Thursday, July 20, 2006

Big Mouth Strikes Again

You ever to stop to think how something feels in your mouth when you eat? Not the way something tastes but the actual sensation of having it in your mouth. This is not a veiled oral sex post, but I was drinking cava and eating olives in the sunshine (the only way to beat the heat in my book) and the cool bubbles popping in my mouth and the yielding flesh of the olives seemed to suggest I was missing something about the way we talk and write about food.
When you are a baby your mouth is your interface into the world. Jamming things into it your first real taste of the world; its textures, its shapes and it's flavours, the shape of your gurgling young mind is shaped by your mouth. Well, that's what I remember from university psychology courses, I may have misheard. But, whether my academic memory is up to scratch or not, the fact remains that we spend a great deal of our early years exploring stuff with our mouths and I wonder if we ever lose that fascination with sensations in our mouths.
The cold bite of ice cream melting into soft creaminess, the crunch of an apple, the rush of warm blood from a chunk of steak as your teeth sink into tender flesh, rolling a gobstopper round your mouth and sucking back the shockingly coloured sticky sweet liquid or indeed rolling a good wine round your mouth, noisily sucking noodles from a bowl, blowing pink bubblegum bubbles and feeling it pop, taking a vast slurp of hot tea with your biscuit. The comfort of warm soup or the burn of a good chili. These all suggest to me that we don't lose the fascination with the way things feel when we eat, since they are so tied into the way the food makes us feel.
Sometimes eating in restaurants I get the feeling that the chef has forgotten what it feels like to bite into an apple. Dishes where the flavour has been refined, presentation perfected and all of it devoid of clashing textures and honest sensation in the mouth. The consistency all seems the same, some of the drama of eating seems lost and I think we lose our way when confronted with a meal like that. There is nothing to hang onto, nothing that stirs a memory like biting into a ripe fig or sucking up that last bit of spaghetti sticking out of your mouth.


mingerspice said...

I agree that textures (and other mouth-sensations that are not strictly taste and smell) are key to our appreciation, recognition and memories of food.

I do think that chefs at good restaurants are aware of the importance of these traits, though. When I was at cooking school, the chefs were always telling us to be aware of serving temperature, doneness of vegetables, contrasting/harmonizing textures, and so on. Nobody wants a grainy sauce or a limp (or overly crisp) string bean. Similarly, you don't want french fries that have gone cold or a sauce that is steaming hot when the rest of the dish is just the right temperature.

Also, the food manufacturing industry is aware of the importance of these traits, even coining a creepy neologism for it - mouthfeel (for some reason that word just conjures up 1984 for me).

The experience of sipping champagne and eating olives sounds delightful!

cookiecrumb said...

Oh, we're back to figs, are we?!
Nice read.

Barbara said...

My best mouth experience. Put some Caviar (or any fish eggs) on your tongue and press it to the roof of your mouth. I just love the sensation.