The first time I had “French” onion soup was in Windhoek, in a German restaurant, with my then husband: a baby at the breast, tired from a long rough trip from much further south where we lived in a geologist camp in Namibia. We left Johannesburg when my first son was 8 weeks old, into the wild, adamant to have an adventure. It was that. I did not know then that I would be writing about a first taste of onion soup almost thirty years later. The only onion soup I knew at the time came from a packet of Royco, which my mom would add to water in a pinch on some Sunday evenings when she supplemented with soup the leftover-roast sandwiches, or when she used brown onion soup in a packet to make a sauce for hasselback potatoes, a favourite at our Sunday lunch table.
That first taste of real onion soup was sensational. I remember how I could not believe that simple onions could add up to this rich brown broth: somewhat sweet, pungent with Gruyere on the round of toast on top, very filling. But for some reason I never tried cooking it myself. I was not quite a foodie then.
Many years later I had another taste of French onion soup in a restaurant in Kloof street in Cape Town. Across from me, my soon to be lover lifted my right foot unto his lap under the table, unhooked my sandal with his left hand, and with his right hand spooned some onion soup from his bowl into my suddenly dry mouth. Deeply satisfying, thin slices of onion, marrow-like, melted in my mouth. My body melted as we shared that bowl of soup, my starter forgotten. He continued to stroke the arch of my foot resting on his thigh. Somehow that remains fixed in my memory: the smell of onion soup and gruyere and the hypnotic sweetly sexy stretch of sensation along the inside curve of my right foot.
I have often thought that it’s not really the first of everything that is memorable, but the second. At the first taste one does not know of any other possibility, so that a first taste is possibly always great(or not!). The only way to know is to have that second taste. Like the second person one has sex with… that is the one most memorable. Well, that is the way I experienced it. Nothing to compare until the second time.
And now I have had French onion soup even in Paris. And in my little kitchen I cook one which measures up to any other I have had since that second one all those years ago. Tonight I cooked another, for my husband who does not know this story yet. He’ll read it here and smile. And tell me how much he loves me and my french onion soup. And both my feet will find a warm resting place against his calves tonight. And I will not even think about that old lover of mine.