COVID’s Taken My Sense of Smell, But Not My Appetite


Takeout Tamafuji Credit Martha Cheng

Takeout Tonkatsu Tamafuji. Photo: Martha Cheng


We know that style can carry again recollections, however recollections may also carry again style. At least they did in my case. Recently, I obtained Covid and misplaced, as many have, my sense of scent. But, weirdly, it took me days to appreciate that it was gone. A couple of issues I used to be consuming appeared bland, however I blamed the meals, not me, as a result of loads of different meals nonetheless happy. It wasn’t till lastly, after quarantine, I went out and picked some plumeria for his or her perfume, and I spotted I couldn’t scent them. At all. I rushed to the toilet and caught my nostril—don’t do that, I attribute it to mind fog—right into a jug of bleach, and nothing. A bag of espresso beans, lavender oil, nothing. But for days, in contrast to those that mentioned as soon as they misplaced their sense of scent, additionally they misplaced their want to eat, I used to be consuming, and with pleasure. So what had I been tasting? 


I started experimenting and found that I may nonetheless style salty, candy, bitter and bitter, however at possibly 50 % quantity. And I couldn’t style nuances. So a calamansi, a lemon, a lime all tasted the identical. It appeared that with these primary constructing blocks of style, together with textures, plus my recollections of meals, my mind was filling within the blanks—it was telling me what my pho ought to style like regardless that I couldn’t truly style the star anise and cinnamon. New issues, like Fujiya’s yuzu mochi and a liliko‘i cake that a friend made, tasted dull because I had no reference point. But mostly, I was (and still am) eating my comfort food—Brug Bakery’s delicate and candy raisin bread and anpan, Tamafuji’s craggy tonkatsu, rousong and a fried egg with crispy edges and chile oil over sizzling rice made at house—what I’ve eaten numerous occasions previously and will let you know precisely how they style, the identical method I can recite all the perfect traces from Mean Girls (Is butter a carb?). It appeared I used to be actually consuming my recollections. 


And then I questioned, did I even actually style earlier than? How a lot of style is basically our mind filling in what we count on? A buddy as soon as insisted that The Old Spaghetti Factory’s spumoni ice cream, as an alternative of being cherry, pistachio and chocolate, have been actually simply the identical taste, however completely different colours. That’s ridiculous, I mentioned. She fed me a spoonful of every with my eyes closed, and I may solely simply barely establish the chocolate, and the opposite two flavors have been fully indistinguishable. Without the colour cues, I used to be misplaced. 


Moka Pot Credit Martha Cheng

Photo: Martha Cheng


The different day, I used to be making espresso in my moka pot, and midway by means of, I finished and questioned, since I drink decaf, and I can’t scent or style the espresso, what’s the purpose? And but, every week into having no scent, I proceed my morning espresso routine. Because I spotted, for me, meals has by no means been nearly style, it’s been about ritual, it’s been about all the opposite senses—the burbling sound the moka pot makes, the graceful weight of a ceramic espresso cup in my hand. And it’s about recollections: my first encounter with a moka pot throughout an internship in Germany, mornings with Italian buddies, and now, my amusement at making espresso that I can’t style or scent (not fully true, there’s nonetheless a whiff of bitterness, which additionally appears acceptable). Cutting open my morning espresso routine is like seeing the rings of a tree trunk—greater than 20 years value, and nonetheless rising. (Though there’s additionally the ineffective behavior I nonetheless catch myself going by means of, like placing meat as much as my nostril to scent it and ensure it hasn’t gone unhealthy.)


They say that shedding a way heightens the others, and so I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of textures: the airiness of a banh mi baguette, the chew of tendon in pho, coarse toffee towards delicate cake in a lemon crunch cake. And regardless that it seems like a ridiculous extravagance to purchase takeout tonkatsu that I can’t style correctly, to nonetheless ask for mangoes, it is usually a reminder of what’s left when different issues fall away. 


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