I live in a country with so few flavors that at times I feel as though I’m wandering through a landscape that is made up solely of primary colors. Imagine a place where everything is red, yellow or blue, and you’ll know how I feel about having my tongue enveloped only by sweet, salty, hot, and sour, with a dash of garlic. It’s like eating baby food with the taste kicked up a couple of notches, completely unsatisfying, which is what probably accounts for the vast obesity epidemic in America.
While I’m in exile from the food that I love best, I spend a lot of time eating in Thai restaurants, and slaving over Southeast Asian cookbooks, with lackluster results. As anyone who has lived in Thailand will tell you, eating Thai food in the U.S. is like eating with a condom on your tongue.
Americans eat the way that they have sex, with safety taking precedence over sensation. The dubious benefit is that any poverty-stricken peasant living on a dollar a day in the third world eats better, and probably has better sex, than anybody who lives in the U.S.
I recently saw a picture of a woman in Yangon, sitting near a road, selling limes, and I wanted to cry. She had what I cannot buy, a green orb with bumpy skin that is smaller than a ping pong ball. When it is cut open and squeezed over a plate of food, the lime emits a lovely fragrance and a flavor that is a mixture of sour, and a fresh, tangy sweetness. For me, living without this is like living without salt, in a culinary world gone flat, and I hunger in the land of plenty.