What Is the Meaning of Decadent Food?

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What Is the Meaning of Decadent Food?
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What does decadence have to do with food? After all, the definition of the word implies decay, and decay doesn't sound very tasty. Today's fascination with decadent food may well have its origins in the aesthetic "decadent movement" begun in 19th-century France.

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Absinthe: The Original Decadent Drink

Young sophisticates of fin de siècle Europe believed that civilization itself was in decline. They decided that since their culture was already crumbling, why bother with the niceties of convention? Why not just abandon oneself to hedonistic sensation instead of sense?

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Absinthe, with its extremely high alcohol content and exotic green hue, became the drink of choice for artistic rebels. It offended the sensibilities of conservative society (largely due to its reputation as a psychoactive agent), and its use was eventually banned.

Decadent Food of the 21st Century

Folks today might not be as self-consciously nihilistic as their dissolute forebears, but the use of "decadent," meaning "extravagantly and heedlessly self-indulgent," remains. When applied to food, this implies rich, luxurious, fat-filled, highly caloric and possibly downright dangerous dishes.

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Expensive Kobe Beef

Kobe is a subcategory of the Japanese beef known as Wagyu. Although there seems to be some confusion about these terms, remember that all Kobe is Wagyu but not all Wagyu is Kobe. In order to be deemed authentic, Kobe must come from one of only 3,000 cattle approved each year in Hyogo Prefecture.

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Kobe is the most heavily marbled beef in the world and the most expensive. Those willing to plunk down $125 or so for a 3-ounce steak will probably tell you it's also the most tender and flavorful.

A Risky Fish

Fugu is a type of pufferfish notorious for the poisonous tetrodotoxin found in its innards. Japanese chefs go through a demanding training period and must be certified before they are permitted to prepare fugu. Dining on it is an act of bravado and deliberate risk taking since even a tiny bit of the poison can prove fatal.

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Gilding the Dinner

Gold leaf has been multipurposed as both decoration and edible delicacy for hundreds of years. India in particular is well-known for its gold-covered sweets, though gold was also nibbled in Europe dating back to medieval times.

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In order to be edible, pure gold is beaten into tissue-thin sheets and then molded around a sweet. It does not add any flavor whatsoever, though some folks mention a "crunch" effect. In any case, edible gold leaf would seem to be the height of conspicuous consumption.

Enjoy Everyday Decadence

Everybody feels a bit decadent at least once in a while. When you have the urge to engage in "sinful" indulgence, maybe you should let yourself go ahead and give in just a little bit. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate made with quality cocoa liquor and cocoa butter is high on the list of hedonistic desserts.

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Decadence is even used as a selling point, especially for chocolaty decadent desserts: cakes and cookies, chocolate-flavored coffee beans, chocolate-flavored flour and, of course, many, many varieties of chocolate candy. How about grilled chocolate sandwiches with caramel sauce?

Many dishes otherwise labeled as "ordinary" can become rich and luxurious by simply changing up the recipe. Make macaroni and cheese with handcrafted pasta and extra-rich cheese, for example. Create over-the-top versions of pizza, ice cream sundaes, nachos and other dishes with unusual toppings. Indulge your imagination.

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Piling It On

For the ultimate homemade decadence, make your own version of the Rochester garbage plate. This is one of America's most infamous creations, gobbled up by generations of fans in upstate New York.

Its ingredients are simple but infinitely variable. There's a base of home fries, French fries and/or pasta salad, on top of which you pile chicken, Italian sausage, steak tips, hamburger, frankfurters and, of course, cheese.

Have a Decadent Brew or Two

Wash it all down with a decadent drink. It doesn't have to be absinthe. You could have an extra-thick malted milk or a chocolate phosphate. You might even want to try a brew from Decadent Ales, a company that offers toasted marshmallow, peanut butter and marshmallow and s'mores flavors.

After all that, it may actually be a relief to get back to kale smoothies...

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