Miso Memory

by Hannah Gregory

We would go to the small mall on the corner. First up to the third floor, from the basement carpark to the video rental, then down to the second floor for the restaurant. At the video rental I chose things like Beethoven (I & II), Turner & Hooch, and the Macauley Culkin ones. The chat between them about whether or not she liked or had seen a certain movie or series was more interesting to me than choosing a film for myself, so I earwigged while browsing the video boxes, to their chat which was grown-up, without being dull, maybe even cool. I listened, to find out. Later I would watch the movies in the darkened front room, and was given a dessert pot of Mövenpick or a Häagen Dazs ice on a stick; just me and the two dogs – jet-lagged, alone, and, for now, just fine.

The furnishings of the restaurant were soft pinkish red with dark wood and papery screens dividing the dining booths around the edges of the room. I knew what I wanted right away – I suppose because someone had suggested I have it before – tempura udon soup, with prawns, or maybe just veg: sweet potato slices in crisp shells, lotus root, and something stalky and green; the prawns’ tails fanning out of their coats which fell off into the broth as I ate. Particulates of soybean paste sitting cloudy in the dashi stock, and sharp bright scallions scattered over the top, as I fished for the disintegrating batter with a deep soup spoon.

Digging down into the bowl the fat chewy noodles would stir, slippery noodles that you were allowed to slurp. I learnt this in a different noodle bar where the chefs behind the counter stretched and cut long lengths of elastic dough. I was wondering about the noisy eaters all around me, and he told me that slurping was, in fact, a technique developed to suck up the dripping noodles fast without burning the sides of your mouth. With chopsticks I was already proficient because she had bought me a training pair with rings to put your thumb and two fingers through on my first visit, somehow incredulous that this six year old was not already agile.

The miso with udon was the first I’d tasted and the only one I would know for some time – back in Nottingham in the nineties there weren’t any Japanese restaurants. When I returned to the grey concrete of my school playground during lunch break, I would crave the comforting warmth and saltiness of the broth, and the sweet bite of the prawns – that, or the feeling of being away, alone, and just fine.

 

Tomato Cabbage and Egg Soup

Warmness.
It was after my first ever survival training the the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. I had spent three long days sleeping and training on dirt soaked with water and covered with rotten leaves in a remote forest. It was a typical Canadian winter — heavy rain, cold biting wind, and despair in my heart. I’ve been struggling to stuff freezing MRE into my mouth because food was essential to survival in such a grim environment. My tongue refused to taste yet my stomach screamed in coldness and hunger. Each night I slept with my eyes open in the small tent I built by myself with few sticks I found and a piece of “waterproof” fabric the RCAC provided. The overwhelming Water droplets squeezed into the gaps of the fabric and danced on my face. I’d count each second until 6:15 AM — when the blaring sound of the bugle would wake us up and… another day.

I memorize all these trivial details so vividly partly because of my deteriorating mental state throughout the three days of training. I can clearly recall that on the last night I convinced myself to not die because the next morning I could go home.
I don’t know how to describe the relief I felt when I saw that familiar white SUV parked in front of the doors at the squadron’s headquarter. My dad welcomed me with a smiling face and a warm embrace. I felt grateful looking at the interior of my house — the ceramic lamp was giving off a dim and soft light, the baby blue blanket made by mom covered a corner of the sofa, and my little betta fish named Jayden swam cheerfully in his little home. My dad said to me, “ you must be hungry! Let me make something quick for you.” and hurried to the kitchen. Soon enough, I smelled a mouthwatering aroma from the kitchen — something that’s one hundred times better than MRE…no, maybe two hundred times. My dad came to me with a bowl of steaming tomato cabbage and egg soup, a simple Chinese homemade dish. The red sliced tomatoes and jade green cabbage leaves made a bright contrast. The vegetable soup was embellished with golden fried egg omelette so that it tasted both refreshing and flavourful. The crispiness of the cabbage, the silky egg omelette, and a slight touch of sweet and sour tomatoes danced in harmony. No doubt, it was the perfect dish for me at that particular night — simple yet invigorating. Its warmth not only went down my throat and soothed my empty stomach but also went directly to my heart. It might have been the steam coming out of the soup but by the moment I took the first sip I was immediately misty-eyed.

