Our memories go beyond what we see. They include the senses we have encountered in the past too. The sounds, the smells, the feel of a hotel bed fabric, or even touching an animal you encountered at a zoo… they all remain a part of our travel memories. But in this post, let’s focus on the smells, shall we?
From my own travels, I have some good fragrances I wouldn’t mind capturing in a bottle and a few bad fragrances I want banished! Funnily, I’d like to start with a bad! The smell of fish sauce. Eugh! Bangkok reeks of it. Fish sauce is a condiment used quite a bit in Thai & far-eastern cuisine and given the number of street side eateries in Thailand’s capital, the smell was everywhere. So much so that I now associate fish sauce with Bangkok more than any other place in the Far East. I hated the smell so much that whenever I order a Thai dish I ask them not to put in fish sauce.
It wasn’t all foul smell in Thailand though. There are innumerous stalls and street vendors selling crepes and what they refer to as roti. Essentially pancake batter used to make a variety of sweet savouries.
These crepes, rotis and pancakes gave a whiff off sweetness you could smell a mile away (figuratively speaking), which just drew you closer to the vendor.
As someone who grew up in the Middle East, if there is one distinct aroma that sums up the ‘Arabian atmosphere,’ it’s the warm fragrance of oud. It’s a strong scent and ubiquitous in Arabian perfume stores, and it’s not uncommon to get a whiff of it from a well-dressed Arab walking past you. Sure, agarwood, the main ingredient is quite expensive… but an oud-inspired fragrance would make for one heck of room freshener and instantly take you on a magic carpet to the Arab world!
Being a foodie, some of my fondest childhood memories were best remembered for the smells associated with them (and still do today).
It was in Mangalore, that I first sat down at a darshini. I remember having a simple thali, but given that we as a family, rarely ate out in Bahrain, even this simple thali with its assortment of dishes and puris/rice was just fascinating to me the first time I saw it. But what I take away the most from the darshini was — you guessed it — the smell. It’s a mix of sweetness and vegetable masalas (I presume). The smell may also be a mix of fragrances coming off freshly made rasam, sambhar, fresh coffee/tea and straight-out-of-oil vadas! It’s hard to pin point the exact source, but anyone who eats at a busy darshini knows what that distinct smell is. I don’t know if that that smell could be captured in a bottle, but I sure wouldn’t mind waking up to it in the mornings at home!
When it comes to ‘non-veg’ smells that I still haven’t gotten tired of, it’s KFC. Fourteen secret herbs and spices or not, I remember walking past the KFC outlet in Bab Al Bahrain, in Manama (the capital is where we stayed) and wow… the smell that came out of that kitchen exhaust! It was soooo enticing!
Back to my foreign travels now. I remember the first time I stumbled upon a Chinese temple in Kuala Lumpur. What really drew me inside wasn’t really the temple itself. It was the aroma coming out of it.
It was the incense…
To be honest, I don’t know what exactly the fragrance or type of incense they were using was — but it surely didn’t smell ‘Indian’… and yet, somehow it still felt ‘Asian’. Funny how you associate smells with geographies.
We all love the sea side. When I was in Goa in 2008 with my friends, I remember relaxing on a beach bench with a bottle of beer in my hand. Somehow, the blend of the ocean waves mixed with the beer… smelled quite nice. You could call it a true ‘holiday smell,’ as back home the only sensation you normally get from beer is the notion one has had too much to drink!
That said, if anyone can capture this final essence in a bottle, you can take all my money. Whether it is from India or abroad, it smells the same. You know the smell in the air after the first rains showers have fallen? The soil getting wet and the sudden freshness you feel in the air? I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like it, and the one thing it reminds me of no matter where I am in the world… is back home, in my village in Kerala, during monsoon season. Now that’s a fragrance I’ll never get tired of.