my food something I have not experienced with the cheese based dishes. The biggest down side of Swiss food is the hefty expense associated with a meal.
Indian food was my first exposure to a true sensory delight in the eating realm. The taste of the food, very different than typical in the US, had so many flavors my mouth erupted in the extravaganza of spices and tastes and smells. The one dish I remember not enjoying was the rice dish with shredded cilantro. Cilantro leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.
Until my recent trip to Turkey, Italy was my favorite country in which to partake of food. In that country, high quality food seems to be almost a religion. Everything I ate was delicious.
Turkey, however, has set the standard by which I now judge food. Everything I put in my mouth while in that country was a succulent treat. The meats were flavorful. Not just the spiced meats but the unspiced meat itself had wonderful flavor. The fruits were out of this world succulent. We purchased strawberries, cherries, and some local based fruits from the open market. The market itself was a sensory treat of smells and colors. They were, by far, the sweetest strawberries I have ever eaten. I couldn’t stop putting them in my mouth until the bowl was empty.
While I was in Turkey, I can honestly say, never had a bite of anything that was not fresh and packed with flavor from the fruits to the vegetables to the meats to the myriad breads to the rice pudding. I even had fast food kabobs one day and, though slighly dry, were oozing with flavor. Everything I ate in that country left my mouth smiling with joy.
The only problem I have with the Turkish food is that it’s in Turkey and I’m in the US. On every one of my other overseas trips, I was content with coming home to the US and digging into my familiar foods, my comfort foods. That changed on my return from Turkey.
On the last day of my vacation, I was back in the US and decided to get some Mediteranean food in Chicago. I wanted a last grasp at Turkey before my work week started. I found the restaurant, Taxim, on Yelp that was rated at 4.7 out of 5 stars so I went there to eat with my girlfriend. I ordered their chicken dish and she orderd pork on a skewer.
My first bite into the chicken was a shock of salt! I am not a big salt lover so I peeled off the skin to chew on the meat and, to my dismay, it was almost flavorless. I would have sworn I was eating tofu had I not personally peeled the meat off the bone. This chicken was completely the opposite of the Turkish chicken which had much flavor to spare.
My girlfriend’s food turned out to be similar. Brown lumps of meat, supposedly pork, with barely discernable flavor outside of the saltiness. And her french fries were drowned in olive oil. The meal cost us $80 and was a huge disappointment. How anyone could rate this swill a 4.7 stars stymied the both of us. I later rated the place on Yelp and was frustrated that the lowest I could rate it was 1 star.
The next day, my work team had an outing at Bob Chinns, a well known seafood restuarant, one where I truly enjoy the food. Well, used to enjoy the food. Compared to the fish I had in Turkey, this fish brandished little flavor, very little to excite my pallette. I finished my Salmon and could only look down at my plate in despair.
It seems, Turkish food has become my Turkish delight and has ruined me for food in my native country. I fear I may not enjoy food again until I head back to one of those countries where, unlike the US, food still is succulent with flavor. The funny things is, the last thing I thought about while planning my visit to Turkey was Turkish food and it has left as big an impression on me as the ancient wonders.