The Perfect Meal (Corniglia, Italy)
Five days into five weeks in the Mediterranean after a year in Kazakhstan. You and I here with friends. We four are the only people in the upper floor of a stone-front restaurant, just a little place. In the bar beneath us, people are drinking, and the tinkling glass mixes with the strumming of a bass player thumbing jazzy tunes, sounds that spill into the cobblestone night. We’re in the corner booth, our friends’ backs to windows overlooking the street, where potted basil plants hang from shop walls and tourists like us walk by, gelato melting onto their hands as their tongues try to keep up; others sit on shop steps, catching strains of the jazz. I order the swordfish and trofie.
It arrives as a golden mound with morsels of white fish and green and red vegetables caught in hand-twisted pasta. With the first bite I have to put my fork down. I can hardly chew, have to hold the food on my tongue. It’s tempting to put this down as a religious experience, but that would be dishonest, because this is grounded all in the senses—a pleasure all of this world—fire, air, water, earth: olive oil, basil, fish, potatoes. And unlike the workings of the Spirit, there is no room for doubt here, even if, all these years later, it is not the taste I recall but the urgency of it.
We’ll find ourselves at the same restaurant a month later, this time just me and you, and I’ll order the same dish, but it won’t be the same. Like Eve’s second taste of the forbidden fruit, like the Buddha’s second bowl of rice, it will come with expectations but lack surprise.
Scott Russell Morris is a professor at the University of Utah’s Asia Campus in South Korea. His works have previously appeared in Brevity, the Chattahoochee Review, Superstition Review, and elsewhere. His current research projects involve squirrels, board games, and home cooking.