The sound of supper

By Andreae Prozesky 

When I was asked to come up with a food column on the theme of “sound,” I had a whole slew of great ideas. The pop of mustard seeds toasting for carrot and mustard seed salad, like my friend Jessica in Montréal used to make. Or perhaps a look at the science behind the deep, muffly sound a spoon makes against the inside of your mug as you stir Irish Cream into a cup of thick, whole-milk hit chocolate. Or, as a Scope-mate suggested, a loving ode to the polystyrene squeak of cheese curds between your teeth as you savour a serving of poutine.

But as I searched for food sounds in my nerdish brain, it wasn’t the noise of food that came to the surface, but the noise of the consumption of food: the mmms, the remarks, and the mishaps.

All food makes noise. If you listen to your multigrain bread in the toaster, you can hear each bit of millet crackling, each wheatberry browning. An apple is sliced with a satisfying crunch, which changes in tone as you pass into the hollow core and back out again. A peach receives a paring knife with a wet gulp, and as you twist the two halves to release the pit you can listen to the snap of each fibrous strand. Coffee shrieks “good morning” through the steam valve of an espresso machine, or gurgles it through a perculator. When you pour boiling water over a tea bag, you can hear countless tiny bubbles swelling up through the bag’s perforations, creating a split-second of foam and then vanishing. Noises are everywhere in the kitchen.     

There are also the sounds people make in response to food. It is a well-known fact that a person cannot walk into a house where someone is sautéing onions and garlic without saying, “oh my God, that smells amazing!” Whether the onions and garlic are destined for spaghetti sauce or channa masala, the sizzling of the pan will, I guarantee, be drowned out by someone’s remarks of delight. So, in my mind, the sound of onions and garlic is “sizzle-sizzle-ohmygod-that smells amazing-sizzle-sizzle.”

Then there is the sound of breaking glass and swearing. A couple years ago, some dear friends had a number of us over for supper. It was a chaotic evening of things going into the oven late, of last-minute squabbles about ingredients and timing, and general good-hearted conflict. Just when everything seemed under control, the glistening maple-glazed salmon was absent-mindedly hoisted onto a hot element. Our host walked away from the stove and, in an instant, the entire Pyrex dish shattered, sending bits of 400F glass in all directions, and an entire fish onto the stove, where it promptly fell to pieces. The crashing, the panic, the agony over the loss of a beautiful supper. No-one was hurt in the salmon debacle, and the toddler was safely in the living room at the time of the explosion. One guest’s backpack, however, was bedazzled with spots of baking dish, which melted the nylon and refused to budge. 

One more sound? My dear friend Di is a double-yummer. Upon biting into something delicious, she utters a preliminary “Mmm…,” which is followed, after a beat, with a larger, more exuberant “MMMM!” Which is accompanied by raised eyebrows and a slightly straighter posture. This, for me, is the best of the food noises. Popping seeds, squeaking cheese, sizzling pans are all extended intros into the sound of “Mmm… MMM!”    

Best soundtrack ever.

One comment

  1. Channing · February 28, 2011

    Oh, there’s more to the salmon story, Food Nerd. Don’t forget that same couple gained a good reputation for fires in the kitchen – at least three times that year, the sound of supper for us was “Mm, that smells so g — Aigh! Put it out! Put it out!”. I’d like to think we’ve learned a little something since then.
    But the other night we — ok, I — blew up, that’s right, a SECOND Pyrex dish. Roasting pumpkin seeds, everything was going well, and then in the way of pumpkin seeds (or maybe in the way of our cooking) it was all up in smoke – blackened seeds, hot glass – better put that under some cold water! (No, don’t!)
    Physics says no, but my tummy says yes yes yes. Maybe we’ll have dinner at your house next time – our kitchen’s still in recovery.