Most people have a preference for sweet or salty, soft or crispy, mild or spicy. I love salty and crunchy and I really love fried chicken. Shortly after I moved into the house I live in now, the city, and especially my neighborhood was buzzing about a new fried chicken spot that was going to open right around the corner from me. I was worried that my love of fried chicken, coupled with the proximity of this new place would be the end of me (if not literally, certainly figuratively). The place is about 100 steps from my house- I was surely doomed.
On opening day I walked around the corner with a friend only to find they were out of chicken. Well, we’d go back another time. After a few more attempts, all of which found them sold out, I was able to arrive in time to get some of this now legendary chicken. Though it was difficult to do it, I managed to wait until I got home to break open the box and dive in. Hmmm, well yes, it was crispy, and definitely salty- in fact, a little too salty, and, honestly, disappointing. They’re new, and everyone on Yelp, in the reviews, and around the neighborhood was raving about this chicken so I tried it a few more times, and I have to say, I just don’t get it. No matter how many raves, stars and accolades they get, this chicken is not what I’m looking for. Though this has not stopped me from craving fried chicken, it has forestalled my demise.
My big question is what is the root of these cravings? I am not talking about some general craving, for something sweet, or crunchy, what I want to know is why (and maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it) do I crave very specific items. I can be sitting in my house, reading, or writing, and pretty much minding my own business, when suddenly I will want the beignets I had at Lucie’s Creole Café in Denver, or the red cabbage calzone with mushroom sauce I used to eat when I was in culinary school at La Parmigiana in Rhinebeck, NY (they may sound strange, but trust me, these calzones were one of the best things I have ever eaten, and sadly La Parmigaina no longer exists). I will actually have a sensory experience of the spaghetti carbonara I ate in Rome, and have to have it, though no matter how many times I’ve tried I have yet to find anything that even comes close to Italian carbonara here in the States. (I will spare you my usual rant about restaurants that serve an alfredo sauce with bacon and call it carbonara- those shoemakers!!)
Maybe what I am really craving is the experience I had while eating these things. I had those beignets on an amazing trip through the Denver area with some awesome friends from Whole Foods Market, Culinary school was was of the most fun times of my life, and maybe those moments are what underlies these very specific cravings. Sadly, I can no more recreate those experiences, than I can those dishes (though I do make a pretty good beignet when my daughter can cajole me into making something that makes such a giant mess). Maybe I am disappointed by my local fried chicken spot because the chicken doesn’t taste like the fried chicken I used to eat at the Pink Teacup on Bleeker St. when I was in college, which is my benchmark fried chicken.
Sometimes I can satisfy a craving and sometimes it just can’t be done. I can recreate many dishes at home, and I believe I can cook almost anything, though I am still working on perfecting my fried chicken, and I’m not even sure where to start with those calzones… As humans we crave all kinds of things from Nathan’s French fries to affection. Sometimes we’re satisfied, and our needs get met, and sometimes they don’t. I’m working towards finding a better way to acknowledge and redirect those noisy cravings, and accept not getting everything I want.