Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Coming Up Bitter

My New Yorker (by way of Milan) friend Valeria recently asked me what I thought were some trends in the world of vegetables, which of course has less to do with the state of being of vegetables themselves and everything to do with their human eaters. After considering it for a moment, I decided that bitterness was becoming more acceptable to the mainstream palate, and I thought of how chicories, like radicchio, seemed to be taking a bigger role on the plate. I stake this claim on some kind of intuition, not really eating out very much since my income shrank to graduate student size several years ago, but I think a general growing interest in weird vegetables has got people experimenting with bolder tastes. (The New Yorker food issue in the fall had several pieces dedicated to the vegetable, including a riveting article on root vegetables and nostalgic paeans to sauerkraut and borscht, while New York magazine recently documented a new breed of vegivore eaters in "Why Vegetables Are the New Meat.")

But I hadn't thought about how a rising interest in bitterness might propel bitter melon, the old Asian favorite, into the position of would-be successor to tofu as the darling of American alternative health food obsessives. Awhile back, I profiled this most intriguing of vegetables along with its most fervent promoters, the National Bitter Melon Council.

Well, tonight, from 7-9 p.m. at SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco, NBMC founders Jeremy Liu and Hiroko Kikuchi are bringing the gospel of Bitter is Better to the public at a conversation and workshop organized as part of the exhibition A Sensory Feast. The Council promises the creation of a new fragrance, Bitter, as well as the design of a bitter melon tattoo for the most dedicated and auspicious participant (I wonder if it'll grant the bearer a lifetime supply of free bitter melon, kind of like Jimmy Corn does for Casa Sanchez burritos. The deal was just revived this January, by the way. Get in there!). Adding its own trend-spotting quip, SFoodie dubs bitter "the new umami" in its post about the event. More info is also at the SOMArts website.