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  • Writer's pictureJay Murray

Umami Bomb

A few years back, when I was writing opening bits for late night television, I had the amateurish notion that I might be able to bridge my interests: food, writing and humor. Boy, was I ever wrong. I thought, let’s make some umami jokes, like “Umami’s so dumb, she sold her car for gas money,” that sort of thing. Nothing gets you in the gut like seeing your jokes fall flat on national TV. Even a heckle would have been appreciated, but it was just crickets. My joke was an umami bomb. Probably went over their heads.

I do know a funny joke, though, one that isn’t my own (hence, the funny part), and I’ll share it with you here:

Q: What do you get when you cross a rhinoceros with an elephant?

A: ‘Ell if I know!

But seriously, folks, when it comes to writing about food, there is no term used more frequently, or nonsensically, than “umami,” as though the culinary intelligentsia can simply create the experience by adding the word to a shaker and sprinkling it liberally onto their work.

You want to really understand umami, well, here it is. Book yourself a CT scan with IV contrast, and no, this has nothing to do with monitoring your neural activity - that would be an MRI, anyway, and they’re loud and take a long time. I recommend faking some sort of injury so your insurance will cover it.

Next will come two sets of scans. Don’t expect much from the first one - they haven’t administered the contrast yet. But pay attention to the second: that’s when the umami kicks in. Notice the warm feeling, and more importantly, the perceived tightening of your salivary glands on both sides at the rear of you mouth. It feels pleasant, doesn’t it.

Now, I’m fortunate to have probably experienced at least 50 CT scans in the past eight years, so I can truly appreciate umami. If you haven’t been so lucky, I’m going to throw a congee recipe your way, complete with a rice spice mix. There’s msg in the blend - you’re welcome. I’ll also include some ingredients high in nucleotides, as the ultimate umami experience combines glutamic acid with nucleotides, culinary dynamite plus the blasting caps. Here is the recipe.

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