Much like certain smells and specific songs, food is laden with emotion and memories of a particular moment in time.
Speak to an Italian chef and they will most likely tell you about spending time in their grandmother’s kitchen, watching her roll out sheets of pasta. Jan Hendrik, the first South African Michelin star chef, owner of the restaurant ‘Jan’ in Nice, tells of how both his grandmothers with their own unique style of cooking, influenced him. He draws inspiration from traditional dishes and turns them into something magical that his European customers can identify with and enjoy. It is a story we hear time and time again with most chefs - how their childhood memories influence their cooking.
Most of us have a favourite food and a dish that no one can make as well as our own mother - A meal, that may be simple, yet lingers in our memory and conjures up a feeling of joy and being nurtured. I think it is this feeling we hold on to and try to recreate. A good meal is like a warm hug, a comforting embrace. It makes you feel safe. When I think about food that I associate with my mother and childhood, it is actually the simple things that come to mind first. I think of scrambled egg, not too soft, cooked with butter and egg-in-a-cup - a dish of soft boiled egg, mashed with butter, white bread and salt and pepper, that was served in a mug to us in bed, whenever my brother or I were ill. Even today when I am not well, I will crave that comforting meal. I also think about my mother’s spaghetti bolognaise, the only meat dish I would really eat and enjoy as a child, along with her pork stuffing loaf and Christmas biscuits we would always bake together at Christmas time.
I have been thinking a lot about my food memories. One that stands out is the memory of driving along with my brother in the backseat of my mother’s old car. I can picture the turquoise body of the car clearly in my mind and even recall the smell of the brown leather seats. I remember how my mother would quickly stop off at a small, local supermarket on our way home and run in to buy herself a Samosa. It felt slightly indulgent, and even forbidden in a way, although I had no idea why - just the fact that my mom would make such a trip and satisfy her craving for something exotic. It was just one small samosa, yet it felt as if it was some sort of guilty pleasure to me. I would see the little pastry triangle in its white paper packet and get a whiff of something strong and would long to taste it too. We were told it was for adults as it was curry and would burn. The fact that it was forbidden just heightened my desire to bite into it, taste the crunchy exterior and savour the contents slowly, as I had watched my mother do.
Years later I would regularly buy Samosas from my school’s tuck-shop. My tastebuds had adapted to the curry and chili mix and if anything, I found myself addicted.
I cannot walk past a stand at a market or local shop and ignore the samosas, if I see they have been cooked well. It is all in that crispy outer shell. The smell, the taste, even the slight greasiness left on your hand, all brings me back to the turquoise volkswagen, my mother and the unusual triangular treat.