Croatian supermarket treats

by Lydia

I had come to Croatia alone and, due to a bus mix up, had been on the move for almost 48 hours. I’d found my hostel in Split and almost teasingly kept myself away from the beach, returning to the hostel at least three times to pick up things I had forgotten, a hairbrush, more coins, another book. I went to a chain supermarket marvelling at the cheap deli prices. I purchased a tub of sardines, some cherry tomatoes, fresh bread and after deliberating – a couple of cans of beer. I had just turned twenty five and for some reason drinking by myself still felt like the utmost of luxuries. I sat down on the beach and piled the oily whitebait onto the bread and tipped it into my mouth, then bit into the tomato, the ripe flesh bursting on my face. The saltiness of the fish, the wheat of the bread and the sharp tang of the tomato set against the hot sand and crash of the sea. I’ll never forget it.

Schmaltz

by Matt Mahon

An incomplete list of fats.

The fat that rises to the top of chicken stock, after you’ve skimmed the scum. If no one’s watching, leave it there and drop all the vegetables through it so they bob around coated to a high gloss. If someone objects, the fat is removed from the stock but is snuck back into the soup in the kneidl mixture.

The connective tissue and fat in a shoulder of lamb, rendered to the point that the meat can be pulled from the bone with tongs. My father always says, “The meat can be pulled from the bone with tongs!”

That same lamb fat in the bottom of the tray the next day. If the lamb was rubbed with spices, the congealed fat is grainy and fluorescent yellow, and the gravy is bitter. The hard sheets of fat can be lifted out nearly whole to be thrown away, but there’s always a remainder. Mix in washing up liquid and emulsify it so it doesn’t clog the drain.

The grainy fat in cold lamb sliced the next day, a fat which coats the roof of your mouth like a cheap pastry.

Jellified chicken fat, schmaltz, revealed as you lift the cold chicken carcass out of the pot the next day. Best if still studded with the roast carrots and fennel. Put it in a sandwich with the chicken, roast vegetables and with mayonnaise. The first foie gras was a by-product of the schmaltz industry, as Ashkenazi Jews who didn’t have access to vegetable oils began force-feeding geese to produce more cooking fat.

Other jellified fats: pork pies with enough jelly (hard to find) and piccalilli, beef tongue sliced with gherkins.

Rendered fat, and fat mixed with meat. I’ve inherited a preference for streaky bacon over back. The fat in belly pork. Çöp shish. Crispy fat down the length of tandoori rib chops and pirzola.

Lardo, sliced thin on thin toast and grilled clear, with creamy goat’s cheese added afterwards. I can’t cut it finely enough by hand, and Continental Stores has closed down.

The fat on pork chops. These were not often enjoyed in our house. We didn’t keep kosher, but unadulterated pork was sometimes a step too far. Pork chops were out, but in a nod to the Irish side, boiled bacon ribs were fine (most of the fat to be left behind on the bone), and always eaten with floury potatoes and greens covered in butter.

Butter. Butter in everything. Every recipe begins: fry onions in butter with a bay leaf and salt.

Paris, parsley and pasta

by Sophie

I was in Paris when I received a text from my mum saying my dad was in hospital, again. As an alcoholic these hospital trips were no rarity for my father but the frequency and unsurprising nature of them did not reduce my anxiety. Repeatedly having seizures (in a Tescos car park, in the newsagents around the corner from my house, at home alone and falling down the stairs, breaking his leg and cracking his head open) were the cause but nothing would stop him drinking. When it was announced he might have pneumonia I had a quick google and found myself in a state of panic. 

Distance added to my worry. I normally live about 2 hours away but i wasn’t going home for a few more days and couldn’t afford another flight. I lay in bed waiting for my friend next to me to wake up and once she did spent my day thinking about what we would have for dinner. I find that food is the only remedy when I feel low, I spend hours watching ‘River Cottage,’ and browsing recipe books, but here I had none of my  usual comforts. 

The aim of the trip to Paris was to eat well so when I requested to make dinner my friend eyed me suspiciously. She is normally in charge of the cooking and is very good at it, she’d made steak with garlic greens the night before and it was a tough act to follow. We visited the local Monoprix and after walking around and eyeing up the fish counter, smelling the herbs in the vegetable section and thinking ‘carbs will help me here’ I decided what to make. Tagliatelli with prawns, chorizo, garlic and parsley. Quite a simple dish but it was the best meal I’ve ever made, my friend even quipped ‘I didn’t know you could cook’. I don’t think I will ever be able to make or eat the meal again but I always keep it in mind. 

Tahini and oranges

by Anonymous

I was feeding my baby and, as I often and rather obsessively do, smelling her hands. Whichever hand is free I reach it up to my face and drag it over my mouth and nose. The feel of the soft, sometimes tacky skin combined with the smell not only tells a tale of her eating but is also a powerful tonic for me. Sometimes she is bothered by my doing this and pulls away her hand. Other times, especially if she is falling asleep as she was on this occasion, the hand is all mine. On that morning I smelled tahini and oranges. In that moment those smells were ancient to me: earth, sand, river water, moonbeam, firelight, tree root, blood, tahini, oranges.

That’s quite a kick

by Anonymous

A family holiday in Slovenia when I was about 16 was my first time trying something wasabi flavoured, it was a large bag of wasabi flavoured crisps which I ate entirely on my own, revelling in the spicy kick they had. That night at dinner I thought the soup we were having tasted a bit strange, it didn’t seem to have any flavour. It tasted cold even though I knew it was hot. It took me another course to realise that I’d managed to damage my tastebuds and couldn’t taste a thing. It was 2 days before I was able to taste anything again. Since then I’ve not stopped picking anything wasabi whenever I’m given the chance.

