Learning how to taste

I ate my way through Prague. I tasted the Czech cinnamon fried pastry concoction, and had an endless supply of well-brewed beer at my disposable. I ate gelato three times a day and I tried the greasy homemade French fries.

My lunch at De La Degustation, in the heart of Prague, ultimately changed how I viewed, ate, and even photographed food. Always one to truly plan ahead, my mother emailed the restaurant about making a reservation many months in advance. When we arrived at noon, the host thought either we were nutty American tourists, a fairly accurate presumption, or undercover food critics for Bon Appetit magazine, an entirely inaccurate presumption. The host, it turns out, was the manager of the restaurant, personally seating my family and I at a table next to the kitchen. The restaurant focuses on the taste of each ingredient and a paired wine. The several courses were small but that was essentially the point—to immerse yourself in the taste.

I remember vividly the meal I tasted, not only because of the photographs I took, thanks to my dad’s influence over the years, but because this is the first meal that I actually tasted. Every flavor, every scent, every texture, every sight was a piece to the meal. The first amuse-bouche was a steak tartare bite. Because of our waiter’s accent, I did not realize I was eating tartare until midway through my tasting. I exclaimed how delicious it was, until my dad looked at me and asked, “do you know what you are eating?” Upon the realization that I was eating raw meat, I nearly spit the food out. Then it dawned on me that it was not about the “label” of raw meat, but about the taste of the spices and perfectly toasted crunchy cracker against the texture of the meat.

The soup arrived next, a carrot with ginger chutney. The shot glass of soup was delicate, yet spicy and thick. So much flavor was packed into the glass.

Amidst the incredible service from our waiter, the manager of the restaurant, and the sommelier, our second amuse bouche arrived: beet caviar.  The bulbous, red caviar contrasted to the carrot soup previously served, with an interesting mix of texture and strong beet taste.

The main entrée was sea bass with san marzano jam, balsamic vinegar and red beets. The fish melted in your mouth, the pinnacle of our tasting marathon. Perhaps I enjoyed this meal more because the sommelier was knowledgeable and the wine kept coming. However, deep down I simply didn’t want the meal to end.

And in some ways it didn’t.

The taste continued when the manager brought over little boxes to take home. Inside nestled two scrumptious macaroons and butter cookies.

But the meal also did not end because of the lasting impression it has given me. I garnered an appreciation for food, or more accurately, taste. And while yes, that huge scoop of ice cream from the local dairy stand does satiate me still, I have learned the lesson that food is to be appreciated, to be enjoyed, and to be remembered.

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