“What keeps me motivated is not the food itself but all the bonds and memories the food represents.”
– Michael Chiarello
Memories of my childhood seem to revolve around family food fests. Aside from Thanksgiving, Christmas, 4th of July and Memorial Day, there were camping trips, visits to the lake, jeep club races and trail running events all which produced some of the most amazing and lasting impressions of my youth. All of these recollections can be quickly brought to the front of my mind by the simple smell of a turkey, hamburger, hot dog or fruit salad.
“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”
― Calvin Trillin
During my childhood I didn’t know this, but in retrospect it’s very obvious. My mother wasn’t the best cook in the world. She did ok and it wasn’t terrible. As a matter of fact my recollections of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and a vegetable still make my mouth water. However, I remember even more distinctly many meals my mother prepared each week that were simply named goulash. Goulash was in fact, every container of leftover food in the fridge combined in one large pan and heated up. Sometimes it worked out fine and sometimes it REALLY didn’t.
Aside from goulash, the other thing my mother loved to experiment with was odd foods. When I say odd foods, I am saying foods that other parents in our neighborhood would not have dreamed of using. I remember an entire octopus sitting in our freezer for months before my mom felt confident enough to attempt to cook it. I like to call that one an epic fail. There was cow tongue which she over-salted causing extreme thirst when eaten. Still can’t eat it. As a child her sweet potatoes were one of my favorite “every holiday” foods. As an adult I realize that I loved them only because they were covered with a 2 inch layer of marshmallows.
Now before anyone starts thinking I am only complaining about my mom’s food and cooking I want to say I’m not. As a matter of fact, if it were not for my mom’s verve for food experimentation and her demand that we finish EVERYTHING on our plate, no matter WHAT was on our plate, I probably never would have taken some of the craziest cooking classes or tried some of the foods I have tried as an adult.
“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird
My overall point is that the making and eating of foods create memories. There isn’t a food out there that I cannot trail back to a certain very specific time, person or place in my life. So here’s to my fondest memories of food exploration. Here’s to the foods I will never, ever forget.
During my time in Guam I worked with many Philippinos who would host barbeques every day they were not working. Between pig roasts with Guamanians and Phillippino bbq’s I was able to enjoy a variety of “chomorro” cooking styles that included whole pig roasts (lechón)
fresh or fried spring rolls (lumpia)
Balut and Spam.
|Spam is a meat product that is not usually considered a primary meat source on most American’s menu. In places like Guam, Hawaii and the Phillipines, it is used in many main dishes. Overall, it wasn’t bad. You can use spam in everything and it’s relatively cheap. You can fry it, blend it with other foods and can even make simple spam sandwiches with it.
|Balut is a fertilized duck egg. It was the most terrible experience for me. Admittedly I was dared to eat it and did not consume it in a traditional manner. I didn’t season it or eat it with any sauce. I simply shoved it in my mouth, tried to chew it and ended up chasing it with the closest beer. All I really remember is needing to fish out of my mouth bits of beak, feather and claw. I also remember feeling quite ill for the next couple of days. I’m convinced it was psychological, but I do not see me giving it another try.
|Cambodia, Colombia, Thailand, China, Australia
Through these countries I have tried all kinds of foods ranging from snakes, crickets, frogs, spiders, kangaroo and crocodile to arepas, amok
, Khmer rice porridge
, Ajiaco soup
street foods and a few unknown meats. I’ve even taken a variety of cooking classes in Cambodia, Thailand and Venezuela in order to try to preserve some of my favorite food memories. In these classes we were taught to shop for the freshest meats and veggies and how to dice and slice, puree, and blend the ingredients to create the best texture and flavor in all of your dishes. More importantly, we were shown how to enjoy the food you are eating with the people you are near.
I have saved my favorite for last….
While in Korea I was exposed to many different foods. It was possibly my favorite place to eat. Korean dishes are focused around rice, meat and vegetables. I loved everything about Korean food from how it was prepared to how eating it became a group event. Korean bbq’s usually involve choosing the meat yourself, cooking it at your table and eating it in a fresh lettuce or sesame leaf. Tteokguk
(soup) is also often prepared at your table with all the ingredients fresh at your disposal. I loved Kimchi
from my first bite but with my daughter it took a little longer. Aside from Kimchi my 2nd favorite dish was Bibimbop
. This is a mixed dish of rice, vegetables and meat cooked in a stone bowl and often topped with a raw egg. We used metal chopsticks in Korea just like we use metal silverware in the U.S. Aside from childhood memories, these dishes and experiences were really by far my favorite food memories.
Sadly, the re-creation of all of these events are never as good as the original largely because the foods were location and people specific. This will not stop me from trying to recreate them and that plan alone will ensure that I will have many more food explorations ahead of me.