Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Rare

The best burgers are discovered accidentally, and therefore not often. And then too, their taste changes on each occasion. The first bite has multiple flavours and textures. The ribbed smoothness of crunchy lettuce, the warm, smoky exterior of the grainy patty and soft, malleable flesh within, and the tangy juices that squirt out when compressed, mixed with a warm oil that coats teeth and greases the tongue. The sharp sour burn of a bit onion, the cold nothingness of a heavy tomato slice which dissolves in other flavours when pressed upon. Some of this will be missing the next time. It did not taste this way before, so a chef will be summoned and questioned about the preparation, and he will stand erect and say that to change a method of preparation is like weakness of character. His indignation is proof that it is a preposterous suggestion. The meat is the same, its duration on a sizzling grill is unchanged, the bread supply is still from the traditional source, and the sauces are custom-made in the kitchen. And yet it tastes unfamiliar. Was it a fluke? The palette conveys to the mind that all is not well down here. Questions and answers are exchanged rapidly. It tasted different. How? It was tangier. Tangier? No, not tangier, sharper in some way. Both are dissatisfied and the chef is concerned. There can be only one explanation: the vintage burgers, the ones recalled in satisfaction, are a creation of coincidence. They can not be measured nor created by instinct. They appear when it is time.

Burgers, by nature, are quiet things. They can be neat, well-dressed, and warm. If they are not, summon the chef, for often burgers appear ungainly; a leaf of lettuce not quite green; a bacon strip leaning out awkwardly; the bread, moist with animal fat, helpless against thumbs tearing through its fragile skin; the burger itself planted haphazardly in the middle of golden-brown fries. Its visual symmetry absent, it becomes a fat sandwitch. And this messy, watery sandwitch has for some time passed for a burger.

Localised burgers are avoidable; locals themselves avoid these assaults on taste. Doubly so if they contain the word 'Maharaja' or the prefix 'Mc'. Unidentifiable chutneys are spurted on where a sauce was gently applied, it has been called the foreign vada-pau, it has undergone all manner of abuse. The burger was once a fine thing, now it is a quickie at the local bordello. Such suffering helps neither us nor the burger. But this is only prevalent, and thankfully there is resistance, albeit unknowingly, from those who cook a burger at home.

What you may never achieve is the perfect burger - you will try and try and become very good at it - but once or twice it will be time and a great burger will appear. Or it may never happen. In that case eat out, and find a restaurant where good burgers are available. And when you find it, let me know. I'm dying for a good burger, in case you didn't notice.

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