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at DAY’s END by katie davis walker illustrated by rebecca bowen

One Bite to the Bon Vie


f you can stomach it, let us momentarily consider the hagfish. Our primeval cousin wins no prizes for beauty. The hagfish looks like a miniature version of the giant carnivorous worm that terrorized Kevin Bacon in the 1990 campy classic, “Tremors.” Unlike those desert-dwelling beasts, the hagfish lives in the ocean, a bottom feeder of the deepest degree. Taxonomically speaking, the scaleless, soft-skinned hagfish is a fellow member of our phylum, Chordata. While our fishy predecessor grew fins, and eventually, legs, and wandered out of the ocean to coin the word “omnivore,” resulting in such famous eaters as Paula Deen and Anthony Bourdain, the stomachless hagfish remained in a cloud of his own slime, 1,000 meters below the surface of the water.

We went on to discover the bounty of Eden – those crisp, sweet, forbidden apples – while the hagfish blindly scavenged on dead and dying fish. The Romans experimented with milk curdled in animal skins, resulting in some of the first cheeses, as the hagfish literally tucked into some offal, absorbing nutrients through his skin. Unlike the vertebrate members of Chordata, the hagfish has no taste buds. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. If a hagfish could taste a plump, buttery scallop, or wrap his horizontally-articulating jaws around a bite of fresh tuna sashimi, yesterday’s meal of rotten fish would pile up on the ocean floor.

Tastes change.

For now, the hagfish is condemned to the same meal, over, and over. Evolution has left him stuck in a briny flavor timewarp. He eats what is in front of him. In the era of the ubiquitous Big Mac, it is easy to eat like a hagfish. For some diners, the comfort of the familiar, and ease of prep, trump exploration of new flavors. I was once a shy eater, sticking with tried-and-true chicken fingers and fries, or the ease of a sodium-laden frozen pot pie. But seriously, what part of a chicken has fingers? My taste evolution began with cheese. My Papa’s pimento cheese, to be precise. When I was a kid, I turned up my nose at the savory spread. To be fair, pimento cheese is not an attractive food. One day, when I was a teenager, I was visiting my maternal grandparents and Papa was snacking on pimento cheese and crackers. “Katie Kat, you want some pimento cheese?” At that moment, no, I did not want any weird-looking cheese with chunky bits of red junk, but more so, I did not want to disappoint my Papa. Hesitantly, I put a smidge on a cracker. The cheddary bite of Papa’s pimento cheese, with a hint of tangy Worchestershire sauce, the sting of garlic, and bright, sweet pops of red pimento immediately won me over. lake oconee living 83

Around the World in 80 Plates Just Pho

My husband and I have Just Pho on speed dial. This Vietnamese restaurant is a fresh, light alternative to Americanized Asian food. A large pho and sandwich makes an excellent meal for two, for less than $20. 1063 Baxter St., 706-850-1420 Menu picks: #8 Bánh Mì Barbecue Pork Sandwich: Some kind of tasty happiness spread* is put on a crusty french loaf, topped with chopped pork, and a rice wine vinegar carrot relish. Yum to the max! #29 Pho Chín Gau Bò Viên: An aromatic beef broth with star anise and cloves is filled with mouth-watering brisket, coin-shaped meatballs, rice noodles, onions, fresh jalapenos, crunchy bean sprouts and basil and love, lots of love. #14 Com Tôm Nuong: Light rice, fish sauce, fileted shrimp, and the most heavenly fried egg you’ve ever eaten make this an unforgettable dish.

Want to expand your taste horizons? Athens has a variety of

Kelly’s Jamaican

Sakura is located in a nondescript shopping center, but the inside is as beautiful as its food is tasty. With a full bar, sushi bar, hibachi cooktop tables, this is the perfect place for a date or celebration. They serve more than just sushi, but the sushi is so good I’ve never tried a hot pot or hibachi dish.

1583 S Lumpkin St., 706-208-0000

3557 Atlanta Hwy. 706-227-0001

Menu picks: Jerk Chicken or Goat: I love Kelly’s jerk dishes, but they are extremely spicy. The goat can be a little boney but is as tender as pot roast. The super sweet tea and cake-like cornbread will help soothe the burn. Feel the burn! It’s good. Barbecue Pork or Curry Chicken: Both are delicious and not too spicy. I would recommend the pork to my mom.

Menu picks: Sakura Roll: The restaurant’s signature sushi roll has shrimp tempura, eel, kani (crab), avocado, tobiko (roe) in a soy wrapper. Godzilla Roll: I initially ordered this for the name – but this deep fried roll was so good it made me want to rampage through a city. Fried sushi? Whaaat?

Spicy Cabbage: This sweet, hot cabbage blows my mind.

King Roll: This delicious roll contains King crab, shrimp, mango and avocado – and no raw fish.

Mac n’Cheese: Four words: homemade macaroni and cheese. One more word: Yum.

Fantastic Roll: Red snapper and salmon with a bit of crunch make this roll live up to its name.

As you age, your taste buds change. Babies have a few taste buds on their tongues, but many on the sides and roof of their mouths. They are very sensitive to new flavors, preferring sweet, but after several exposures to a new food, babies become more accepting of new tastes. A study by the University of Copenhagen found that taste perception changes with age. Teens in the study were found to have a greater ability to distinguish flavors than young children. If pimento cheese was my gateway food, my craving for interesting new tastes grew when I moved to Athens for college. 84 summer 2013 | homegrown


This modest restaurant is home to some of the most amazing, electrifying tastes in Athens. It’s a family-owned and operated meat and three in Five Points and well worth the drive from Lake Oconee. Come hungry, because even the “small plates” have hearty portions.

