What is it about Italian food that seems to enrich us, both physically and emotionally? I’ve always had a soft spot for Italian cooking, having began my cooking career in a small Italian restaurant in Maynooth called Donatello’s. I can’t recall if it was the bread, the pasta or the ice-cream that made me love this food so much, but the food definitely left a lasting impression. Maybe it was not only the food. Perhaps it was the sheer sociability of it all, the passing of food around, the sharing and sumptuous nature of it all. This type of eating was a far cry from my own food culture of the 1980s.
Of all the food stuffs I cooked and ate back then, I have never forgotten the taste of Tiramisu. It is almost impossible to describe how I feel about this dessert without descending into culinary tales of lasciviousness or lewd behaviour. Perhaps the late Anthony Bourdain would describe it better with plenty of excitable expletives.
A mouthful of Tiramisu is the bomb, with its lavish combination of mascarpone, coffee, sweet wine and lady fingers. But in truth, words fail me in trying to acknowledge what happens when I swallow this sweet dessert. Is it too much to say it borders on the erotic or even the sexual? Can we tolerate statements such as these concerning our food and how it affects our bodies?
Food’s relationship with sex has a long history, from the erotic aspects of oysters to the supposed aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate. Tiramisu’s history is no different, purportedly invented in a brothel in Treviso in order to keep the clientele awake and active and spending money. This could, of course, all be nonsense. No reference to Tiramisu exists in a cookbook before 1960, so it may be a stretch of the imagination to think it defined the culinary culture of Italian brothels in the Renaissance.
Yet it does speak to us about how food affects us physically, about how it makes us happy, aroused even.
We all experience food as physical pleasure. What are your dark food secrets?