In the dark of a movie theater, as the opening credits scroll across the screen, you’ll see me in my seat engaging in a strange ritual. It begins by removing a single Sour Patch Kid from my box of Sour Patch Kids, holding it up to the light, and evaluating its color. Depending on whether it’s a red/orange or a green/yellow, I either pop the candy immediately into my mouth or press it aggressively into the space between the plastic bag inside the box and the box itself. At the end of the movie, I have a bellyful of reds and oranges and a boxful of greens and yellows. This, I’ve come to realize, is no way to live.
Lately I’ve been gambling more as I eat my Sour Patch Kids. I don’t study the color, I just close my eyes and hope for red/orange. If I get green/yellow, I can appreciate the extra acidic blast, the punishing sharpness of concentrated citric acid. Would I buy a whole box of greens and yellows? Of course not. But the greens and yellows help me appreciate the reds and oranges when they come.
If I get too many greens/yellows in a row, I’ll start being more careful as I proceed. Sometimes there’ll be a whole cluster of greens and yellows and it’s moments like these where I feel like a character in a Greek tragedy, doomed to my fate of puckered lips and a singed tongue. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong movie theater candy to pledge allegiance to, if maybe I should be more of a Junior Mint guy or an M&M simpleton. But then a red Sour Patch comes along and the whole world feels all right.
We’re talking here about candy, but these issues spill out into the larger world of food and cooking. Last night, for example, I ate dinner at Night + Market, one of my favorite places in L.A., and I ordered a seafood salad that was rife with garlic, herbs, lime juice and, most notably, bits of Bird’s eye chili.
Each bite was like a little game, not unlike the game of Sour Patch Kid eating I described earlier. Some bites offered up a cooling taste of seafood; most bites offered up a reenactment of the movie “Backdraft” on my tongue. I broke out into a sweat, I patted my head with my napkin, I considered jumping into a pool of milk.
Pain and pleasure, punishment and reward: if it’s all of one and none of the other, you end up either incredibly bored or totally tongue-fried. It’s about finding that balance, the yin and the yang, that makes for an ideal eating experience.
Which is why the best way to eat a box of Sour Patch Kids is to proceed blindly, never knowing what’s coming next, enduring a world of greens and yellows and holding out hope for a red or orange. One’s sure to come eventually.