In Ratatouille, the Pixar-movie about a rat who becomes a top chef in Paris, an acclaimed food critic enters the restaurant. The staff are nervous – he is known for his harsh criticism. His appearance is no less scary – his body language and facial expressions make sure that people stay away. Conversation is limited to the necessary. But when he tries the ratatouille, he suddenly starts to smile. He is taken back to his childhood when his mother made ratatouille for him. This is it – the chef has convinced him.
We all have that one dish – or maybe a few more – bringing back happy memories. When I eat my mum’s spaghettini salad, I know it is the height of summer and we are all enjoying it in the garden. The lasagna at home will always be my favourite, the same holds true for the simple chocolate cake filled with jam which we ended up calling “protein cake”. Most of these dishes are not complicated at all. For a fine dining experience, they would be too simple. But I think making something simple delicious is an art.
Food trends come and go. And with social media they do that even faster. Every time, I browse online or open a food-related magazine, I spot a new ingredient which “we can’t live without”, promising eternal youth and the likes. The name “protein cake” actually is a mockery of these food trends. When egg white omelettes became the newest trend, we just said that this cake made with egg whites only must be the healthiest cake in the world. (Note to myself: there is no healthy cake.)
Similarly, local dishes I tried during my travels never tasted the same when I tried them in another country. Maybe the excitement of travelling and trying something new, the adventure contribute to the taste. I miss the spicy pork buns from Sichuan Citizen, a restaurant in Donghu Lu, Shanghai, the most amazing ice cream at Ciampini in Rome or Pee Mee’s green curry in Bangkok. All these dishes stand for fond memories.
As you may have read in my previous postcards, I am no goddess of the kitchen. I love to eat and I really enjoy good food, but I just do not put enough love and passion into the food I cook. I do cook for social reasons, if somebody cooks with me. I also enjoy baking. But I am just not a passionate cook at all. I am happy with my role as an “eating only” participant in the kitchen.
My mother, on the contrary, is an amazing cook. She tries new things and her dishes always turn out really well. She loves to cook – she calls it her way of meditating. And this is the important thing: the love you put into food makes the difference. This ingredient makes the dishes we remember and cherish when we are far away from home.
I mostly crave one dish when I am abroad. It is not the latest fine dining meal I had. It is not even a dish from a restaurant. Moreover, it is not anything using the latest trendy ingredients. My craving is something extremely simple. You will laugh, it is actually some kind of baby food: Griesskoch. Griesskoch is made from grits cooked with milk and sugar. It is then poured into a bowl where a piece of dark chocolate was placed. Grieskoch for me takes me where the ratatouille took the food critic. My mum used to make this for my brother and me when we felt sick. Later on, we asked for it as a treat. Even though it is such a simple dish, it is difficult to make it taste right.
While I am writing this, I already know what I will have for dinner. Let me check if we have some grits at home.
What is the dish bringing back your most beautiful memories? Can you share it with me?