There was a time, once, when I tried to give up eating. Not because I didn’t like food, but because I did—I liked it so much I didn’t want to have a bad meal. So I tried subsisting on a wretched powder called Soylent, which when mixed with water and a bit of vegetable oil looked like the sludge one scrapes off the underside of the sink, but was supposed to provide all the nutrients one needed to stay alive. I lasted about a week.
But the idea had been planted. I continued to search for something that would be a simulacrum of eating without actually eating, so that I could free myself for other more noble pursuits: for instance, writing about eating, or in the case of this piece, writing about not eating. In the end I discov- ered what every college student has known. Instant noodles are the perfect anti-food: they offer taste without substance, require no preparation, keep forever, make you think you’re full even though you haven’t actually eaten anything. It’s not that I love eating less, but that I love food more.
These days my favorite meal is often the last meal of the day. It means that the children have been tucked away in bed, the household chores are done, I’m on schedule for all of my deadlines. I have two favorite flavors, Beef and Spicy Beef. I can tell from the way the foil lid peels off the styrofoam if the package has been sitting on the supermarket shelf a while, in the same way that a sommelier can get an intimation of the wine from sniffing the cork. I break off a bit of raw ramen and chew on it, and then put a little more or a little less water depending on the dryness of the noodles, the way a caviar master makes a snap decision on how much salt to mix with the sturgeon eggs to make the perfect malossol.
The punch of unmitigated carbohydrate joy with a blast of monosodium glutamate is the perfect antidote to any food craving. There’s nothing your body wants more than pure carbs, and nothing you can crave more than salty umami broth. Anything after that— even caviar itself—falls flat (I’ve tried). It’s like pink noise for the palate, completely void of meaning but just as overwhelming. But every so often, not nearly as often as I’d like but enough for me to renew my faith in food, I have a meal so perfectly balanced, so satisfying to mind and gut and spirit that I don’t need a fix of instant noodles. If only every day could be like that. If only every meal could be like that.
T&c clinton palanca is a fictionist and food writer. his latest book, Gullet: Dispatches on philippine Food, came out in 2016.