Lately, when I glance at the breakfast dishes laid out on the counter by the kitchen sink, I consider the fact that I haven’t eaten at an Indian restaurant in a while. I can’t make out what a hot naan with garlic feels like in my hands when I tear off the piece, even if I can sense the next step of flour slipping a fine dust onto the roof of my mouth before the first chew. I make it a point to review past tastes (I call them rebanquets). I started to plan a “because” in that last sentence, but there’s no clause to tie up that conjunction. I’m very elaborate about my rebanqueting, and I consider past meals to also be ones I’ve read about in books or stories, fictional and not. I think of these tastes as if they are my own, and I do, I suppose, lay claim to them even if they are someone else’s intellectual property. My reoccurring moral dilemma: is it plagiarism to review tastes that are enjoyed on paper? Will I be told, at some point, that Madeleine L’Engle has exclusive rights to liverwurst and tomato on white bread, and I must desist with my rebanqueting fetishes?
The best thing about rebanqueting is that I may enjoy many foods that I will never eat, and possibly never like. I still have not tasted liverwurst, but it remains in my senses a rich and sensible food, one that I could pop out of a can (does it even come in a can?) and enjoy as a late night snack, with the thunder and rain at my window. While one might consider me a connoisseur of sorts, I think I’ve unintentionally fooled those people. A definition of connoisseur, in the dictionary of me, hits on someone who enjoys new, fabulous tastes, and is bored by the old ones, unless those old ones are impossibly cultured and extravagant. My tastes seem to hit on relatively simple foods, and I rarely venture to new taste bud markets. For example, I have a hard time with organs in general, and have tried tongue and liver, but shy away from visiting those cubes of memory during my rebanquet. The only reason liverwurst stays in the course menu is that I didn’t put liver and liverwurst together when I was in second grade, and it remains unchanged for me, despite that new knowledge of word parts. The menu of rebanquet isn’t limited, rather filled with lush foods, but it avoids organs. Organs are what seem to set connoisseurs from people who eat food. I’m not sure what I am. Somewhere in the middle. On the line between “organs” and “spaghetti o’s,” because they look similar, but taste much different.
In my memory of tastes I have had salt pork (from Where the Red Fern Grows) with cornbread, roasted over a fire; coffee and meat pies (from The White Mountains), german stews and doughnuts (from And Never Said a Word); boiled eggs with salt, bread and jam (from Frances); chicken and potatoes (from Homecoming); a meal of fine French restaurant smells (from Family Under the Bridge) and I see when I start this list it may never end. My whole life is filled with meals I had with fictional characters and foods they have enjoyed during a long journey or at the table. I do note that in all of my food memories that these all taste rich, linger in the back of your throat, and act as the kind of food that fills your soul.
The only time I can remember that same feeling from a real life meal is a time that my grandparents and my family caught fish from someone's pond, cooked it at a fire, and ate it in the dark. We pulled white flaky meat off the bones, and I couldn't imagine anything tasting better. I'm not sure we even had salt to flavor it. I got a little piece of the skin I had tried to avoid. It melded so well with the soft fish. I remember being surprised that the whole meal could feel so warm and strengthening. I thought about it as I lay in my bed in the trailer house we stayed at because it was too late to go back to my grandparents' house.
And I don't even like cooked fish. But it's this meal I go back to draw from when I read about Huck roasting Mississippi fish over the fire while he contemplates a starry night.