Ask ten people to explain umami, and you’ll get ten different answers plus an unsolicited opinion on craft beer pairings. The cold, hard truth is that nobody actually knows what umami is. The world’s top culinary minds have been trying to crack the puzzle for decades, but there’s been little progress.
Still, celebrity chefs keep mentioning it on cooking shows. Your hip foodie friends share their thoughts on umami like it’s their Netflix password. You now dread brunch dates, because every time you eat food with these food fanciers is a dance on the knife-edge of danger.
Will you be able to lie your way through another meal, or will they out you as an uncultured chucklefuck incapable of grasping a concept as abstract as the fifth taste?
It’s time for a change.
Let’s face it: you’re never going to understand umami, but that shouldn’t stop you from effectively pretending to. It’s 2019, you don’t have to understand or even be familiar with something to talk about it endlessly.
Umami is, without a doubt, related to food.
This is an easy one for beginners to keep their foodie cred off the chopping block. To the best of our knowledge, umami as a concept is definitely related to food. People mention it when they talk about eating and cooking—according to a casual glance at Instagram hashtags, umami can be found in anything from strawberries to fried chicken. While that doesn’t narrow it down by much, you can go out into the world safely assuming food and umami go together somehow.
Umami is whatever the people you’re with at the moment think it is.
Here’s another easy one. Stay out of trouble by never putting your umami stake in the ground. Like all good definitions, yours should be flexible and primarily based on who you’ve spoken with last. Avoid going on record about umami at all costs. You can’t afford to get nailed down to an incorrect statement about it. Here, think fast!
“Aren’t the umami notes in this miso soup just to die for?”
What would you say if you were ambushed by that sonuvabitch of a question? Here’s a hint: if you’d answer anything other than “absolutely,” you’re wrong. This friend obviously thinks miso soup has a lot of whatever umami is—roll with it. You should pray for a softball like this every time you go out to eat.
Even better, you now know what this friend thinks umami is, which is much more valuable than figuring it out for yourself once and for all. Just make sure to never forget the conversation in case you see this friend again. See? Easy!
Never talk about umami for any reason at any time.
This one sounds easy, but it can get surprisingly difficult to avoid talking about umami around foodie friends. If they mention it, pretend you were too engrossed in Kyle’s story about his up-and-coming influencer career. If they ask you a direct question about it, feign a family emergency and run out of the restaurant. If they chase you down the street and physically restrain you until you form an opinion on tenkasu-dusted takoyaki, crush the cyanide pill hidden in your molar. At least then you won’t be embarrassed in front of your friends.
Establish dominance by exclaiming everything has umami.
Once you’ve mastered the beginner techniques above, you can move on to something more advanced. Whenever you’re eating with friends, establish dominance by claiming every food at the table is umami. Soy sauce? Sure. Kiwi? Absolutely. Napkins? Why the fuck not? What’s important is to say it with conviction. With confidence. With a pained, manic, terrifying look in your eye. Who will question you? Who will challenge you? Strike down those who do. Become the harbinger of umami, the prophet of savory, the Alpha and the Omega of glutamates.
By the time you’re standing on the table, shirtless, beating your chest about the Chinese cabbage, nobody will doubt your expertise in pretending to know what umami is. If you do this technique right, there’s the added bonus of your friends never asking you to go out with them ever again. Problem solved!