That bowl of tomato cabbage and egg soup was the most delicious meal I’ve had for really long time, and I think it’s because of its taste of home.

Food: A Privilege, a Routine, a Weapon

by Quentin

Growing up I had two mums: birth-giver and caretaker. While my birth mum came home almost every day, she worked very long hours, and so I spent most of my time with my Indian nanny: Geeta. My mum also spent several years in residency school training for her medical profession and was required to spent many nights away from home. I spent far more time with Geeta than my mother from before I entered kindergarten to the end of my Junior year of high school. I even used to call Geeta “mom” constantly by mistake which would upset my actual mother. Geeta was from India, and had spent most of her life there. As such, Geeta raised me and my siblings with different values and a different set of worldviews involving food. Food may seem like an insignificant factor in your life, but in mine, it has shaped me as a person.

Growing up, we weren’t allowed to throw out food or even speak to one another during meal time. Food is a privilege, not a right is what we were taught. Geeta made my siblings and I eat every crumb of food in silence: just as her dad made her growing up. Focus should be on the food not the conversation. She would always say, “people are sick and dying for food”. We were each expected to consume all the food presented to us on our plates, under threat of being struck by the large wooden spoon I now use to cook pasta at home. When we’d start to chatter or argue during dinner (as children often do) she would grab that spoon or her favorite frying pan and lift it up as if preparing to strike.

Geeta was also a women of pattern. Every day, all those years, we received the exact same meals and meal order without fail. Each exact meal corresponded with a day of the week:

Monday: Stove-cooked steak, microwaved green beans, and sticky, buttery rice with a cup of milk and fruit.

Tuesday: Chicken (sometimes substituted out for awful fish sticks with ketchup), side of pasta and Broccoli with a cup of milk and fruit.

Wednesday: Cannot remember currently.

Thursday (My favorite): Salmon, mixed vegetables, and pasta, with a cup of milk and fruit.

Friday (second favorite): Sliced Hot dog pieces with ketchup, mixed vegetables (from frozen package), and corn, with a cup of milk and fruit.

Food however, wasn’t always my friend. At times, it seemed more of the enemy. Geeta was more traditional in her forms of parenting. She believed children, particularly “stupid boys” needed to be strictly disciplined. One of her signature methods was by using weaponized food she kept in our freezer at all times. I distinctly remember getting into an argument with my brother one afternoon at dinner when we were kids. I cannot recall what the argument was about, however, I remember Geeta shouting and pulling out her bag of ‘Hot Indian chillies’ as she called it. I remember refusing to be silenced and she, as a result, said she would shove the hot peppers into my mouth. I, being the rebellious child that I was, refused to open my mouth. Unfortunately, Geeta always had a solution: she grabbed my nose until I gasped for air, and then squeezed the pepper juice into my mouth. I tried to pretend it wasn’t affecting me, however, I still ended up bursting into tears. To this day I can still hear her telling me, “That’s just the juice”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Geeta very much and I still remain in contact with her. I have many great memories of her teaching me how to cook various Indian dishes such as chickpeas and dal and watching Tom and Jerry with her as she laughed and clapped each time Jerry the mouse injured Tom the cat. The way she raised me has certainly influenced my life. To this day I still set patterns for myself constantly. I think setting routines for myself helps me feel comfortable and safe. I still feel privileged every time I eat, and to be completely honest, I still get ancy whenever I see someone eat chilies or pass them in the supermarket.

