Ode to My Fifth Sense

by Kathryn Baldwin

Thanks to my throbbing head cold last Thursday, I was unable to detect the urine stench that is normally the first local to greet me at this 24th St. portal. My class stepped off the elevator, clutching their own elbows in defense of the swelling storm, and I prayed that I would be able to smell all that this Mission District Grub tour had to offer.

Our tour began at La Victoria, where floor to ceiling cases of Mexican pastries tested my olfactory senses. Fail. Our bite-sized samples of conchas were so airy that when I dipped mine in freshly pressed coffee, the liquid grabbed the corner, climbing so far up the piece that most of it fell right in.

Elotes had a dense yellow center that I smushed between my tongue and the roof of my mouth, and sugar grains grinded between my teeth. Life without a nose may help me to recognize new textures but that’s not why I came to the Mission.

At Mr. Pollo, our empanadas were drizzled with a garlic, cilantro, and mayonnaise sauce (so the solo chef told us). Without my nose, it was green, watery mayonnaise. FML.

At Mission Minis, my “Cinnamon Horchata” cupcake tasted like a cinnamon roll. Any other time this would have been fantastic but when you put “Horchata” in the name, I expect 10 stars. I’m still convinced that with my fifth sense I would have been able to distinguish the subtle taste of a Mexican rice drink.

At Humphry Slocombe, I didn’t realize we were entering an ice cream parlor until our guide actually explained that we were entitled to a scoop. The thick, sweet air that I usually swim through in an ice cream place while I pick out a flavor was non-existent.

I numbed my mouth with my Brown Sugar Fennel ice cream on the walk to the Mexican Market, contemplating the decision I made of devouring something so cold, with a cold, in the cold. Smart.

Upon throwing away my cold-in-a-cup, I ventured into the crowded, every-Mexican-ingredient-you-could-ask-for, corner store. My nose ran away with the piles of fresh corn tortillas. At last…my love…had come along. I followed the path of jostling customers around the center island three times to the tune of “con permiso.” I never wanted to leave that place, where the warm corn fumes cleared my sinuses and reminded me of my Mexican host mother nursing me back to health. I listened for the pat, pat, pat of Maseca balls slapping between sticky palms and I warmed my hands, hovering over the piles of sweating tortillas packed in plastic as they waited patiently for a ride home next to their close friends Mr. Chicharrón. After my olfactory glands received their giant tortilla hug, I could devour my Huarache and Taco al Pastor with newfound appreciation for life with a nose.

All my nose needed was that distinct reminder of what smelling is meant for, but an hour later I was back to four senses. Five hours later I was down to the equivalent of about two. My NyQuil wouldn’t work that night and I wished I could snuggle with a bag of warm tortillas. A few days later, having recovered a bit, all I want to do is ride back to 24th St. I would accept the greeting from Urine with open arms just to sniff my way through each place, experiencing the Mission aromas that I missed out on.

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2 Comments to “Ode to My Fifth Sense”

  1. Hope you’re feeling better Kathryn!

  2. Hey Kathryn! This blog post was AMAZING. Loved the photos and your distinct Kathryn voice. It was SUCH a pleasure to have you in the class–thank you for everything you gave and keep writing!

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