What drives our food cravings?

I am not talking about hunger, but rather a craving, a deep desire, for a particular kind of food, the kind of cravings that pregnant women get. What makes us yearn for tangerines or beet soup or raisins?

There is a delightfully descriptive word for these kinds of cravings in Spanish: antojo. An antojo, according to the Real Academia Española, is a “sudden and passing desire for something,” usually food. However, I rarely experience such fleeting passions: mine tend to stick around for a while, like the yen for authentic Asian food that has driven my cooking as of late. I think that it is important to listen to such cravings, because they often point to a deeper yearning.

For example, when I was just coming out of my eating disorder, I craved dark, leafy greens – not salads, per se, but chard and kale and collards and beet greens. I couldn’t seem to eat enough of them, and the health benefits were the last thing on my mind. I wanted green. In Beijing, it was practically a standing order for me at the restaurant: at every meal, I would ask my husband to get liu cai (green vegetables), and I would content myself with whatever else he ordered as a main. I ate copious amounts of bok choy that way, as well as spinach, watercress, Chinese broccoli, mustard greens, and other rare species.

Lately I have felt a similar antojo, towards vegetables and whole grains. I want to discover vegetarian mains again, and renew my love of beans as the weather get colder and the nights longer. There is nothing heartier or more heart-warming than a bowl of piping hot beans after a long day running up and down the island of Manhattan. A few nights ago I made my first authentic-tasting Indian dal, according to Chuan, and we have been eating the spicy leftovers ever since.

For me, vegetarian food is grounding, especially beans and whole grains and root vegetables -- exactly the kinds of the things that are right for this season. So tonight, when I go out to dinner with friends, I'll be looking for eggplant pasta and broccoli au gratin, borlotti purée and turnip cakes. I am not sure what this means: am I trying to share in the bounty of the fall harvest? Am I looking to set down roots even as my life is changing in drastic and surprising ways? Am I reminding myself of my agrarian heritage, even as I become more and and more of an urbanite? Or is this antojo biological, running through my blood and coursing out in my hormones?

So much for long-term passions: this one is brief -- I am hungry, and my husband is almost out the door!


Emily Jolie said...

Dear Ai Lu,

Our dinner tonight would have been right down your aisle. We had millet with mustard greens and black beans. The black beans were cooked with lots of garlic, and the greens were sauteed with olive oil, garlic, and tamari. So simple and so nurturing!

Like you, I love greens! Sadly, I cannot eat kale these days. It was one of the things that came up on my food sensitivity test, so I am staying away from it for now. Though I am confident I will be able to eat it again just fine in the future! One of my favorite ways to eat kale was just to steam it (after tearing it into pieces) and drizzle some rice vinegar on top. Or I'd sautee it with a bit of olive oil and add tamari and sesame seeds. Hmmm hmmm! That alongside some whole grains and beans, or a sweet potato and some grilled chicken... Made me a happy camper! :)

Hope you had a lovely dinner out with friends!


Ai Lu said...

Mmmm, that sounds delicious! As you can tell, I love that kind of food, too.

Were the black beans canned, fresh, or dried and then soaked? Just wondering....

Ai Lu

Emily Jolie said...

Hi Ai Lu,

I used to be really good about soaking my own beans, but, lately, for the sake of ease and convenience, I have been primarily using canned beans. My favorite are Eden Organic's. Instead of adding salt, they add kombu seaweed to their beans. We'll usually sautee up some garlic (and sometimes onions) with a little bit of olive oil first, and then add the beans. It's so quick and easy - and delicious! :)

Emily Jolie said...

Ummm, I meant right down your alley, NOT down your aisle. Lol. I knew there was something wrong with this as I was typing it! Well, not a native English speaker, what can I say. Sometimes that still becomes evident. :)