Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

The pupils dilated

I had two Real Food Moments this week, both of which required me over-eating to such an extent, I was busted and fatigued afterwards.

The foods to blame? A breakfast bagel with crispy bacon and a fried egg and then okonomiyaki – both on the same day.

The bagel, it turns out, was the perfect antidote to my birthday celebrations; salty and tangy and eminently satisfying, from my toes to my ears.

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Herself had cooked it up when I was outside doing some of my ‘other’ jobs, the ones which require work boots and gloves and much grumbling.

It was a frosty morning too and so I was well wrapped up in layers, layers which were peeled off one at a time as the labour and body heat intensified.

And it was while I was standing steaming and panting in the chill of Sunday’s tantalising dawn, that the scent of bacon cooking came wafting around the corner, like a benevolent ghost intent on rousing my already simmering appetite.

I had gone to work with just a cup of tea in me you see, with a view to getting the messy jobs out of the road before I jecked and/or the birthday after affects kicked in in earnest. But that benevolent ghost!

I was like someone being revived with smelling salts after fainting; the scent engendered an almost physical reaction and I later imagined my pupils dilating and a flood of saliva flood my eager mouth.

I’ll tell you this for nothing… it didn’t take me too long to clear up the dregs of work after that olfactory assault.

Honestly, I couldn’t remember a humble breakfast bagel being that good, as I chomped it down without a word, between schlurps of hot tea, as if someone was going to take it away (you never know with the little humans in our house).

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It was one of those repasts that I hoped against hope wouldn’t end as the running yolk spilled over and onto the plate, which I fully admit, I licked clean when the chomping regretfully came to a close.

I don’t know about you but I’d be happy to have one of those Real Food Moments a week, if even that often but little did I know that another one lay in wait.

I have a great arrangement with a friend at work whereby, when we toil together on a Sunday, we take it in turns cooking.

We’ve been doing this for some years and every six weeks, we meet for our Sunday with a special lunch to take the sting out of Sabbath labour.

This has led to a very many Real Food Moments and by turns we’ve produced dishes like lamb shanks in a red wine reduction, shin of beef stew, takoyaki, bifanas, lasange, chilli con carne, tostadas, peppered steaks… the list is as long as it is distinguished.

Okonomiyaki though, what an experience!

All credit must go to my Sunday shift partner Ronan, who first experienced this Japanese staple when he and his missus visited the country last year, I think.

Meaning ‘grilled as you like it’, okonomiyaki is a savoury Japanese pancake made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage and in Sunday’s case, chopped bacon.

After cooking, the pancake is topped with Japanese mayo, okonomiyaki sauce, dried seaweed flakes, chopped spring onions and chilli flakes.

To say it was magical wouldn’t do the meal justice. It was beyond brilliance.

Strangely, as Ronan rightly noted too, okonomiyaki is reminiscent of what we eat in this part of the world, particularly with the bacon and cabbage.

But then the savoury okonomiyaki sauce and the rich Japanese mayonnaise and the seaweed flakes move it onto the next level of indulgence.

It’s at once a brand new taste and a hearty reminder of home.

It is worth noting also that as we sat down to savour Ronan’s take on okonomiyaki at around 4pm, I hadn’t eaten since the breakfast bagel earlier that morning (despite a sneaky Snickers bar with my tea as a lunch on the run), so I was properly esurient, ravenous to the point of perfection.

Consequently, the okonomiyaki was heaven-sent and the pupils (probably) dilated once again.

Thinking back on these dishes now, it feels like Boxing Day.

The festival is over and I’m back to normal fayre.

Then I remember that I can have a breakfast bagel whenever I want and I’ve yet to make okonomiyaki at home and those thoughts make me smile.

Do you know though, I think I might have figured out what the special common denominator was between these two great food moments, moments when sun shone brighter and I felt alive in the best possible way.

In both instances, the dishes were cooked by someone else. Revelation?

Should I therefore cook less in the hope that more special food moments might arrive? Probably not.

The relinquishment of one job would only lead to another, like a repeat of the grumbling outside in the cold.

Still… it makes me wonder.

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