And now these three remain: sex, sleep, and food. But the greatest of these is FOOD!
I’ve always loved food. Not only does eating food satisfy one of man’s basic biological needs, it can also give rise to one of his greatest earthly pleasures. That’s certainly true for me. Whether traveling the world sampling international cuisine or vegetating on my couch watching NetFlix, gluttony sadly sits atop my seven deadly sins list.
When it comes to food, I don’t discriminate. I’m as comfortable chowing down at any hole-in-the-wall burger joint as I am at a three-star Michelin fine dining restaurant. Fast food, comfort food, ethnic food, or junk food, it doesn’t matter a lick to me. I can handle vegan, vegetarian, sweet, or savory. If the food is good, bring it on. I’m like a Chinese Andrew Zimmern swooping in on his next delicious destination.
That’s why I’m heading down to the Asian Food Fest in downtown Cincinnati this weekend. This vibrant community festival celebrates culture and cuisine from the entire Pacific Rim and beyond. For me, it’s like a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I grew up eating all sorts of Chinese delicacies, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of my fondest gastronomical delights.
In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t drive up here solely to attend the food festival. I’m here on assignment covering the Cincinnati Reds. It’s the doubleheader from hell as the Reds are taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a drawn-out twin bill. Twelve consecutive hours in purgatory is a bit too much for anyone to sit through, so I’m taking a break between games to gorge myself silly.
As I approach the plaza on foot, I get my first whiff of paradise—the scintillating smells of simmering spices serenades my nostrils. This is what heaven must be like. But instead of streets paved with gold, the streets are lined with food vendors serving the tasting menu of my dreams. There’s no fake chop suey like you find at your local Kroger deli. Nope—you’re talking Malaysian Chicken Rendang, Kalua Pork Nachos, Vietnamese Empanadas, and the most delectable tofu Pad Thai this side of Bangkok. Where do I even begin?
There’s a definite strategy involved in approaching these food festivals. You can’t waste calories by making bonehead choices. The days of eating as much as I want without expanding my waistline are long gone. There’s no more tapeworm or hollow leg to fall back on. In other words, I’ve got to pace myself, be selective, and loosen my belt accordingly.
My strategy, then, is to start slow and to look for the longest lines. I queue up behind several Asian couples at this one place claiming to serve authentic Chinese fare. One bite into the barbecue pork steam bun stuffed with quail egg and Chinese sausage tells me I made the right choice. The sweet fluffy dough evokes a flood of memories from my youth. I can’t help but think of my dear Mama, rising up early to painstakingly hand knead the flour, roll out the dough, and lovingly craft those magically delicious baos.
A revelation suddenly occurs to me. Not only does everything taste good, but each item I choose has an indelible memory attached to it. The spicy coconut-based broth of the Curry Laksa reminds me of the first of many meals my beloved bride cooked for me. The authentic Nepalese Momo Dumplings spur recollections of food binges with my brother. When I marvel at the delicate scallion pancake holding together my Chinese Pork Taco, I’m reminded of the importance of solid life-long relationships. Never mind the Caucasian dude beside me choking on the spices, I’m in my happy place.
The food we eat is more than just sustenance. It’s our life as well as our lifeblood. It’s all the sights and smells and textures and tastes joining together to form a symphony of life experiences. You vividly remember exactly where you were when you bit into that first soup dumpling or tasted the crispiness of Peking Duck for the very first time.
Food speaks to you—just like a soothing musical ballad—in ways that words cannot. It takes you back to all those special times, to all those memorable places, and reconnects you with every person you’ve ever broken bread with over the course of your precious lifetimes.
Try saying that about sex, or sleep, or shelter, or any of our other basic human needs for that matter. You can’t. That’s why the greatest of these is food.
I’ll have the Mung Bean Noodles to go, please.