If you’re anything like me, your memories are distinguished by 3 things: the person you were, the people you were with, and what you were eating at the time. Guilt-trips, friendships formed, lessons learned – they all revolve around food. Here are a few of my defining memories told through the food I was eating, and what they mean to me.
1. The Infamous Chipsy King, 2011
Allow me to set the scene: Amsterdam during Ramadan. 19-hour fasts. My dad had just accidentally walked my 9-year-old brother and I straight into the Red Light District and I thought the butt plugs were mini lava lamps. It was close to sunset, nearly time to break our fast, when we walked past the warm, glowing façade of Chipsy King. This sodium-heavy safe space welcomed us in with open arms, and we somehow left with enough chips to feed the Von Trapp family, plus some of the nuns.
Cut to an hour later in our hotel room and myself, my parents and my brother are struggling through mayo-drenched fry after mayo-drenched fry. The last thing we wanted to do during Ramadan was to waste food, but Chipsy King defeated us. With no one to give the rest of the food to and our hotel room reeking of trans fats and guilt, countless chips were disposed of in a dumpster behind our hotel. To this day, Ramadan brings up painful memories of Chipsy King for my family and I. We regret, we pine, but most importantly, we mourn.
2. Bonding Pastries and Chocolate Milk, 2013 – 2015
When we were in school, between the ages of around 15 and 17, one of my best friends and I had a ritual. Every single day, during our break, we would buy a sausage pastry and chocolate milk each and sit and eat them while making each other cry with laughter. We have spent the subsequent 5 years eating kale and drinking peppermint tea in order to counter all that butter and sugar, and I have no regrets. From the scavenging in our bags for loose change if one of us was short of cash, to dusting pastry flakes off our shirts and out of our bras when the bell rang, those fifteen minutes of venting, being vented to and giving really terrible advice were golden. Pastries and flavored milk haven’t been the same since.
3. Pesto Pasta of Nightmares, 2015
I went to university totally unprepared to live by myself for the first time. I could cook two things, neither of them very well. I also wasn’t 100% sure how to use a can opener, a fact I am not proud of. So when one of my flat-mates taught me how to make a decent enough pesto pasta, I was on board. The pasta just needed to be boiled, the sauce came out of a jar, and there was no limit on the amount of cheese you could add.
So, I made the pasta. Daily. For weeks, and then for months. Until, what do you know, my entire first term came to an end and I had survived it on toast and pesto pasta. You’ll be unsurprised to know that when I went back after Christmas, something had changed. The smell of pesto made me shudder. The taste made me gag. I haven’t eaten pesto since. Sometimes food teaches you lessons that people can’t, and pesto pasta taught me that I needed to grow up.
4. Day Old Carrot Cake, 2018
For years, I have been eating the same slice of carrot cake from the same cafe in Colombo. It’s the best I’ve ever had, so I thought it fitting to order a whole one as my 21st birthday cake. I wanted it freshly made, presented to me not with two candles in the shape of a ‘2’ and a ‘1’, but with 21 individual candles for maximum effect.
I took a giant bite of that cake with the smug confidence of a mixed-race kid at an international school in Colombo. So imagine my horror when it tasted nothing like it usually did. I nearly had a full-blown meltdown; my birthday was ruined (dramatic, I know, but if you’ve read this far you understand that this ties in well with who I am as a person). I didn’t even finish the slice until the next day when I thought I’d give it a second chance. Turns out the icing only tastes right 24 hours after it’s made. The lesson here? Sometimes you just have to let things sit a while.
From the chips that got away to my messy break-up with basil, I have a million meal-based memories behind me. I highly recommend that you make some of your own.