Wake up and smell the gorgonzola.
On the other hand, there are some foods that have aromas so wonderful they can stand on their own. They can be enjoyed for the olfactory sensation even if you're not eating the item in question. I want to talk about those aromas.
Everybody has favorite food aromas. Many of them bring back childhood memories in Proustian Madeleine moments. Lots of people seem to love the smell of fresh-baked bread. For some reason that doesn't do much for me, maybe because I grew up on Wonder Bread, and even worse, Taystee Bread, which had a weird, soft, spongy consistency and no taste whatsoever.
I have two contenders for my favorite food smell: coffee grinding and garlic frying. To me these are the two most seductive, erotic food aromas. If I go into a place where coffee is grinding or garlic frying I'll stand transfixed and breathe away. Breathing can be one of life's great freebies.
Speaking of breathing, I once lost thirty pounds on the sniffing diet. No kidding. I ate plenty of steamed, fibrous vegetables, like broccoli, to fill up, and got my enjoyment from smelling foods that I would resume eating post-diet. I suppose I had a lot of willpower, but for me sniffing was better than nothing, and the smells didn't send me over the precipice into actual consumption. My favorite free smell during business hours was an italian sausage stand near my office. The guy had a grill where he cooked sausages and onions, like the kind you get at street fairs. I lurked, trying not to look conspicuous. I understand that the onions have a lot to do with the pleasurable odor sensation. Apparently street food hawkers know that the smell of onions cooking casts a wide net and draws people to their stands. Sausage and onions certainly makes my aroma pantheon.
And who can resist the smell of bacon frying? I've never asked orthodox Jews or Muslims or vegetarians how they react to the smell of bacon. Is it repulsive on principle, or is there something universally appealing? Similarly, how do Indian Brahmins who don't eat garlic react to its aroma?
Being an inveterate traveler, food odors often evoke travel memories for me. These are my Madeleines of the nose.
Seville is one of the best-smelling cities I've ever visited. The air is redolent of a combination of frying fish and oranges. There are orange trees everywhere you look, perfuming the air. Lord Byron wrote that Seville is "famous for oranges and women." Indeed, Seville is a feast for the eyes as well as the nose, and in addition to the women it has some beautiful architecture.
Cochin, in the state of Kerala, in southern India, is a major spice-producing area. Walking through the streets full of spice warehouses one is greeted by the exhilarating aroma of peppercorns in a concentration and intensity most people have probably never experienced.
A favorite food smell of mine that might not have such universal appeal is that of oily fish, like mackerel or sardines, grilling. When I was in Tokyo I stayed near Ueno Park. Nearby is an area full of pedestrian-only alleys where bars with outdoor tables serve charcoal-grilled sanma, pike mackerel. I didn't stop and eat, but I stopped and sniffed.
Some smells probably have general consensus. I'm betting that most people, like me, are suckers for coffee, garlic and bacon. Other favorites are probably much more personal, and surely many have interesting stories behind them.
So I'd like this to be an audience participation piece. Please leave a comment and let us know what food smells you're crazy for. And if there's a good story, tell it.