Can you recall the first restaurant you went to? Probably with the family. Maybe for a special occasion … a birthday or taking Grandma out? Can you recall the dishes and the aromas?
The first restaurant I remember as a kid, was the Lyons Corner House in Cheltenham in the UK. I guess I was about 6 or 7. I recall the smell of freshly baked fruit buns. And coffee.
My parents ate out quite a lot. I remember going out for “Chicken in a Basket” – very fancy back in the ‘60s! We travelled through Europe regularly and I also look back on a meal in Provence in France, in a fancy restaurant, sitting under the vines with crickets in cages chirping away.
Another distinct memory was a time we were in the picturesque courtyard of a Tuscan villa, surrounded by olive trees, during a fierce storm, huddled under a leaking market umbrella. The food was sensational – Taglierini al Tartufo – a small basket made of baked bread dough, filled with perfectly cooked pasta tossed in a little butter and served with a generous amount of white truffle. The flavour was earthy yet ethereal, the butter bringing out the flavour of the fresh truffles.
The human senses of taste and smell can transport us back in time. Through food, you can hear the laughter and squabbling as a child. You can see places in your mind that you have not been to for some time. Food plays a powerful role in our memories. The taste, smell, and texture of food can be extraordinarily evocative, bringing back memories – not just of eating food itself but also of place and setting.
Nostalgic smells, especially those associated with childhood can take us back as smell and emotion are linked. Your mother’s perfume, grandma’s apple pie, dad’s whisky, even the cat’s fish can trigger feelings. Smell can recall emotions and memories, and often the recall of a smell is stronger than the visual memory – we “smell the memory first”!
And with the COVID pandemic restricting travel, we long for some of those good times from the past. In times of stress and uncertainty, we seek comfort foods and traditional, old-fashioned dishes. “Comfort foods” are foods that make us feel safe, warm and protected. They are simple, uncomplicated meals that relieve stress and remind us of our childhood or time spent with parents, grandparents and other special people. Their flavours bring back memories and emotions of good times past. In recent years, our palates have become more international and discerning so that some simple foods have been lost in time. But “memory” foods transcend time and deserve to be revisited.
What smells bring back memories for you? And what restaurants do you look back at fondly?
By Jeremy Ryland
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash