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!