Culinary Rambles: Have My Taste Buds Evolved?
The other day, we were running errands in Jal el Dib, and hunger struck. An old favorite crossed my mind, and we steered our wheels in the direction of Abou Jihad. An institution since 1962 (that makes it 55 years old!), the eatery has long been dishing up modest Lebanese fare and even boasts a popular take-out/delivery sandwich service.
We put in our orders at the cashier – two kebab khachkhach and one taouk to share – and patiently awaited our turn as over half a dozen orders were executed before ours. I stood at the food counter to watch the chef – the same gentleman I recall from my first visit six years ago – deck out and roll up wraps like clockwork, admittedly rather sloppily, which many might insist is the inherent charm in Abou Jihad’s sandwiches.
A messy splatter of hummus, a couple spears of pickles, a squirt of red pepper sauce (reb el 7ar), two grilled meat kebabs, and finally crushed roasted tomato pulp crashed down on the pita before it was bound up and wedged between a wire rack for toasting. The taouk was prepared in a similar spirit: a plop of homemade garlic paste, a handful of unevenly shaped fries, cubes of chicken breast, and a loose roll-up before toasting.
|Kebab sandwich at Abou Jihad (photo credit: MyCityBeirut for zomato.com)|
For me, the experience didn't spell out 100% satisfaction. Sure, the sandwich tasted awfully homey – there was nothing sophisticated about it. But its precarious hold in my fist didn’t hit high notes with me. I wasn’t a fan of the sauces gushing out from the bottom like a leaky faucet, nor did I particularly relish the dissimilar contents from bite to bite. The sandwich was crumbling in my hands, and the physical signals were rapidly clouding any neurochemical or memory-based ones.
Which got me thinking, have my standards evolved so markedly since I first moved to Lebanon? How could a sandwich that had years ago given me so much pleasure now rank only lukewarm on my scale of hot or not? Have I become overly fastidious that I can no longer enjoy a messy meal?
Or is it that food joints regress a tiny bit year on year? For restaurants struggling to keep prices constant, do taste and quality of ingredients necessarily diminish little by little?
Or could it be that culinary standards have risen so high in this country, thanks to stiff competition, that my own standards have followed suit?
Maybe it’s a mixture of all three. Maybe I have become more of a gourmet, as Lebanese dining options have expanded and enriched my palate. And maybe the older institutions have struggled to keep pace with newer, more modern eateries who exercise rigorous international standards.
Abou Jihad’s customers are probably 99% repeat business: they’ve been frequenting the place for years, if not decades; and decent food, affordability, and nostalgia figure in to that fidelity. It's more than likely that they adapt as the cuisine placed before them does so, too, ever so slightly.
A few months after I met my husband, we hammered out a Super Six: a list of our go-to joints whenever a quick meal was the object. Six years on, as I reflect on that list, I realize none of those options continue to compel us. Three have noticeably deteriorated all while tweaking prices; two have become inconvenient on account of their location and associated traffic; and one inspires too much guilt in our constant quest to limit carbs.
Yes, we’re human. Yes, we’ve indubitably changed. But perhaps that is the march of progress. Perhaps my taste buds and tolerance are ever evolving.
|Photo source: TETRA IMAGES - MIKE KEMP VIA GETTY IMAGES|