“R is for Romantic,” MFK Fisher writes in “An Alphabet for Gourmets,” ”… and for a few of the reasons that gastronomy is, and always has been connected, with its sister art of love.”
She recalls of her first suitor-at age 8!-who gave her chocolates “We belonged together… a male and female who understood the gastronomical urge.”
This couldn’t be truer today, in this age of Instagraming your food and tweeting what you eat. Social media will undoubtedly be flooded on Valentine’s Day with subtle boasts of where lovers are dining or what they are cooking. Since the peso has appreciated to P40 to a dollar, peso earners might be traveling to romantic getaways and hideaways while dollar-dependents would probably be staying home this Valentine’s Day.
If you are whipping up your own love feast, fret not. You can create that Valentine dinner in no time-just take your pick among these gastronomic delights:
Giacomo Casanova, the 18th century super playboy, shared in his autobiography his love for oysters, eating as many as 50 oysters every day and taking pleasure in sharing them with his lover(s), using this unique technique: “I placed the shell on the edge of her lips and after a good deal of laughing, she sucked in the oyster, which she held between her lips. I instantly recovered it by placing my lips on hers.” (“The Memoirs of Casanova,” Volume 6).
Centuries later, after studying the ultimate playboy’s ways as much as the possibilities of immaculate conception, scientists have discovered why oysters are such an aphrodisiac: Its high zinc content raises sperm and testosterone production, thereby increasing libido. But—take note—the oysters must be raw to be most effective!
The reputation of the asparagus as an aphrodisiac is surprisingly up there alongside the oyster. “The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight,” a 15th century Arabic piece of erotic literature (others describe it as a sex manual) by Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi, instructs in Chapter 20: “He who boils asparagus and then fries them in fat, and then pours upon them the yolks of eggs with pounded condiments, and eats every day of this dish, will grow very strong for the coitus, and find in it a stimulant for his amorous desires.”
However, asparagus-lover.com is quick to note that “on closer reading… the asparagus in question was not Asparagus Officinalis (what we all think of as asparagus) but Asparagus Racemosus which is a different species. Asparagus is actually a Genus in the classification of plants with up to 300 species. Asparagus Officinalis which we like to eat is just one of these 300 species. Asparagus Racemosus is another species (that) has been found to have an aphrodisiac effect on rats.”
Nevertheless, other studies show that asparagus—as we know it—is a great source of folic acid, which allegedly boosts histamine production, which is essential for the ability to reach orgasm in both sexes (foxnews.com/leisure/2012/02/07/top-10-aphrodisiacs-foods-to-put-in-mood/#ixzz2I6jhM29X).
There appears to be no study confirming almonds as an aphrodisiac but, as it is high in vitamin E, magnesium and fiber, it increases stamina and improves one’s general well-being. As a vitamin brand declares, “more energy, mas happy!” No less than Samson, the long-haired superhuman of the Old Testament, must have known this as he used fragrant almond branches to court Delilah, the temptress whose charms ultimately led to his downfall.
But the Greeks were more romantic. In Greek mythology, Phyllis, the Queen of Thrace, who commits suicide in the belief that her lover would not return from war after having found another, is turned into an almond tree by the gods. Yet her lover returns to her and embraces the almond tree. It blossoms, becoming a symbol of constancy in love and eternal hope. Today, in Greek weddings, five almonds bundled together represent a wish for long life, happiness, prosperity, well-being and fertility. (see gardenguides.com)
The Aztecs called the avocado tree “Ahuacuati” or (don’t laugh too hard) “testicle tree,” probably due to the resemblance of the fruit to a human testicle. But they also used the avocado as a sex stimulant so that virgin daughters were not allowed out of the house during harvest season as the avocado was considered a fertility fruit. Spanish Catholic priests were also reported to have been so offended by its shape that its consumption was prohibited.
Alas, there is no confirmation of the avocado’s prowess as an aphrodisiac. The Aztecs and the Catholic Church may have judged this fruit for its looks, rather for what it really is-a wholesome, healthy fruit! (Still, you may use it this Valentine’s Day for a good laugh, if not for its health benefits.)
