As I was led to my seat, the aroma of the freshly sizzling meat patties from the grill intermingled with that of crispy, salted fries from the deep fryer. The delectable odorous particles wafted deep inside my nose, passing through my turbinate bones, arousing the carnivoral desires deep inside me.
I could feel my mouth water, preparing for the upcoming feast. I had to swallow a few times, blinking my eyes. An automatic reflex lest the drool dribbled down my bearded chin.
As my server left with my order, I was once again alone with my thoughts as I gazed, in that unseeing, unfocused way, around the bustling room.
To those around who would glance at me, they would see contentment.
A man in his element. A man about to enjoy an experience of a lifetime. A man with a big hunger.
It couldn’t have been longer than 15 minutes when my server reappeared with my meal.
“The Big Dirty Burger. Bon Appétit”
It was touted as one of the best burgers you’d ever taste. Celebrated. Vaunted. Award winning.
How much of this was hope?
How much was hype?
And more importantly, how much was real?
With the hefty price tag to match its hefty weight – tipping the scales at a whopping 1.5 lbs – it was a behemoth, and one of those special meals not often indulged.
It came on its own gargantuan silver platter, the massive burger nestled comfortably upon a layered bed of non-GMO, and ostensibly E. coli free, crispy green lettuce. It stood tall and proud. A leaning tower, but not of pizza. The perfectly toasted sesame bun topping the multiple layers of delectable innards. The redness of the tomato slices accentuated by the contrasting deep green of the thinly sliced sandwich pickles and the pale green of the lettuce. The perfectly melted provolone cheese, pale moonlight, caressing the three different patties like a wetsuit, every curve and ridge coated in ooey gooey goodness.
A work of culinary art, visually stunning.
The senses tantalized. My senses tantalized. I was ready.
The Big Dirty Burger would be mine.
I held the beast in my hands and opened my mouth to take a bite, instinctively compressing the soft, warm bun down against the overflowing insides, keeping it all together, the medley of flavour linked forever, allowing the juices to seep over the edges and trail down my hands.
The first bite is the deepest. An electric current pulsed through me, head to toe. Alive. Alert. Awoken.
…But something was off. It was wrong. It was all wrong.
The flavour was off.
I took another bite to check.
Disappointment now coursed through me, replacing the pure joy and exuberance that existed in that space mere moments before.
The sadness of biting into a chocolate chip cookie, only to discover, those were not chocolate chips, but raisins.
However, I couldn’t quite articulate why it was off, couldn’t quite express what was wrong.
But it was, this much I knew. Certain of it. Never having been this certain before.
Suddenly, it struck me.
The missing flavour. The missing ingredient.
After a year and a half, my taste buds craved it at every meal.
My special umami.
The distinct taste of hand sanitizer.