About 7 years ago, a restauranteur I worked for asked me what meals had changed my life.
“Erm…I’m not sure?” I replied, desperately scrambling through the filing cabinet of food memories I had stored in my brain.
“Then you’re not looking in the right places.” He concluded.
Admittedly, food has always played a huge part in my life; it’s been my nemesis, my comfort; it is how I show love, it is how I bookmark memories of place and people. Ask me about my holiday to Cyprus in 2004 and I’ll tell you how my family and I ordered baklava in every restaurant we ate in, to define a definitive ranking of best to worst baklava’s in the town of Paphos*.
*It was also the holiday where a boy first kissed me – and I spent the entire time convinced he’d wedge out and inhale the piece of pitta bread I had stuck in my braces.
Since then, I have begun to benchmark meals which have sparked enlightenment; creating a mental catalogue of foods which have ignited joy – which sounds terribly dramatic; but I truly believe that certain dishes, like people, can have an everlasting effect on you. For example; I would never waste calories on a forgetful meal – or a meal that did not nourish me in some way – just like I will never invest my time in someone that does not comprehend deadpan sarcasm.
It may seem somewhat ambitious to write about the dishes which have changed my life, at the lamb-like age of 29; this is precisely why I have concluded the title with “…thus far” – because I have surely not met all of the dishes which will have an everlasting effect on me, and also because I love the word “thus”; say it with me! “Thusssss”.
- Spaghetti alle Vongole
Ordered in Cassis, overlooking the fishing boats. Glass of chilled Rosé in one hand, a forkful of tangled spaghetti in another. Freshly caught clams, woven between the noodles, gently kissed by crushed garlic, churned in copious glugs of olive oil, and a scattering of chilli flakes.
No one spoke English, the service was borderline rude (which I kind of loved), and I had a great tan. It was surreal, it was sumptuous and I felt a world away from rainy home. It was where I first realised the most delicious platefuls are often the simplest.
I was, as it were, happy as a clam.
2. Mum’s Chicken Lasagne
I don’t believe there is much that Jan’s chicken lasagne cannot cure.
I request it on every birthday / special occasion / when I feel as though I deserve extra attention (every-single-day). However Jan doesn’t just layer up this chicken, mushroom and spinach surprise for nothing – it has to be earned which means it is normally only sanctioned for the anniversary of my birth.
It is a sizeable trough of pure golden joy. Paired best with homemade chips and coleslaw. It sometimes makes me want to weep, it is so good – but I swallow the emotion in favour of asking my family what their favourite form of potato is, and who their dream dinner guests are for the 29th year running, just to delight in the sound of their groans.
3. Foie Gras
I was 26 and in Paris with a boy I was dating. We were drunk and stumbled upon a restaurant which had been plunged in darkness (not paying your electricity bill is trendy in Pigalle).
We ate oysters and foie gras. Now, I know what you’re thinking – foie gras is horrifically unethical, but I would trade my morals again and again for just one more taste of that ridiculously smooth taste of unadulterated jouissance.
If you get the chance to – please order the foie gras, but only in France, where I truly believe they inject pleasure (alongside lard) into the goose’s liver – all for your own satisfaction.
I know, I know, I’m a bad person – but do it and pretend you didn’t if it will help you sleep at night.
4. Burrata and Sourdough
The soft tear of house-baked sourdough, the creamy oozes of penetrated* burrata, the grit-like crunch of sea salt against the soothing white tidal wave I piled on the doughy vehicle.
Full first to last bite experience here.
*Not a good enough reason to use the word penetrated.
5. Carbonara Eggs at Alty Market
Waking up early on a Spring-like Saturday morning, purchasing the Guardian from the newsagent (yes, you have to be a wanker from beginning to end for this full sensory experience). Driving to Altrincham Market, setting up camp at a table outside because the elite of Altrincham mums with their matching Toni and Guy blow-dries have already taken up the entirety of the indoors (not bitter, not bitter, not bitter).
Soy milk cappuccino and a regular flat white ordered (wanker till the end), pages of the Guardian spread out on the table as though you’re proofing the area for arts and crafts. Picking out choice passages to read to each other; devouring your breakfast orders when they arrive – not uttering one word to each other, because the combination of eggs, with pancetta, pepper and hard cheese, piled on bread is almost too wonderful to comprehend.
The above are just 5 supremely comforting, albeit life-changing meals which conjure a smile on my face whenever I relive them.
I would gobble up each adventure again twice over if I could, but there are far too many to discover in the future to reserve myself only to ones I have already tasted.
I devote my last sentence to this piece of bread…which wasn’t really enough to devote an entire paragraph to, but would still carve it out and live in it if I could: