Writing About Food

How to depict taste, smell and texture on paper.

by Mark V. Harrington

It sounds so simple. You’re writing a restaurant review or have decided to write about your favorite recipe. Yes, you can put down in words the ingredients that go into the recipe. Your can recount the décor of the restaurant. You can give the directions of how to put the ingredients together or even put in words how the service was and what was on the menu. But the big question is how did it make you feel? How did the taking a bite of that sourdough bread, that has a light coating of sweetened honey butter feel in your mouth, how did it taste, what came to mind? When you’re separating eggs through your fingers, how do you depict how it feels to have the whites sliding through your finders until only the yoke is left in your palm?

Getting all of this down on paper can be sometimes challenging and sometimes daunting. We know what we are feeling, smelling, tasting and yet translating that into words is a task that leaves us speechless.

Let’s take, for example, our previous egg. We pick it up out of the bowl and know the delicacy of this item and yet our fingers feel the hardness of the shell. We are tempted to press, but our inner voice knows better. It knows that while the shell is hard, it is thin, delicate; a temporary protective barrier entrusted to keep the liquid white and yolk safe until it is needed. Taking it in hand we strike it against a bowl, but not too hard – just hard enough to put a chink in this egg’s outer armor. Then with deft hands we open the shell with one hand, letting the fluid, viscous contents flow into the palm of our other hand.

With fingers slightly separated, we feel the slippery whites of the egg slide between them, thinking of the rich meringue that it will create, the tasty macaroons or the airy Pavlova, (a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova). You’re left with the yellow liquid sphere of the yoke in your hand, itself protected by it’s own protective barrier, though much thinner and definitely more delicate than it’s outer cousin, the shell.

Descriptive words can be a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled writer. They not only communicate information such as color, scent, texture, and taste, but can also transport the reader into the writer’s experience. Painting a picture of sight, sound, scent and texture so that the reader feels what the writer feels, smells what the writer smells, and tastes what the writer tastes.

It enables the difference between:

I cooked the chicken in a frying pan with salt, pepper, cumin, and crushed garlic until it was done.

And:

Cooking the chicken in a frying pan, the scent of cumin and crushed garlic filled the air, taking me back to the open air markets of India. The salt and pepper added its own subtle sensualness to the aromatic bouquet.

See the difference? In other words descriptive words are your friend, don’t be afraid to use them.

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