What I ate last night – The flavours that di...

What I ate last night – The flavours that divide us

When 83-year-old Canadian restauranteur Sam Panopoulos shuffled off his mortal coil on June 8, 2017, his passing instantly became international news, was trending at number one on Twitter and reinvigorated a long-running internet debate that’s spawned countless memes and has even inspired an official tweet from the Canadian Prime Minister. Why? Because Mr Panopoulos was the first individual to commit the heinous crime / benevolent act (depending on whom you consult) of putting pineapple on a pizza and calling it Hawaiian.
Whether you’re for it or against it, you’re one or the other. There is no fence. No middle ground. No “I really don’t mind either way, as long as the ham pieces are those chewy, indigestible processed cube thingies you get in packets”. But these extremes are not limited to tropical fruit, so let’s have a look at some of the other foods that we either love or hate. But mostly hate. But also let’s go back to the pineapple.
1. Pineapple
Six months before Panapoulos popped his clogs, PM Justin Trudeau tweeted ‘I have a pineapple. I have a pizza.’, followed by a #teampineapple hashtag. Whether this was a pot-induced reference to the Pineapple Pen song, or a direct response to the news that Icelandic president Gudni Johannesson had just told a group of students he would pass a law banning pineapple on pizza if he could is neither here nor there. The point is that Sam died with the satisfaction that he was responsible for one of the most polarising food concoctions of the past millenia. For the record, Mr P. stated before his death that he didn’t understand Mr Johannesson’s opposition to Hawaiian pizza, claiming he had no regrets and found his own notorious creation “refreshing”.
2. Pâté
About as far from refreshing as you can get, pâté has a rich, gamey flavour that you are either very much okay with or really not at all, pass me a bucket before I puke kind of way. It’s all down to genetics and a particular enzyme that some of us have that reacts with certain foods and makes them taste putrid. Liver has that enzyme, which is why the vast majority of children (and a fair few adults) would rather sandpaper their own eyeballs than consume it. For some it is also a textural issue, for others it is simply the thought of what it is. At the fancy end of the scale you have foie gras, the granddaddy of pâté. While delicious, it poses a some serious ethical issues and has repeatedly come under fire from various animal rights groups over the manner of production. (Yes, the ducks and geese are force fed grain and fat three to four times a day via a pipe down their throats until their livers swell to ten times their normal size. If you can live with that, tuck in.)
3. Turkish delight
Sickly, sticky, dusty, floral and horrid. Or, if you ask my mum, sweet, subtle and dainty of flavour. Turkish delight conjours images of lace doilies, sweet cups of tea and ancient great aunties offering you a ‘treat’ from a battered old Arnott’s Assorted Creams tin. How disappointing when the lid is removed and you realise there are zero biscuits and you’re stuck with blobby cubes of gelatin instead. However, when a bloke named Greg Morton gave Cadbury an online serve, posting “Cadbury when will you realise that Turkish delight is no one’s favourite and stop putting them in Favourites packs”, the internet broke. A large portion of the 65,000 comments that followed were from purists who argued that Cadbury was doing it wrong anyway, and that the proper, traditional stuff is delicately flavoured with rosewater, not too sweet and that putting chocolate anywhere near it was a crime.
4. Aniseed
There was only ever one kid in class who actually liked the black jellybeans, and was therefore picked on for the rest of his school days for being weird, but again it’s genetics that are to blame. The active compound that flavours licorice, fennel, sambuca, anise and all the other awful things beloved by your Greek neighbours and almost no one else is named glycyrrhiza glabra, which if you ask me sounds like something you bring up in the morning after a night on the turps. Interestingly if your adversion is based on the flavour, it’s the glabra you’re tasting and your genes are stuck that way. But if you’re okay with a bit of fennel in your potato soup or some star anise in your stir fry, but will honestly projectile vom if you so much catch a whiff of ouzo, it’s the aroma of another compound called anethole that’s turning your stomach, and it’s a environmental learned behaviour you’ve picked up as a kid.
