Food and Memory

Inspiration: Best Food Writing 2010, Ed. Holly Hughes. Essay: “Time to Respect the Ramen,” by Kevin Pang.

“Ramen was the first food I learned to cook at age 10—drop noodle brick in boiling water, empty sodium packet—and here it was, in the middle of Tokyo’s Shinagawa neighborhood, a dish redefined.”

What I love here is the redefinition of a childhood favorite, a food that you thought you knew, that gets re-presented to you in your adulthood, in an entirely different setting. The past and present colliding. The image of a ten-year-old self, barely seeing over his pot on the stove, waiting to see the bubbles roil, before dropping the brick of ramen in. And twenty or so years later, standing in the midst of a Tokyo salaryman crowd. Close your eyes and you can almost block it out. Creating food memories. Food and the evocation of memory.

I talked to Mommy about how interesting it is, that food brings us back to our childhood, that so many chefs want to eat for their last meal what they ate as a child. Maybe because their moms would be dead by the time they had their own last meals, and it’s one of those impossible fantasies that we, as humans, like to surround ourselves with.

Or maybe it’s because we’re still closer to a primal state, as a child. We’re still attuned to our basic needs: when we want to be picked up, when we want to eat, when we need to poop. We eat what our moms make us, and it comforts us because she comforts us. She’s the source of nourishment early on, when we drink her milk. Food, love, and comfort are connected early on – the breastfeeding baby who seeks nourishment, closeness, a place to rest. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when we turn to food memories, the food that evokes the most comfort is the food that’s closest to this time, the images and smells burned into our early brains, when we were the center of our mother’s world, and she was the center of ours.

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