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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Time and place for everything

I've come to realize that there are things that only taste good within a certain setting and / or time-frame. I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out.

Take, for example, shmaltz (or pickled, cream, or even motches) herring. Try eating it on a Tuesday afternoon...in your office. Somehow it doesn't have that certain je ne sais quoi (Yikes! My computer just crashed from the clash of cultures - discussing Jewish fare in French!!!)

Anyway, herring should be eaten on shabbat...preferably at a kiddush. It wouldn't even occur to me to eat herring outside that framework. For instance, this past Friday night, I was out for a postprandial walk when I ran into a good friend who mentioned, conspiratorially, that he had some wonderful shmaltz herring at his house. To that point it had been months since I'd had a piece of herring...and I was none-the-worse for the lack. But, at the mention of it, I realized I absolutely HAD to have some! Right away!!! A few minutes walk found us seated at his kitchen table (herring is definitely a kitchen table food…preferably Formica under florescent rings) heaping herring and onions (dripping with schmaltzy goodness) onto perfect little onion-flavored crackers, and drinking kirsch. Ok…for you purists, I agree that it should have been whiskey, but hey, he's originally from Switzerland. Now, if I had run into him on, say, a Wednesday night, the very idea of herring would have been revolting! Go figure.

Another example that comes to mind is chulent. For the uninitiated, chulent is a delectable stew that one assembles in a crockpot or dutch oven on Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning it is sending out aromas that make it hard to do anything but salivate. By lunchtime, this hot ambrosia has reached critical mass, and puts to shame anything else that has the misfortune to be served along with it. Go ahead and try making chulent during the week. Use the same ingredients and cook it for the same amount of time…it somehow falls flat. No, special smell…no soul-satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs warmth…bupkis! It’s like comparing your first stolen adolescent kiss, to kissing your maiden aunt (the one with just-a-tad-to-much facial hair). One is a treasure - the other…eewwww.

I wonder what it is about our tastes that makes them more receptive to certain things at one time / place but not another? Chalk it up to conditioning. Take orange juice, for example: For generations, orange juice was found exclusively in a little glass on the breakfast table. One day the Florida orange juice cartel starts telling us “It’s not just for breakfast anymore”, and suddenly we’re swilling the stuff night and day!

I dunno…you can teach me a lot of things…but I don’t see myself sneaking off any time soon to eat herring on a weekday afternoon!

Posted by David Bogner on January 6, 2004 | Permalink

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