I was “making sawsaw the bagoong” (krill paste) with a rare find of green mango at an Asian shop the other day, a Fijian I think, small and not very sour. In between bites, I caught my husband watching me with a funny look. I paused and asked myself why, indeed, do I love this stinky salty-sweet-sour combination of food?
My husband is not finicky. He even influenced me his love for chicken feet and tripe, and likes my arroz caldo and pancit, with sinigang as his latest favorite discovery.
But I must admit we do have food that would be considered too exotic, even unpalatable like balut or dinuguan. Filipinos who grew up with it will say these delicacies are mouth-watering and tasty.
Yes, it is cultural, an acquired taste as they call it. Sometimes to explain why the food is so appealing is beyond logic. For instance, how do you convince new friends that the salty daing or that bitter ampalaya and that fat-infused longganisa dipped in vinegar are really tasty? Even the act of using spoon and fork rather than knife and fork on those few occasions add to a satisfying experience.
They say eating does not only involve taste but smell and even hearing (crunch and sizzles). But more than these, eating is also mental and emotional. Eating food we grew up with is wired up in our good old memories, associated with your mother preparing it, to siblings/childhood friends you ate it with.
My thoughts? Craving for and eating these dishes release happy hormones (endorphins?) gives you a mini “high” feeling that you almost feel like patting your stomach or giving a forgivable quiet burp after the meal. Of course, this is a personal experience, something that other diners might not feel. Therefore, the pleasure cannot be shared.
So a Scotsman may find more enjoyment eating his haggis than his foreign friends. A Chinese diner will feel extra special after his shark fins soup. Other diners, on the other hand, would hardly appreciate it. An Indian would prefer to eat his curry with hands. A long time Kiwi expat would be delighted to have some salty Vegemite or Marmite on his bread, much to the surprise of his bewildered hosts.
Eating is a nutritional, holistic, historical and personal gastronomic experience. Aren’t we glad for that?
Aline Parrone Halpin, a native of Naga City, is now based in Auckland, New Zealand where she lives with her husband Peter. She likes to write commentaries based on her quirky observation on people, culture and anything that makes people tick.