The song-like foods that transport us
What were the lilac nut bars called, do you remember? As an Aussie child of the 70s, I’m trying to work out what they could have been...
Love this article. I have to say though, that there is one book in my life that has the power to transport me back and that is an obscure little number called “Only Forward”. No book in my life has had such a powerful emotional effect on me as that one.
I lived in Cape Town for over a decade and have been back in California now for about the same. I was literally telling my husband today how sad it makes me sometimes that I can't just pick up some cheap samosas at every shop. Also discovered your books at the Cape Town public library so it was a great place to live for lots of reasons.
Bubble and squeak, fried. Sends me back to Saturday night teatime. And overly dilute orange squash because my dad was really stingy and made it weak to get the value out of the bottle.
Although the samosa is the most wonderful eating experience known to humankind, the thing that takes me _right back in time is elderflower cordial, especially if it’s fizzy. (Ie elderflower pop (lemonade)).
Back in Germany from 1964 until 1970 I lived with my grandmother. She had an enormous garden with every kind of fruit trees, vegetables including potatoes.. all grown pesticide free. So in autumn she would harvest the potatoes, fire up the old wood stove in the cellar and make potato cakes or what some call hash browns but MUCH better. They were fried in lard (my arteries are clogging while I’m writing) and served with mashed apples. Some say apple sauce but it was more like a compote. Neighbours were lining up with their plates.
I’ve tried to replicate the recipe here, have even found lard in the supermarket however, the finished product, although delicious to me hasn’t found any following and I haven’t made them in years.
I feel a trip to the supermarket is on the card’s for tomorrow 😊
I didn't discover samosas until a little later, early 80s.
Before that, my food of choice, always late nights after a gig in or near Bradford, was the very basic curry that you used to be able to buy for a pound, including three free chapattis; they didn't sell rice, no-one did back then. It very much hurts me that these days they want up to two quid each for a simple piece of flat bread.
Keema Madras was, & still is if I can ever find a decent one, my single favourite food. Basic, tongue-numbingly hot. No airs, no graces. Food of the gods. For some reason if you ask for one in London you generally just get blank stares. I once got "Oooh, that could be interesting" & they had a go. It was close but no cigar. You also have to specifically ask for it hotter than they would normally do it. Curries have got much milder over the years.
This would be supplemented, for an extra 50p, with a shami kebab; not the soft squishy type subtly dipped in egg, these were a more heavy industrial version, a bit like a deep-fried burger. Served on large slices of raw onion & a splash of 'mint sauce' [thin yoghurt with supermarket jarred mint sauce, as in the stuff you put on lamb for Sunday dinner, with a dash of generic curry powder & cayenne.]
Complete the image with a brightly-lit, white-painted cafe, formica tables & a young lad, fourteen or so, who ran the whole front of house; taking the orders from a raised booth in the corner so he looked as tall as everyone else when behind the counter - a bit like Danny DeVito in Taxi - then dashing round, spinning plain white pyrex dishes towards you at some speed over the shiny formica surface, without spilling a drop. Food was served as it was ready, not when you wanted it, so your main would always show up halfway through your shami starter, crowding the table to bursting. Dig in, lads.
Cutlery was, of course, your three chappatis. They had one spoon behind the counter which would be ceremoniously presented, to peals of laughter, should anyone be foolish enough to ask for cutlery.
As a truly complete memory, it's hard to recreate. I can make the Keema Madras myself these days. It's also close but no cigar. I can make my own chappatis, again imperfect. The shami kebabs, I've not a clue how they did it.
I can, though, nail the mint sauce.
I have never tried Samsa. Here you don't easily find other people's food (it's not sold everywhere, on street corners). Now I will find it', which means that my good moment of excellent enjoyment is yet to come. Instead, I have another great experience to tell. As a child, I didn't like eggplants. They seemed to me useless food, chewy, clunky, tasteless. Until I moved to Italy. Here I met the recipe "Eggplant Parmesan". Now I love them.
P.S. “….At the end of an afternoon on the beach, however, my father would walk my sister and I out of the whites-only section and into the others, often chatting to random people he met along the way. He’d finish by taking us to a stall in the Indian section where you could buy samosas, and we’d stand and eat them there and then.“….bello…..
Michael, I love this.
For me it's root beer flavored candies. A store in our little town carried candy canes, those variously flavored rods of sugar, and I would always get root beer flavor. Recently I was in a grocery store and spotted root beer barrels, little nuggets of the same stuff, and bought them to the astonishment and consternation of my wife. Yup, I was instantly a kid again.
Here in the states I keep an eye out for punjabi samosas, but never find them. They are everywhere in UAE, and I ate them constantly there. I miss them terribly.
A group of us were at a cooking class and the taste of the cheesecake instantly transported me back to being a kid and my granny’s Dutch apple pie. The flavour profile was the same and it was the first time I have had anything close to that in 50 years.
Yum. All I got.
Your samosa story brought back a torrent of memories for me. As a lifelong anti-apartheid activist, I visited South Africa for the first time in 1991 at the invitation of the ANC to attend its first "legal" Congress since it was banned in 1960. I, a very white Englishman, was with my African-American law partner. He would have been barred from even entering the hotel the year before. We couldn't afford separate rooms and wound up sharing a double bed at the Maharani Hotel on Durban's beachfront.
A host of ANC activists thronged the rooms, restaurants and bars. Many had just emerged from fighting the almost-over guerrilla war against the vicious regime which still ran South Africa, even if they didn't control it.
I can almost taste the freshness of the spices and see the shining copper bowls in my mind's eye. And I can still see the confused attempts at smiles on the faces of the upper class whites who had booked their rooms at the Maharani so they could bet on the horses at the nearby racecourse. I can never read the word race-course without thinking of those remarkable Durban days.
How much has changed and how much has failed to change since those heady days but my love of samosas is as strong as ever.
“Prepared by others” does seem to be key. I can make chicken and dumplings just like my mom, using the same recipe from her red-checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. I can make my Bavarian grandma’s apfel maultaschen, using the recipe she typed out on an index card. But food just doesn’t taste the same when I make it, even though my family think it tastes the same. The smell of food, however, transports me regardless of how it tastes. And that’s good, because a lot of the foods I grew up eating, I wouldn't choose to eat again.
HAHAHAHA. Need the money and time off work, but it's definitely happening. If I get a home source of samosas, we'll have to mail you some.
In keeping with the yummy parcels of goodness theme: when I was a very young girl, the only cuisine my parents ordered in other than fish and chips was Chinese food. So for me it's pancake rolls: those huge parcels stuffed to bursting with distinctively seasoned beansprouts, shrimp and BBQ pork that I've only ever found in British Chinese takeaways. My Mum used to order one and split it between the four of us so we'd have to fight over which of us would get one of the coveted end pieces. One of those with some Chinese curry sauce is always the very first thing I want to eat on a trip back to the UK, and when I do it transports me back to those family Sunday takeouts of yore (that I now realise only happened when my mum was too tired to cook a roast dinner).