Mystery Mush

One of the reasons I’ve started appreciating my own cooking more is probably because the cafeteria at work produces food that falls across a wide spectrum of quality. They’ve had pretty good North Indian food before. They’ve also produced barley and vegetable soup, which tastes like the essence of despair. 

Today they actually outdid themselves. I had what was billed as “creamy butternut squash soup with chives”. It wasn’t that the chives were nowhere in evidence, or that the soup was flecked with brown lumps of what I devoutly hoped was mushrooms or errant roasted squash skin. 

It was that the first few mouthfuls of soup tasted, inexplicably, of Horlicks. 

A diversion, gentle reader, if you are one of the lucky few who have never partaken of this foodstuff. Horlicks is a beverage in its own right. It is unique in its mouth feel, flavor profile, and psychological impact. If you are drinking Horlicks, you fall into one of these categories: 

a) You are fatally curious. 

b) You are bereft of the sensation of taste. 

c) You are over eighty and are close to death. 

d) You are, in fact, dead. 

Horlicks is not Bournvita, or Milo, or Boost. Horlicks is the liquid equivalent of Weetabix, which is eaten by people who have very few teeth and a correspondingly minute desire to enjoy all that life has to offer. 

And this butternut squash soup tasted like Horlicks. I said the first few spoonfuls tasted like Horlicks because after a brief period of time, my tastebuds seemed to simply shut down and give up the ghost, refusing to partake in this blasphemy. 

In fact, that’s not even the crux of the matter. What still astonishes me is that I continued to consume it. I think it was because I was, at this point, bewildered. It must be a transdimensional mystery, I thought to myself, gulping down another spoonful of the noxious substance. The fourth dimension must have gotten involved somehow. 

The thing was, it was insidiously compelling. Somehow childhood memories had been awoken, a time when something like Horlicks would have been de rigueur. A simpler, less complex childhood that thought Kraft cheese was the only cheese anyone needed and that alcohol was unnecessary when hot chocolate was on the table. 

And then I threw away the soup container and vowed never to do that to myself ever again. 


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