Day 40- mastication meditation

Think of the best meal you have ever had. Can you remember it? Can you remember the smell of the food, the texture, the taste or who was with you when you ate it? Most of the time we aren’t present when we eat. We scoff food down, shovelling more in before we have even finished the bite we are still working on. I was once told by a naturopath to chew at least forty times. I tried to do it and realised that my natural reflex was to just swallow after ten chews. I had to hold the food at the front of my mouth and swallow with the back of my mouth then continue chewing. It required concentration, awareness, and patience.

Andrew eats like a pelican. Barely three or four chews and he gulps it down with what looks like a considerable amount of effort. Nobody eats faster than this man and when he finishes his meal, I can feel him eyeing off my food with a similar heart-wrenching stare of a hungry dog. You know, that look that says, “I haven’t eaten in my whole life but whatever you are eating right now is my favourite!” This has caused me to eat faster, looking over one shoulder like someone in prison, or risk losing a portion of my meal.

Today we are restless and decide to walk up Zicatela beach and back. It is a long walk. All up, including a stop to chat to one of the boatmen at the north point, this takes about an hour and a half. Most of the walk I spend in deep meditation, focusing all my awareness on the sensation of sinking sand beneath my feet. I could easily write about the meditative trance it requires to walk through soft sand and look forward to a chance surge of water to splash up around my feet. The way neither of us speak is just a testament to the focus required to do this entire walk. When we get back, we feel like we deserve a good meal but the burger cafe isn’t open until dinnertime. We have a snack and then dwindle around on the balcony facing the street, staring towards the corner where the chef from Alaburger is hanging out their signature red and white checked tablecloths. When they look ready we wonder down to this charming little restaurant. The napkins are held down by a smooth rock on the three sets of plastic tables and chairs, which are on the sandy dirt floor beneath the vines of a passionfruit tree. Ricardo, our waiter, runs across the road to buy as a bottle of Argentinian Malbec ($10). When he returns we ask about the fruit and he tells us they use them to make passionfruit margaritas. The chef, a short Oaxaqueña woman, cooks the patties and assembles the burgers outside, behind a small wooden bar area against which the chalkboard menu leans. A huge pile of firewood sits below a sign that says Pizza a la leña, woodfire Pizza.

We order a papa horneado, a baked potato, a ‘Kevin Bacon’ burger and a Vegetarian burger. The chef brings over their only tray of condiments, which is rotated between the three tables as customers are served their meal. The tray includes a bowl of sliced tomatoes, pickles and onions so that you can add these at your own discretion (genius). I throw some tomatoes on and few lashings of an unlabelled brown sauce that could be something along the lines of ranch sauce. I have had plenty of vegetarian burgers in my lifetime, but this is hands-down the best burger I have ever had. Let me say it again. This is the best burger OF MY LIFE. It is actually coming close to the best meal of my life. I take a bite and realise what I thought was a dark coloured veggie pattie is actually an enormous BBQ’d field mushroom. Andrew doesn’t like mushrooms. I settle in and take small mouthfuls, chewing for as long as I damn like. Nobody is taking a bite of this from me. I almost lose control out of excitement when I realise that the orange pieces in the burger are not carrots as I had thought, but orange capsicum. If anybody reading this is aware of my strange obsession with capsicums, they will understand why this small detail is so monumental. I am staring lovingly at this burger, aware of every sensation, from the softness of the white sesame seeded bun (yes, I am eating wheat again), to the juicy mushroom and crunchy bright green lettuce. Each of the forty repetitions of mastication are a praise to the pieces of perfect vegetables assembled in my hands. I can smell the farm where they were harvested, feel the fresh water that helped them grow and feel sunshine in every bite. I know. I am waxing lyrical about a burger. As I get to the last bite I realise Andrew had been speaking to me. I shoot him a look that says plainly, ‘do not disturb’ but he is laughing. He wishes he could take a photo of this “burger meditation”. We guiltily order another burger each. This time he gets the classic cheeseburger and I get the Pacifica, the fish burger. I ask if the fish is fresh and Ricardo assures me, “El atunita estaba nadando en la mañanita”; “the tuna was swimming this very morning”. I prepare myself for something like a deep fried piece of fish, but what comes out is a freshly cut, BBQ’d and smoky flavoured piece of tuna steak, with a big piece of lettuce and the bun. Simple. I add some tomatoes and sauces and break off some spare pieces of fish. I immediately enter into the same ‘burger meditation’. I share a few bites with Andrew (after all, this is my second burger). In the end, the meditation is closed by my last bite.

Although I don’t believe that one should live to eat, I also have no issue with praising food. I have experienced many hang-ups regarding food and guilt after indulgent meals, especially as a teenager. I now realise how short life is for worrying about food. I like to believe I have a French attitude towards food, but I know a French person would never eat two whole burgers. And I don’t eat two burgers every day. I wouldn’t want to. I do believe in enjoying a moment, a sensation and a meal. It reminds me of a passage I read from The Radiance Sutras, translated by Lorin Roche, PhD.

Eating dark chocolate,

A ripe apricot,

Your favourite treat –

Savour the expanding joy in your body.

Nature is offering herself to you.

How astonishing

To realise this world can taste so goo.


When sipping some ambrosia,

Raise your glass,

Close your eyes,

Toast the universe –

The Sun and Moon and Earth

Danced together

To bring you this delight.

Receive the nectar on your tongue

As a kiss of the divine.

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