I’ve had this post in my mind for a while, but I didn’t have the fire within me to write it until during the middle of my first lesson for letteratura italiana the sudden desire to be sitting back in Forty Weight Coffee Roasters (a cafe I have, shockingly, not written about), comfortably reading Dante during my spring break hit me. This isn’t some pseudo-intellectual spiel on Proust’s madeleine (isn’t it annoying how nobody can write about madeleines without referencing that? nobody!). These are simply my thoughts about living away from family and constantly craving chinese take out tofu and broccoli.
When I was in London last June, I ate a gorgeous little cupcake at Primrose Bakery. At the time I was talking to my mom on the phone, chatting about the bakery’s adorable decor. As I hung up to properly enjoy my cupcake, I realized that I wasn’t eating this cupcake alone. My sparkly vanilla cupcake wasn’t something that I would have chosen without my mother. I knew that I was eating this cupcake because she loved vanilla. Each bite tasted of the vanilla cupcakes we’d shared from Cupcake Cafe when I was growing up and from Crumbs and Georgetown cupcake more recently.
The food I eat, the choices I make, the way I experience it and the way it tastes is based on more than just a fleeting desire. It’s based on the people I love and the places I’ve gone. When I first walked into an Italian bar my expectations didn’t appear from thin air, they came from what friends said and previous Italian bar experiences I shared with them. The manner in which I enjoy coffee can’t be divorced from sharing a cortado with my father. When I drink coffee I am always introducing my dad to Abraco or sitting in Sweet Leaf.
Sometimes this is for the best. Sometimes when I feel completely overwhelmed about being abroad it’s a relief to be able to enjoy a moment in which I can feel my parents, friends and culture with me. There are other times, however, when it’s a burden. When these choices sneak up on me it’s a delight, when they’re planned, they go awry. As much as I might try to make it myself, nothing will truly equal Indian take out. It can be good, it can be better, it can be worse, but it will never be spooned out of a plastic container on the table that my parents have had for twenty plus years.
As I write more about food and coffee, these thoughts about meals, culture and love increasingly float around my mind. Food isn’t just a taste, but a moment and an experience. When I ate that nutella crepe in Bristol it wasn’t only because I wanted a nutella crepe, it was because the atmosphere of the day moved me towards it. Eating that eggy pancake reminded me of the time my friends and I tried to make crepes ourselves. We may not have been successful, but at least we had nutella to balance out our disappointment. Nutella will always, always, remind me of one of my closest friends from my trip to Italy in 2009. We bought little glass jars of nutella together, tried nutella tarts, nutella gelato. It was our thing and, in some ways, it connects us still.
So when I eat my greek yogurt today, I’m not just choosing to eat greek yogurt. I’m choosing to eat a food that I first fell in love with in England when I was sick of the muller corner yogurts they offered in halls. No matter what happens, I can never eat alone. I’ve met too many people and shared too many joyous experiences with them to ever not have them by my side.
And with that, I’m going to try to make a quintessentially American fall dessert in Italy. Any suggestions?
What is one food that specifically reminds you of home?