Ming at Mermaid Ave

by Bre Audrey Graham

Sunscreen may be the first thing you smell, but sea salt is the first thing you taste. Standing on the top my balcony, overlooking the ocean you take one big breath in and you’ll taste the sea on the tip of your tongue.

I’ve lived away from my house for most of my life. Our family home sits at the top of a cliff on Mermaid Avenue in a seaside suburb in Sydney. The only way to describe it is that it’s paradise. When I land back home in Australia, I always have the same ritual. After the 24 hour flight from London and after the unfurling of limbs, my Mum takes me home via the slower scenic route.

It’s all about the first look. The glimpses of the ocean that I can catch from the car windows. They start slowly like little flickers of blue between the houses and then just before we turn onto my street, there she is. The ocean, the bay and rock pools I grew up on and all that salty sea air that is waiting to push itself into my polluted London lungs.

Last time I went home, the house was all but empty. With my parents living overseas, half the contents of our home was sitting in a house by the Rhine in Germany. With no drivers license and an aversion to getting on any form of Sydney public transport once it’s over 30 degrees outside, I walked 25 minutes uphill to the fish shop.

The walk was worth it for the brown paper wrapped huge prawns I left with inside a plastic bag filled with ice. Big green tiger prawns, prawns that you don’t see outside the southern hemisphere. As I walked home the ice dripped in the sun, soaking my leather sandals with every step as the heat beat down on me.

This wasn’t just going to be a meal for me. I was cooking for my Ming, my cat. Ming is my mirror in life, my little cat from Singapore that I miss every time I hear a bell ring or a cat purr. Ming has been my baby since I was ten. I was first handed her when she was a three-week-old kitten my mother had found left for dead in a plastic bag at the wet markets in Singapore during the SARS outbreak. I dripped water into her mouth and fed her the best things I could find.

Her fur constantly damp with my teenage tears, she knew about all the bullies and all the boys. And still, now, things feel real again when I can whisper them to her and tell her how I’ve changed in our years apart since I left for London at 18. She’s been there for it all and knows things that no one else has ever heard. The things she has given me, I give back to her in food. A slight cat, her appetite knows no bounds.

A strange cat, my Ming eats anything. From a long line of market dwelling street cats, she happily gnaws her way through plastic bags to get to a roast chicken inside and shreds paper bags to chew the corners of fresh baguettes. At 12 when we left Singapore and moved her to Sydney, I knew how much she missed the humid rain and sleeping under our mango tree and chasing the tropical butterflies that filled the air. So I as a bored and curious child left her out bowls of coconut milk to sip thinking it might remind her of the tropics she was from.

I’ve seen her lick at the lid of a jar of curry paste and we share pancakes and bacon and every Christmas Ming has her own plate of ham, turkey, and stuffing to suffice her dealing with a house full of children for one day. A tiny cat, she eats with curiosity, and a ferocious fear like it’s all about to be taken away. But after watching her lick her paws in the sun, she’s the perfect vision of contentment. I love watching her belly swell before she curls up like a little Russian hat and falls asleep.

So, after not coming home back to Sydney for a year, I knew I had to make Ming something special to make up for it. Chilli and garlic barbecued prawns to be shared with the love of my childhood in the garden of my family home. She sat on top of the kitchen bench watching me while I tossed the prawns in chopped red chili, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil. I heated up the charcoal on the barbecue outside and grilled them till they were charred and blackened.

The chili was strong and hot, and the olive oil dripped through onto the charcoal and hissed. Once done, I squeezed over more lemon and put them on a plate that balanced on my chest while my legs were stretched out on the table in the Sydney sunshine. With Ming sitting next to me, I peeled off each shrimps shell and made her up her own plate of prawn heads, legs, and tails.

My hands looked like I had been digging for diamonds. Ming didn’t care about the shambles of this scene. I ate each prawn one by one, with a sip of very cold white wine between each bite as Ming crunched her way through the plate of shells. Breaking through their brains, licking her lips after eating their little black eyes. She loved the chili, she loved the garlic. At the end when all our prawns were gone, I washed up and Ming and I lay out on the hot tiles and napped in the sun.

All that was left of the scene was an empty wine glass and two ladies sleeping. Both not as young or as foolish as when they first came into each other’s lives, but still the same under the Sydney sun very full with a lifetime of love.

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.

Egg Drop Soup

by Anonymous, London

I was staying with an American family one spring in Connecticut. I was twenty. My host, a woman whose family my mother had au paired for when she was young, was leaving the house for lunch. In order to ensure that I had food to eat she had ordered some simple food from a Chinese restaurant that we went to collect before she delivered me home. I can’t remember if there was anything else to the meal except this – but I remember the egg drop soup, not just for its elegantly self explanatory name. It was a broth with a few scant noodles and silky filaments of egg that must have been dropped and stirred into not quite boiling soup. Every time I have tried to replicate this I have ended up with a cloud of shapeless egg fragments or great hunks of fluffy egg. I think the secret must be to do with the temperature and the way the egg is dropped. It is one of those meals I sometimes think about researching – to find out exactly what it was I ate and how I should make it. It is better left as a mystery, and when I finally manage to replicate the effect of that simple and delightful lunch, it will be all the more satisfying.