Sausages and Carrot Soup

by Anonymous

When I was a child my (generally musical) Mum went through a two decade long early music phase. She, and her friend, had monthly recorder lessons in Nottingham, and I would often be taken along (for childcare more than education.) One month my mum ended up having to cook lunch, in her teacher’s house, for her teacher’s family, and for us (I remember thinking that was a bit weird. I still do.) It was a very big and posh feeling house, and so when mum opened a fridge with nothing in it but sausages and a bag of carrots, I was a bit concerned. We had carrot soup and sausages. I had butter on my sausages. They were great, but I thought I would rather be poor, and have ketchup.

Eating pasta salad on a doorstep in Canada

by Sarah

I remember eating a homemade pasta salad on the back doorstep of a family friend’s house in the country outside Ottawa, Ontario, Canada whilst on holiday in the mid 1990s. I was looking out over their backyard to their barn and stables and the landscape beyond, which felt like one of the biggest open spaces I had ever seen in my life. I ate the salad with a fork straight from the large bowl it had been mixed in and it was delicious. Every now and then the memory of the taste of that salad dressing returns to me and I crave it to distraction, but I have never found it again.

My worst food memory

Anonymous

I grew up in Vienna and the food we got in the Kindergarten I went to, for lunch was dire – it damaged my taste for quite a while. I suppose like all institutional food, the vegetables were totally overcooked and I dreaded the days – usually Thursday or Friday – that we got spinach: it was just totally utterly disgusting mush.

On the other hand, my grandfather Opapa made wonderful Buchteln, and I was fascinated by the bowl of yeasty dough he put on the radiator so it would rise in the heat. As well as actually getting to eat something so lovely, of course.

Quality Street Toffee Finger

Imogen Hermes Gowar, submitted via email

My mum’s great aunt was born around 1900, but in the early 90s – when I was a child – she still lived in her own flat and did a lot of travelling. She had been up in a hot air balloon and had lost a finger falling off a tram, which I thought was very glamorous. She was utterly unpatronising to me: I loved to visit her and thought the marshmallow teacakes she put out were food she always ate and not bought for my benefit. I vaguely knew she had done something humanitarian during the war, but generally I understood her to be a brainy, intrepid woman of great independence.

I’m not sure how old I was when she had the stroke – 7 or 8 – but more followed. Almost overnight she became very deaf and nearly immobile. If she didn’t also have dementia, her other symptoms greatly limited her interaction and understanding; she sat silently in the care home she’d had to move into while my mother bellowed pleasantries at her. What a nice day – lovely flowers – look how tall I’d got. I felt embarrassed and angry on my aunt’s behalf; to me, her situation seemed a terrible indignity. I couldn’t understand why my mother did not seem to see the horribleness of it all.

One day we went to the home, my mum extravagantly upbeat, leading reluctant me into the fug of wee that pervaded everything. Our aunt was expecting us, the staff said, big smiles, she’d be so pleased to see us. My mum knocked on her door, pushed it open, and there she was, slewed over to the side in her chair, in a way that didn’t look right at all.
My mother cried out her name and ran over to her; somebody else whisked me out of the room before I could see anything more. Nurses were saying it was all right, don’t worry, but I was dumb with shock. I thought she must be dead. I was taken into the office and they got out a tub of Quality Street, something nurses always have. I didn’t want one, but I took a Toffee Finger and ate it very slowly and without pleasure, nibbling the chocolate until the toffee was entirely stripped. I didn’t know if my aunt was all right; I didn’t know where my mother was, but that visceral moment she cried my aunt’s name and let go of my hand had betrayed her; she was frightened, deep down. I felt furious with this stale grey building, with everybody going about pretending things were not awful. I could not believe my aunt was being allowed to fade away in this manner.
Now I’m an adult I understand more. That the care home was a good one; that my mother and her great-aunt still cherished their meetings; that people can be stripped of a great many things and love still remains. I’ve no idea whether my aunt was satisfied with her quality of life in those last few years, but I know that my fury was to do with me, not her. I was a little child and I had never seen somebody grow old and infirm, never had to contemplate the prospect of death.
Quality Street still make me feel a bit shuddery, but nowadays I always choose the Toffee Finger on principle. And I think of her without fail, every time.