on the topic of “food and the imaginary,” i recently picked up a bottle of Salers Gentiane. knowing nothing about it, but always eager to support the SAQ’s (minimal, but improving) efforts to bring weird bitters and apératifs into Québec, i did now allow myself to be put off by the startling all-purpose-cleaner-yellow colour of the drink. indeed, when messing about with bitters – so often little collapsing galaxies of apothecarial innovation/immoderation – one must not shy away from the occasional unexpected hue (green Chartreuse, anyone?).
gentian root is is one of the elements i had been trying to track down for my own bitters experiment. it has a long and laureled history in herbal medicine, for everything from chronic debility to dog bites to “weakness of the digestive organs” and was used as a bittering agent in early beers prior to the introduction of hops. along with quinine, gentian also supplies the core flavours of the bottle of Bonal that i picked up in the summer (it turned out to be something of a disappointment, fetching label aside. i thought it tasted basically like fancy aromatic prune juice, but i happen to like prune juice, so don’t screw up your mouth at me like that. [a more charitable description may be found here. alternately, in the words of my friend Kinneret, “I could drink a whole glass of this shit.”]).
for all this, i was initially a little nonplussed by the Salers, although the taste is less disappointing than perplexing. i couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but i find it strangely reminiscent of that old chalky banana-flavoured medicine that one was administered as a child. what makes this strange is that it manages to taste like that stuff without actually tasting anything like bananas, prompting me to make, to a room full of people, the moronic pronouncement “this tastes like an absent banana.”
how’s that for “imaginary food”? no one else seems to share my conviction of their similarity, so what makes such an association possible? by what circuitous route is my brain arriving at this mental picture that describes the outline of where a banana should be? of course, the advantage of claiming something tastes like a thing that has no actual referent is that no one can really contradict you. “wise men don’t argue with fools,” and all that..