Barbeque is one of those smells, like burning leaves, that immediately triggers olfactory memory and a host of associations. An outdoor public market in Rochester, NY, where I used to live, has a smoke house, and the smell of charred meat created such a sensation that omigod did I want some of that stuff right away. Barbeque isn’t a comfort food exactly, but something about it is so primal and satisfying that I’m always sure to try the ribs or brisket on a menu.
I was in Rochester recently, and although I didn’t go to the public market, I did go to its newest restaurant sensation: Dinosaur Bar B Que. (Franchises also exist in Syracuse and New York City.) Gotta say, it rates full and complete approval on the basis of the sampler I had. That was barbeque done right, the traditional way, in a smoker, without too much sugar in the sauce.
Which brings me to my wider point. Some chemist has figured out how to distill the smoke flavor in a bottle, which is now a typical ingredient in barbeque sauces such as this one. Maybe that’s an OK accomodation for the backyard barbeque enthusiast, but I’ve been to a variety of rib joints and barbeque shacks that use liquid smoke as part of their house sauce. Although liquid smoke may be a distillation of the real thing, boy oh boy does it ever taste artificial when added to bottled sauce. It’s sort of like an orange LifeSaver, which doesn’t really taste orange at all but is some chemical approximation of what an orange tastes like.
Which brings me to an even wider point: at what point should we insist upon authentic experience rather than experiences mediated and distilled through some process? Would you rather be in love or take a pill that gives you the approximate feeling of being in love? Would you be happy to take a virtual vacation or would you rather see and experience the real thing? Or on the flip side, do violent video games (or flight simulators, or drag racing games) stimulate in some of us at least a desire for real life thrills from violent and/or risky behavior?