Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Food from Home

I’ve had a number of different homes in my life and on occasion I’ve been homesick for all of them. For Texas, for Australia, for England – even for Boston, although since I live here now and don’t travel as much as I used to, the luxury of being homesick for Boston is a hazy memory. These days I only *wish* I could be homesick for Boston.

One of the fastest ways to conjure up and cure homesickness for me is through food. The smell of barbecue, freshly baked cornbread or my family’s chicken pie in the oven can take me right back to Texas. One of my grandmothers was a very good cook. She and my aunt were instinctive cooks who didn’t rely on recipes or measuring cups. I’m not that kind of cook but I like to commune with their spirits while cooking their kind of food – usually pie. They were good at pie, and it turns out, so am I. My other grandmother was not a good cook. But if I have green beans with red potatoes I think of her. Or cheese straws – she liked to bring cheese straws to family get-togethers. Later we would make them for her so she didn’t have to bring them.

The other day I was strangely overcome with a truly rare desire: the urge to eat an Australian sausage roll. I have no idea where this notion came from – I wasn’t even thinking of Melbourne. But suddenly the memory of flaky pastry and sausage was on my tongue and I knew it was completely futile. You can’t get sausage rolls anywhere else but there. Or at least, not the right kind of sausage rolls. I haven’t had one since I left almost 7 years ago. Now that it’s past I have no inclination for sausage rolls; it was just a weird sense-memory that came and went, like a rogue wave.

This weekend I went with friends to the restaurant Wagamama, newly opened in Boston’s Quincy Market. Although Wagamama is a Japanese noodle restaurant, it’s originally from London, and it is for London that I became a little nostalgic while slurping down enough noodles to fill a small suitcase. The first time I went to Wagamama was the summer of 1995. It had just opened around the corner from the British Museum and I went with friends. We stood in line on the hot pavements of Bloomsbury and watched in fascination as a waitress with a hand-held device took the number of our party and our drink orders. WHILE WE WERE STILL ON THE STREET. Remember, in 1995 that was practically Star Trekkian in its future-forward technology. Eventually we schlepped into the restaurant and were seated communally at a long wooden table in a basement with what sounded like 900 other people/geese, but was in fact not quite that many people (no geese). It was just loud. And we ate good food. The Boston version of Wagamama wasn’t quite as loud, and it wasn’t in a basement. But in spite of that, the food was tasty in a similar way, and the waitress came out with her little hand-held device to add us to the list while we waited in line. Just like that first time.

If ever I am asked to give travel advice to friends considering traveling to one of my former homes, that advice always includes a food tour as well as actual places to visit. Visitors to Texas have to try real BBQ, real TexMex, and real southern food, including a catfish basket. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a real catfish basket with really good hushpuppies. Travelers to Australia have to try a little bit of everything, including meat pies, bizarrely-flavored crisps, anything with passionfruit, pavlova, lamingtons, sausage rolls, TimTams, Mint Slices and Violet Crumble. (I advise against trying the Vegemite. Shudder.) And people going to England should visit Wagamama, the food hall at Harrods, try anything chocolate, real pub food and Pimm’s (which is a mixed drink involving cucumbers, but is strangely delicious in spite of that.)

I am exercising superhuman restraint here - I can usually get MUCH more specific and go on at near-infinite length on this topic, but will refrain. I don’t want to get too homesick. Any foods and dishes that send you to another time and place? Recommendations for us non-natives?


Jeana said...

Aack! Just figured out you're not showing up in my feed reader. Did you turn the feed off in your options?

And...did you get the answers you were looking for about all things bloggish?

Daisyface said...

You HAVE to try a chiko roll if you ever come back to Australia. It's a weird tube of meat (allegedly it's meat, it's probably bits of kangaroo and horses, much like meat pies), covered in some kind of batter that has the texture of a flanelette bed sheet and then deep fried. They even come in their own special chiko roll tube-shaped paper bags, which haven't changed in 20 years. Mmmmm. Brings back memories of dinking friends on your bike, chucking laps of the main street and thinking boys who had panel vans were like, so way cool.

Kili @ Live Each Moment said...

I just wanted to say hello, I came to you from your sisters blog! Welcome to blogland.

Frazzled Farm Wife said...

I'm just popping in to say hello too, your sister put in a good word for you! I have to tell you though, after reading your post, I sure am hungry all of a sudden.

FernandoDownUnder said...

Hi! We're currently living in Melbourne and I just loooovvveee sausage rolls. :) I have full intentions of making them for my American friends, when we go back for a visit.