Appreciation for the Cultural Trade
Since my wife was away this weekend, I hung out with my neighbor from Puerto Rico last night whose apartment door was wide open and welcoming when I arrived home from work. We drank and watched boxing into the late hours of the evening, talking about our various travels and experiences in different parts of the world. At one point in the night, he was drinking straight shots of high-proof agricole rhum like it was water, smiling widely after each and every sip.
"I can't get over this rhum, man!" he said to me. "As a Puerto Rican, I'm having trouble coming to terms with this."
"Why's that?" I asked him.
"Because I always believed that we were at the forefront of rum culture," he answered. "But tasting this French stuff; it really tastes like sugar cane. Like when I was a kid, chewing on pieces of it while walking back from school. This is real flavor. This is how all rum should taste."
"You're having a Ratatouille moment?" I asked with a laugh. I use the famed Pixar film to refer to any moment where someone experiences a taste that reminds them of a happy memory from the past.
"Yeah, I think so. And what's killing me is that I never even knew this stuff existed before."
It's always amazing to me how food and booze can act as cultural agents—initial steps into a greater appreciation for the world and its incredible diversity. That cultural trade is what motivates me and drives me to keep going each day when I wake up. To be able to witness someone else's discovery of that force, via something like agricole rhum from the French Indies, and watch them have that "a-ha" moment, well....it's priceless.
As the night went on (and the drinks kept flowing) we talked about Japan. I mentioned my trip there last winter and my awe-inspiring visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market in downtown Tokyo, watching incredibly-skilled tradesmen carving pieces of tuna with huge swords, their precision and focus simply beyond anything imaginable here.
His eyes widened as I told him about the endless rows of fresh clams, squids, eels, and countless other fruits of the sea that continue on as far as the eye can see. We ended up watching half of Jiro Dreams of Sushi after I told him they visit the market in the classic documentary (currently free on Netflix streaming if you haven't seen it).
"I have such a respect for that culture," he told me, completely captivated by the images. "I really want to visit that country some day and experience it first hand."
I described my experience getting a simple whisky and soda (a mizuwari) at the hotel bar where I was staying and the care with which the bartender made it, every motion cautious and calculated—from the cutting of the ice, to the addition of the liquids—and the reverence with which the finished product was presented to me. We were both inspired in that moment, so I ran over to the liquor cabinet and grabbed one of my Nikka bottles from the trip. We drank Japanese whisky from that point on.
Until I started talking about Burgundy, of course, and then it was time to pull out a big gun: a 2002 Corton Grand Cru "Les Clos du Roi" that was as irony and meaty (maybe even bloody?) as any steak I've ever eaten. We talked about terroir, respect for the earth, and a thousand years of French viticulture for the next hour.
I'm not sure when I went to bed.