Dish of the Day: Food connections – the memories attached to what we eat

Dan Doherty
eggs 300x236 Dish of the Day: Food connections   the memories attached to what we eat

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Food and drink has the amazing ability to bring back memories and feelings that maybe you never knew existed. Many people have studied how the brain can paint a picture through the smell of coffee, for example, better than any artist could, and plenty of people have written about it, too.

Nigel Slater wrote a brilliant piece back in 2006, where he says “You could tell the story of my life in ice cream. The shock of the frozen milk hitting my front teeth, the exquisite numbness at the back of the throat … “But what I have been thinking about this week is, how these connections, through smell, taste, even touch to some extent, can have the opposite effect on your emotion, define your opinion on something, make you bias, or even taint your judgement of someone. Seems harsh, but, subconsciously, I think we all do it.

This Monday, walking past a coffee shop, smelling freshly ground coffee beans, I was snapped back to 1990, I was six years old. My mum would do the weekly shop on a Friday night, without fail, where we would buy everything from the supermarket (yes, I know, as a chef I should be reminiscing about my childhood on the farm, peeling heritage carrots and gutting hares, but that wasn’t the reality) but there was always one thing that she would insist on buying separate, and that was coffee.

We’d go on a Saturday morning to a little coffee roasters, and that smell, my god, it was so dreamy. Like many families, mine wasn’t perfect, and, at 13 my parents split up. I’ve no idea why, but we never bought coffee from there again, and, now when I smell those toasty aromas, it’s not happy thoughts I get, but, sad ones. It’s like anything I guess, as soon as a connection is forged, it can start as a happy one, then if things turn out bad, becomes a sad one.

What about if there’s a smell that directly connects to a bad thought or memory, like burning toast. I’m useless at making toast, it’s pathetic I know. But the smell of burning gives me heart palpitations. Even if I’m at home, the sheer fear of something smoking enough to set off a fire alarm at work, causing an evacuation of the whole tower, is unbearable. As soon as I smell it, that’s the connection my brain makes, walking down the fire escape with thousands of people, into the cold.

Then there are people that don’t like a certain food, but that happens to be your ‘happy’ food. Still like them? You should, but there will always be that little voice inside saying ‘how can you not like eggs and soldiers? Yes, that’s my happy dish, what I had when I was a kid if I was ill, or now, if I’m hung-over, tired or stressed, give me a couple of five-minute eggs and toast (done by someone else, of course) dripping with butter, and I’m healed.

Some of the connections can be deeply emotional, others just cause a little chuckle but either way I find them fascinating.

@DanDoherty_ and

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  • Howard49

    Sorry old boy. A chap named Proust got there ahead of you. :-)

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