When I was 16 years old, a soothsayer in Burma told me that a bunch of bananas and a can of condensed milk made as an offering to the Shwedagon Pagoda would guarantee me eternal bliss. For some reason, I passed on the offer. Postcards seemed to be a better use of my remaining rupees. In a strange way, I think I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since. For someone who’s not particularly religious, I’ve certainly done a lot of worshipping through food. I’ve gone vegetarian for Buddha and cooked for the spirit of my ancestors. I’ve cut fruit for the Hindu deities and handed out rice to the monks in Laos. And most recently, for two days, I fasted—for in my twisted logic, if I’m starving, then some animal out there has just been spared its life, and I should expect a handsome reward for this act of kindness. Food, it seems, is the one thing that weaves through the crazy worlds of both the sacred and the secular. Whatever higher power exists up there is like us in at least one way—he/she is a foodie, and a picky one at that. Sometimes food is to be used in celebration, sometimes it’s to be denied as a sign of self-restraint. At any one time, it can be the currency for faith, karma, and forgiveness. All philosophical insights aside, please allow me to say that when you’ve gone empty-bellied for two days, you seriously don’t give a damn. All I thought about for 48 hours was that first meal, and the shortest path I could take to get some food into my stomach. One of the most commonly asked questions for chefs is what they would choose as their last supper. They respond casually with answers that they’ve secretly had stored in the back pocket for years. Bread and butter is a favorite response. Ice cream is another. So is anything their mom used to make. In truth, I find it all quite macabre. Death row inmates chose their last meal all the time with much less romance and certainly less pretension. Instead, try asking people what their first meal after a miserable two-day fast would be. And if they’re honest, they’d tell you the same answer as me: It’s whatever edible thing you can find next to you the moment the fast ends. In my case, this turned out to be cold leftover pizza, which I layered with whatever deli meats I could find in the fridge and then drenched in Tabasco. It wasn’t Iberico ham nor was it the best slice from Napoli. It was better. Because it was there at the right time, and the right place. And that’s what the best meals in life boil down to. In his novel “Don Quixote,” Miguel Cervantes writes: “la mejor salsa del mundo es la hambre,” meaning: “hunger is the best sauce in the world.” Cervantes was Roman Catholic. And in case you haven’t made the mental connection yet, those are the guys who created Lent.