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Not Too Sweet

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good appetite, must be in want of food. That’s what Jane Austen said, right? I, like most people, love food. I’m always down to try new restaurants, and if I go to one I’ve been before, I order something I haven’t tried to expand my horizons. There are countless dishes out in the world, but all of them can be broken down into the five basic tastes: bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami. In this piece, I’ll go through each of the tastes and share a brief overview of my thoughts on the respective taste, a dish that captures the essence of the taste best in my opinion, and an emotion related to each taste. Grab your forks and spoons, and let’s dig in!

Bitter ~

I’m starting with my least favorite of the profiles. I despise anything bitter. Coffee, dark chocolate, kale—all of it. My friends in high school and college were baffled at how I started every morning without any caffeine. I’m convinced that people who enjoy bitter foods are masochists… But to each their own.

When I think of a bitter dish, I immediately go to this lemon rind soup that my mom sometimes makes. It makes my whole body recoil in horror. I haven’t had it since high school, but the sharp tang of lemon rinds steeped in broth is enough to remind me why I don’t like it. When my mom makes it or if we’re given a container of it from an aunt, I’ll always comment, “I’m good, but that means more for you.”

For the longest time, I resented the fact that I didn’t know how to cook Cambodian cuisine on my own. It was bad enough that I wasn’t fluent in Khmer, so this was one more area of my culture where I was deficient. I used to wonder if I was more adept at preparing the tastes of my heritage, would I like the lemon rind soup? Does it make me more American/less Cambodian that I wasn’t? Food is tied so deeply into the culture, which is woven into identity, so I felt like a bad Cambodian. But every journey needs a beginning, and this is mine.

Salty ~

I’ve been simultaneously blessed and cursed with high salt tolerance. It is almost an addiction which feels good but I know is bad.The rest of my family is more sensitive to it, but I tend to eat way more than I should. It’s not my fault salty foods are so addicting. Growing up in America didn’t help because salt is in everything, but the first step towards recovery is acknowledging you have a problem, and salty food is mine.

My mom is a pro at making dishes that don’t suck out all the water from our bodies. The older she and my dad get, the more conscious they become of what they eat. That being said, once in a while, my mom decides to treat herself—and by extension, us—and live a little. For me, the winner of the salty food category is catfish nuggets. It’s been a very long time since we’ve had them, but I can still remember how they were crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and salty all around. Serve them over rice with a spicy mango salad on the side, and I’m in my happy place.

Salty has now become a colloquial term coined by Millennials. That, in turn, reminded me of the surge TikTok had during quarantine. I’m not on the app, but I do use Pinterest and Instagram Reels (and now, YouTube Shorts) for inspiration. There are so many content creators out there sharing their recipes, and they motivated me to learn more about food. The short videos are much more accessible than searching for a recipe that’s fluffed up with the author’s life story that I care nothing about. Using these recipes made me excited to keep going and see what else I could do with food. If I’m “salty” about anything, it’s all the time I spend going down a rabbit hole of recipe videos, and I have no one to blame but myself. No regrets, though.

Sour ~

There aren’t enough sour foods in the world. Perhaps they are so enjoyable because they aren’t available to me that often.. There’s just something satisfying about the tang on your tongue and your lips puckering from the sensation. It’s almost tangible. My last roommate squeezed limes over her food whenever she could. After living with her for three years, I adopted the habit (though to a lesser degree), and I’m not mad about it.