5. Coriander
Type ‘why do some’ into Google, and the first sentence that pops up in the prompt ends with ‘people hate coriander’. Another genetic anomaly, it’s thought that 10-20 per cent of people have the specific smell receptor variant that makes them complain of a dirty, soapy flavour. While you might think this would suck growing up in Asia, due to a certain quirk of the DNA of different peoples it is overwhelmingly Europeans who can’t abide it. If you’re one of them, next time a person stirs fresh coriander through your curry before you can throw something heavy at them blame your naughty little OR6A2 receptors. It’s thanks to them that you’re a sad and unpopular wuss who can’t handle it
6. Blue cheese
If you don’t like an aromatic Roaring 40s Blue from King Island or a sharp British stilton, you’re missing out on one of the great gastronomic pleasures. Serve the cheese at room temperature with warm crusty bread, crisp crackers, quince jam and a slice or two of pear, and you’re in for a treat. It is true that an older cheese clumsily wrapped can slip too close to that whiff of amonia that the anti-mould brigade find so offputting, but it’s a rarity. If you’re a newbie, try a creamy blue brie blend or a Danish gorgonzola and pair it with an excellently oaky chardonnnay. Your senses will thank you.
7. Anchovies
When I was about fifteen my school chum and I were taken out for dinner to a rather posh restaurant by her rather posh father. I had a very innocent (boring) palate back then and the only thing on the menu that I was actually willing to eat (i.e. could correctly identify) was a Ceasar salad. All crisp, creamy and delicious-looking, I loaded my fork and lifted it to my mouth exclaiming “MMMMM, BACON!” to which my friend replied, a nanosecond too late, “Mmmmm, anchovies”. I have seldom taken a mouthful of something that tasted so startlingly unlike I had anticipated. It was so fishy, so salty that I darn near swallowed my own lips. Now, I know that anchovies make an excellent base for sauces, and that some people voluntarily put them on their pizzas without a cocked and loaded weapon pressed to their temple, but you can keep your hairy little salt bombs to yourself.
8. Oysters
Now we come to the ‘food that looks like bodily fluids’ section. Why anyone would willingly digest a morsel of shellfish the exact same shape, size and texture of a particularly impressive gob of phlegm is a total mystery to me, but apparently I’m very much in the minority. I know that normal people get positively hysterical at the mere mention of the words ‘freshly shucked’ but I can’t think of anything worse. Yes, they’re meant to be an aphrodesiac, and yes, legendary food critic Jay Rayner has stated ‘If you don’t like oysters, you’ll never be a grown up’, but to be perfectly frank you can shove them up your jumper and pass me a plate of crumbed fish fingers please.
9. Bananas
They’re the most purchased food item in the country, but not everyone is a fan. I myself have a very strange relationship with bananas. Weirdly, I enjoy my own bananas, but can’t stand anyone else’s. The scent of someone else’s banana is actually nauseating to me. Peversely, I’m okay with my own banana … until I’ve finished eating it. Then I need to get the peel as far from me as possible, preferably into a zip-locked bag followed by an industrial furnace.
10. Beetroot
“You can’t beat a root” is a favourite saying of a mate of mine, and sure enough in the 50s and 60s beetroot was in every burger at every local fish ‘n’ chip shop in the country. Despite raising the heckles of anyone who’s had their favourite cream chinos permanently stained by an errant slice they never asked for, beetroot retains a mystifying toehold on Australian culinary culture and seems to be here to stay.
11. Durian
There are laws in Singapore that prevent you from consuming durian on any form of public transport. Even intact, it’s an aquired aroma. Food writer Richard Sterling once claimed “its odor is best described as turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock”. If you can get past the sweaty scent, the flavour is apparently quite mild; a British naturalist once stated its flesh tastes of “a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds”. If you’re feeling brave, you can grab one from the Rapid Creek markets.
Marzipan, asparagus, olives, tofu, mayonnaise and okra. Some might also say peanut butter but I’d like to state for the record that those people are morons with crap taste in music as well as breakfast spreads and are probably still virgins as well.