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The very notion of “taste” is a curious, contradictory one. It signifies our intensely personal absorption and categorisation of the flavours and flourishes of the world, yet is also a crowd-approved ideal bound up in etiquette, rules and status. The gatekeepers of good taste usually wear black, have enviably colour co-ordinated coffee tables and know exactly what opinion to hold about the latest novel or think-piece.
When it comes to food, people construct entire personalities on knowing their crudo from their carpaccio and snaffling seats at the latest fashionable supper club – and don’t get me started on the waves of hipster boyfriends with their very public passions for baking, fermenting or pickling.
This tyranny of taste filters through to us all. In restaurants we pause before eating so we can find the right angle from which to pose with our plates and we’re more likely to profess our love of burrata than of corner-shop penne swirled with ketchup and cheese. The language we use around food is careful and speaks of the guilty, diet-obsessed crusade on which we’ve been raised – we “indulge” in desserts, confess our habit for “food porn” and “naughtily” consume “dirty” carbs, while elevating the Silicon Valley types who subsist on protein powders and fasting sprees to a spiritual level.
Well, in the end-of-year spirit of celebration, forget that. For this issue I wanted to explore the topic of food and drink not as a source of subsistence or a way of signalling our supreme judgement, but as a route to pleasure, connection and pure joy.
Particularly in relation to travel, food is the quickest (and most egalitarian) way to devour a destination. Our fondest memories of a place are often of the tequila shots downed with the bartender in a backstreet bar; the spicy snacks bartered for and consumed on a street corner; or the fresh fish that we watched being caught that morning turning up in our evening meal. To borrow from the legendary chef Anthony Bourdain: “Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafés and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all.”
It’s this consumption of not just food, but also an entire culture, that makes the unashamed pursuit of a good meal such a visceral part of our travels. By imbibing the rustic and the refined, the modest and the Michelin starred, we swallow the ingredients that define a locale and reach a greater understanding of its community and landscape. In the words of the iconic food critic Jonathan Gold: “I write about taco stands and fancy French restaurants to try to get people less afraid of their neighbours and to live in their entire city instead of sticking to their one part of town.”
As we enter the festive season of feasting, I invite you to disregard the conventions of good taste in favour of eating your heart out and being truly full. To go back to Bourdain: “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
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