Mussel bound

I live along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, and — inexplicably — also with some of the worst seafood cuisine in the world.

Having been born into a gastronomic culture, I am amazed, and usually slightly stunned, whenever I am forced on occasion to acknowledge how much my taste buds have been deadened by this culinary desert I live in called the United Kingdom (TV chefs notwithstanding — my theory is that precisely because the ordinary food is so bad that these personalities become gods).

Today, however, after two years, I found the local fishmonger. Not in Sainsbury’s, not in Tescos, not anywhere in the local high street (fish sold in vacuum-packed parcels at the local butcher’s doesn’t count!). I found him in a white van at a petrol station outside a nearby town. One of those finds you make by befriending locals. I made a beeline for his styrofoam tray of mussels.

Ten minutes later, they were steaming in my wok with olive oil, a dash of butter, onions, and sake. Twenty minutes later, they were tossed with some organic spaghetti. Twenty-two minutes later, I was in orgasmic rapture. I’d even venture to say, samadhi.

(Stock photo of someone else’s mussels but it’ll have to do.
I’ve eaten mine.)

I felt like I had been freed from gastronomic purgatory, without even realising I’d sunk into its depths. My tastebuds had become unwitting victims of the bad food version of Stockholm Syndrome.

Along with the shock of sensory pleasure came the shock of realisation of how intricately — and intimately — memory and identity were tied up with my taste buds. Proust had his madeleine; I’ve had my mussels. I will never again view a white van with the same eyes.


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