ricotta

by Sabine 

A very hot July in Rome. We had arrived a week earlier, the entire tenth year chaperoned by our trendy young art teacher (who brought along his flamboyant wife) and the much older but immensely shy physics instructor. We messed up from day one, making fun of the sweating tour guide, playing hide and seek behind the ancient columns of the forum, sharing a smoke with the Swiss guard before dashing his hopes of a date, sneaking out of the hotel after midnight and getting into barroom fights. The year was 1975, we were 17 years young. 

I had persuaded my parents to let me stay for a few days longer with a tall tale about being with friends, meeting someone’s parents, while instead, I chatted up the most exciting looking hippies on Piazza Navona and together we walked the narrow streets of Trastevere, hitchhiked to Fregene, slept behind the bushes of the Villa Massimo.

On the morning of my departure, I strolled onto a small market square. I was down to my very last Lira, just enough to buy a small muslin bag of this strange white curd-like stuff, soft and dripping, and a handful of odd shaped tomatoes. The seller took pity on me scraping together my last coins and gave me a large chunk of warm bread and a bag of garlicky olives for free. 

I remember eating this slowly, a treasure, licking my fingers all the way on the night train crossing the Alps into Munich

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.

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.

 

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.

bleu du vercors-sassenage and vedett

by Alex

It’s summer and we are both back in the town we grew up in. Not for long, for both us, but we don’t know that yet. I have finished my masters degree in librarianship and I’m commuting every day into Manchester, working on an cataloguing project: 19th century, private library. I learn a bit of latin, and feel uncultured and povvo compared to the rest of the staff and members of the institution. It’s shit money. I’m not eating a ton. The 40 minute train ride back into Yorkshire in the early evening is hot and stuffy each day and I spend most of it listening hard to music and biting back tears, because my world spun on it’s axis a few months before.

Anyway: it’s summer and we are both back in the town we grew up in. I was leaving town, years before, when we really paid attention to one another. Pretty soon we were glued to one another’s sides, total companions, quietly cheerful. Drinking a lot, arguing some, dancing some. He makes me feel fucking funny. We smoke, watch a lot of films, travel some, have no money. Lovely! I read books and listen to weird italo disco. He runs and listens to weird gabber tracks. It’s nice!

But yes, it’s summer and we are both back in the town we grew up in. I’m getting off the train and know he’s waiting. The air is cooler outside the city and we walk through the park, along the canal up to the fox and goose. It’s a member run, ramshackle old pub. They change the beers on a frequent-ish rotation. It is not trendy. There’s mildew on the walls, but you can sit on the roof and smoke and drink and look out at the dark satanic mills that our town is made up of. He just got back from Nantes, to see our friend Simon. I was supposed to go, too, but we are broken up now.

I always have a bottled beer, a lindeboom or tyskie or vedett. It’s so cheap. He drinks, as he always has, doubly faster than me. I have a vedett, and he pulls out some bleu du vercors-sassenage all wrapped in clingfilm, and a cheese knife. A fuckin cheese knife! I find these moments (there are many) so maddening because I am used to a tinny in the garden, a meat and two veg tea. Dinner is at lunchtime, tea is dinner. 5.30pm. I’m used to it because I know him. It feels comfortable. But I’ve been used to a chippy tea on a friday for longer so it’s still uncomfortable, a little embarrassing, a little jarring. Anyway we aren’t together but still tied together, not quite ready to be nothing to one another. He’s dating someone. We talk about it, our voices spiky. The cheese is delicious. I keep ripping off bits of it. The sun’s going down. We kiss, he walks me to the bus stop. I’m going to London next month.