One rainy afternoon in Venice, as I walked around the city with a map, a fragrance invaded my ‘sea meets fish meets rot’ smelling air space. I took a deep breath to catch it better and decided to sniff out my adventure that day. I had been warned about the confusing walkways of Venice and how the best navigators find it hard to find the same place twice. And yet I revolted. In my defence, I wasn’t finding anything on the map, so getting lost was a bit of a foregone conclusion.

And that’s how I set out, with my olfactory sense leading through narrow lanes and across bridges, with my brain layering names of boutiques, mental images of town squares and unique textures to my memory. Soon, the rain fell heavier but couldn’t wash away my motivation to find what my heart was now set on. So I walked on, as my stomach gasped for energy, to digest the four euro slice of pizza I had just eaten for lunch.

And then, around a corner, it found me – a slightly warm pocket of air that smelt of perfectly cooked seafood, of garlic tossed in olive oil and a just-opened bottle of wine. I was outside a restaurant and staring at a board that announced next day’s three-course lunch at 18 euros. In under a second, my planned trip to Murano Burano lost its glassy sheen, and I smiled at the prospect of what I could afford instead. 

The following day posed a new challenge. While it was one thing to follow the fragrance of served lunch, it was another task to follow the memory of a meal I was yet to have and which was probably still cooking in the kitchen. But food has this draw; this visceral connect that transcends traditional boundaries and challenges what our we are capable of. That morning my senses became one to satisfy my taste. They sniffed, felt, saw and heard their way through the labyrinth of Venice and after jogging my memory every which way got me sitting down for a meal that I can shut my eyes and taste to this day.

When the world talks about Venice, it talks about the beauty of the waterways, the grand expanse of the Piazza San Marco, and the heartwarming sight of couples on gracefully floating gondolas. And yet, all I can ever think of is that plate of assorted fried fish – crisp and lightly flavoured with herbs on the outside and soft yet firm on the inside, the seafood soup which tasted of salt on the lips and spread sweetness on my tongue and the most divine mussels spaghetti that combined garlic, olive oil and the taste of sea in my mouth.

Probe a little more and I am reminded of how I took every bend and turn with an inexplicable familiarity that I have never before or since felt. I clicked no pictures that day, made no Instagram posts, barely told anyone about that lunch, but find me any picture of Venice, anything at all and I can remember, taste and bring to life how I lost my way to find the most memorable lunch I have had till day.

Published by Tintu Saleem