Similar to the avocado, the banana has been regarded as a symbol of fertility. Its reputation goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who are now believed to have covered themselves with banana and not fig leaves (maybe they were Pinoy!). But this rep is not limited to readers and believers of the Old Testament. Islamists consider the banana instead of the apple as the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. Meanwhile Indian sages have offered bananas to fertility gods.
In Central America the sap from the red banana, which is sweeter and softer than the yellow banana, is distinguished as an elixir of love. This practice is now supported by studies that show that bananas have the bromelain enzyme which improves the male libido. It is also rich in potassium and B vitamins, which are necessary for sex hormone production, and therefore-move over Viagra-helps cure erectile dysfunction(!) as it enhances one’s heart and blood circulation.
In the Roman ages, basil was considered a symbol of love. In Italy, basil twigs are traditionally given as a token of love. In Romania, it symbolizes an engagement. In Mexico, it is believed that keeping basil leaves in one’s pocket ensures that a loved one will return their love forever.
But it was the English romantic poet John Keats who immortalized basil in literature, albeit quite tragically, in “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil,” a poem about a young woman who falls for Lorenzo, who is murdered by her brothers. Lorenzo’s ghost reveals this murder to Isabella in a dream. She digs up his body and, mourning for her lost love, buries the head in a pot of basil.
Then in a silken scarf,-sweet with the dews
Of precious flowers pluck’d in Araby,
And divine liquids come with odorous ooze
Through the cold serpent pipe refreshfully,-
She wrapp’d it up; and for its tomb did choose
A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,
And cover’d it with mould, and o’er it set
Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.
And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,
And she forgot the blue above the trees,
And she forgot the dells where waters run,
And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;
She had no knowledge when the day was done,
And the new morn she saw not: but in peace
Hung over her sweet Basil evermore,
And moisten’d it with tears unto the core.
How sexy can an egg be?
Perhaps one of the most artistic demonstrations of how to use an egg in a less than wholesome manner may be found in Juzo Itami’s foodie art film “Tampopo,” which has lovers passing on the yolk of an egg into each others’ mouths without breaking it. Clearly not for general patronage, but whatever floats your boat, man.
While bananas and avocados are reflective of male organs, the sexy fig is said to represent the ladies, as one might realize when the fruit is split down the center and its pink flesh exposed. Poet D.H. Lawrence, in “Figs,” initially thought that the symbolism relates to a man but eventually puts the confusion to rest:
Every fruit has its secret.
The fig is a very secretive fruit. As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic: And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.
Every fruit has its secret.
The secret might be traced to Eve, as some say the forbidden fruit might not have been an apple but a fig. Cleopatra was apparently in on the secret as well, the fig reportedly being her favorite fruit. But whatever the secret, medicinal studies show that the fig is rich in iron and potassium, increasing a lady’s… powers!
Shakespeare wisely warns in “Macbeth” that drink “provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.” But majority would take the risk, welcoming its assistance in lowering inhibitions. And the drink of choice for those who seek to get immediately bubbled is champagne, which is said to hit the blood stream more quickly than wine. Even better, the scents of dry champagne are said to replicate the delicate aromas of female pheromones. No wonder it was Marilyn Monroe’s favorite drink.
The belief that chocolates are an aphrodisiac may be based on more psychological than chemical reasons. Truth be told, scientists do recognize two substances that may be encouraging in chocolates: tryptophan, a building block of serotonin and a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal, and phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, which is released in the brain when people fall in love.
But if it’s in MFK Fisher’s chapter “R is for Romantics,” and described as “not only the ultimate expression of masculine devotion, but pure gastronomical delight,” chocolate must be in your Valentine menu.
Why stray far and spend so much when one of the best aphrodisiacs is sold by your neighborhood vendor, available at those odd hours when you just might need it? Recognized even by the London newspaper’s The Guardian as an aphrodisiac, all we need to do is listen to the wisdom sung by Sylvia La Torre:
“Sapagkat itong balut
Ay mainam na gamot
Sa mga taong laging nanlalambot.”
And now that the right to satisfying sex has been etched into the records of Philippine law as a demandable right by senators of the 15th Congress, even at the expense of eternal damnation, feel free to fully utilize the above-mentioned food and drink. Whether as gourmand or gourmet, remember that R is for Romantic.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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