Learning to think with your mouth

On the first day of my travel-writing workshop—the primary reason for my trip abroad this time around—we were promised by our Professor, Christopher Bakken, that “we’re going to see what Thasos tastes like.”
This promise, as well as the promises for a chance to hunt Octopus with a spear gun and learn to cook in a Greek kitchen, was one of the reasons that by the end of the first workshop on the balcony of Bakken’s small Greek villa, I was nearly in tears. On this balcony, which over looked the amazingly clear blue sea as well as pine and olive trees, I truly began to think about the land, air, and sea around me. And it began with removing my sight.
That is, my classmates and I put our trust in our professor, closed our eyes, and began to “think with our mouths.”
What I learned is that my mouth really can think. I discovered that black olives make a popping sound when you bite into their skin; vinegar no longer simply made my lips pucker, but added a sweet flavor to fresh greens; mushrooms are naturally smoky; and Thasos’ local red wine, rapsoni, has an olive undertone to its flavor. When I closed my eyes and focused on the experience of the food, I tasted these flavors as if for the first time.
It is also important for me to add that I absolutely despise olives and mushrooms, yet I fell in love with the flavors of the warm and chewy caramelized mushroom I tasted today. What happened was, without the preconceptions handicapping me when I see a food, I was able to allow myself to think only of the flavors I was experiencing.
It is easy to see a mushroom in a salad and push it to the side of your plate because you know you don’t like it, but when you don’t have the comfort of seeing something, it is automatically new. You’re open to the flavors and the smells and the textures because you don’t have any thoughts of dislike.    Excitement takes over and all you can think about is what this new flavor could have possibly escaped from and when will you get more of it?
I walked back to my hotel after class somewhat in a haze. What other flavors have I missed out on because of assumptions my eyes allowed me to make? The thought that I equated all mushrooms and olives and countless other foods to poison when I had perhaps only had these foods prepared in one way haunted me as I remembered my own stubbornness. The hope that this exercise would lead me onto a new path toward open-mindedness ran through my mind as I thought of how I could recreate those flavors back at home.

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