The Grill’s feta dip with fries is a rite of passage for underclassmen at the University of Georgia. Having grown up in rural south Georgia, in a time before Tifton had the worldly selections of Publix, feta cheese was an exotic new taste to me. My 10,000 taste buds grew more ambitious. In time, I even became curious about the Indian restaurant on Broad Street. While Bombay Café is now closed, I will never forget the day my boyfriend (now husband), Andy, and I stepped through those doors. The words on the menu sounded like incantations from a book of black magic: saag aloo, biryani, tandoori chicken. The gingery smell of turmeric bewitched me. Saag aloo turned out to be spinach and potatoes, biryani was not the name of a pop star, but a vegetable and rice dish, and tandoori chicken is the safest bet for a Southerner who is trying to broaden her taste horizons. Bright red in appearance, tandoori chicken is marinated in seasoned yogurt, then cooked slowly in a clay oven. It’s not so different from your grandma soaking chicken in seasoned buttermilk before putting it in the fryer. Tasting new food and really liking it is kind of like taking Dorothy’s sensory trip into Oz – at that moment when her world turns to color. One bite can take you from the hagfish’s sepiatoned Kansas supper of fish rot down a slippery slope of currycolored bricks into the Emeril City. BAM! Flavors you have never perceived.

delicious ethnic restaurants. Here are my favorites. Taste of India

One of my favorite restaurants, hands down. You are bound to find a taste you love on their lunch buffet. If you place an order, you can request how spicy you would like your entree to be. Medium makes me sweat, and I’ve never dared “Indian Hot” – if you do, be sure to order the raita cucumber and yogurt sauce to soothe your tongue. 131-B East Broad St. 706-559-0000 Menu picks: Garlic Naan: I’m a bread-a-holic and dearly love this flatbread, glistening with ghee (clarified butter.) Bindi Masala: This vegetarian dish of sauteed okra, tomatoes, and onions is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It’s savory, tangy, and delicious. Lamb Mango: Tender cuts of lamb swim in a sweet mango gravy, perfect for sopping up with a piece of naan. Seafood Vindaloo: This curry dish is shrimp, scallops, and fish in a savory tomato sauce, topped with fresh cilantro. *It’s paté. But don’t get grossed out, it’s delicious.

This Summer, Southerners have a word for food: “vittles.” it comes from the British, “victuals,” from the Latin, “victus” – related to the word “vivere” – to live. That first bite at Bombay Cafe sent me skipping to Oz. There is comfort food, and then there is pure joie des vittles – when food is so good it makes you want to dance. When you find a flavor you love, it enhances your experience, but it only comes after the risk of that first bite. I have chewed on this idea through pistachios, venison, strawberry and spinach salad, frog legs, oysters, wasabi peas, There is comfort food, goat, and pickled okra – and eventually learned there is and then there is pure only one bite to the bon vie. joie des vittles – when The first one. Or, maybe, the twelfth. I food is so good it makes had several encounters with sushi before I graduated you want to dance. from Ramen to somewhereover-the Rainbow roll. The sensation of taste is influenced by a number of factors – smell, temperature, flavor, and texture. Try as I might, I could not get over the fleshy texture of uncooked fish. (A hagfish, I am not.) Graciously, meal after meal, Andy would sacrifice a bite of his sushi roll, only for it to be rejected by my tongue and inconspicuously dispatched under a napkin, half-chewed. I kept trying it because I wanted to like it. Sushi appealed to me because it wasn’t greasy, it was fresh, it was pretty, and I love seafood. So I started small, and acquainted myself with a California roll – no raw fish there – and eventually grew more ambitious when we ordered. Andy told me the pretty

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little jewels of roe on top were just “flavor crystals” even though I knew they were eggs. Flavor crystals, not eggs. Cream cheese, avocado, and tempura shrimp, all good. Seared tuna, not raw. The seaweed wrap is just a collard green. Don’t think, become the Scarecrow. Just bite. Lo and behold – a field of vibrant red poppies under a cerulean sky; my cowardly lion emboldened by sweet eel sauce, the happy burn of wasabi, the umami melt of fresh pink fish, raw. I felt like skipping on yellow bricks. Damn, I get it now. Can I have another? The interplay of different flavors is what makes food exciting. Each taste bud on your tongue contains 50-100 taste cells, which respond to different chemicals in the food we eat, resulting in the sensation of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami (the taste of amino acids, like beef broth or aged cheese). Shaped like an onion bulb, the tip of each bud contains a pore, from which microscopic “taste hairs” extend to grab chemicals from the food we eat. Taste buds are surface epithelial cells, like the cells that comprise your skin – but they also have characteristics of neurons. When your tongue is developing, your buds send signals, attracting nerve fibers to them. In a manner of speaking, your tongue goes right to your brain. Perhaps this is why food can make you so very happy – and can conjure visceral memories with just one bite. I had not eaten a banana sandwich in years, not since I was a child, playing at my paternal grandparents’ antique store. Around noon, my Granddaddy would load me up into his grey Dodge ram, and we’d go to his house for lunch. He would sit at the head of table, and I, right next to him, as my Grandmother flitted about the kitchen. Two slices of white bread, slathered with mayonnaise, and a ripe banana, quartered into long, flat fingers made a lunch that was both sweet and salty. My Grandaddy and I both loved this Southern ‘delicacy.’ More than twenty years later, I made one for my husband. “Is it good?” I asked, curious, but wary of something I had not eaten in a couple of decades. “It’s awesome.” “Can I have a bite?” • Katie Davis Walker is the art director of Lake Oconee Living.

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One Bite to the Bon Vie  

Tastes change. Published in the Summer 2013 issue of Lake Oconee Living.