04 July 2007

Nostalgia of Food

Ponder well this point: the pleasant hours of our life are all connected by a more or less tangible link, with some memory of the table. Charles Pierre Monselet (1825-1888)

Food has the ability to invoke memories and strong emotions. And one emotion it invokes is homesickness. Any expat can tell you that. Indeed, when you ask an expat what they miss most, the food from their home country is usually listed prominently.

I remember when I lived in Ireland as a student in the early 1990's that midway through the year I got an insatiable craving for Kentucky Fried Chicken. What made this so odd is that in the United States I rarely ate the stuff. It's really not very good. And yet I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Within a week of returning to the United States I was at the local KFC. I took a couple of bites and couldn't figure out why I had craved it so much. I have not eaten it since then.

Although GLH and I love living in Zürich, lately I have been struggling with some homesickness. It isn't always present, but when it is I feel somewhat paralyzed by it. So I force myself to do something and work through it.

Yesterday afternoon I went to the weekly farmer's market at the Haubtbahnhof. As I passed one of the stalls, I happened to catch something out of the corner of my eye. Not believing what I was seeing, I stopped for a closer look.

There, nestled amongst the very European baked goodies, was a small and unassuming square of chocolate. And it wasn't labelled braunli or brauner or something equally Germanic. No indeed, it had a small sign that stated in clearly American spelling that it was a brownie.

Immediately I started to salivate.

Which is strange, because in the United States I could go for months without wanting a brownie. And I have made brownies myself on perhaps 2 or 3 occasions in my entire life. And yet, just looking at it sitting there created a wave of homesickness so powerful I nearly began to cry.

But I hesitated. Anyone who has ever tried Mexican food in Europe knows that just because it looks like the real thing doesn't mean that it will come anywhere close when tasted. Usually it is a huge disappointment.

But I decided to risk it. I stepped up to the counter, handed over CHF 2,20 for a rather small square and took a bite.

It was not a disappointment!

While perhaps not the best brownie I have ever had (for that you really need the boxed mix from Duncan Hines), it was indeed an authentic brownie.

I quickly whipped out my camera and took a picture...

And then I devoured it.

Ahh. Such chocolately goodness.


rswb said...

"Charles Pierre Monselet (1825-1188)"?


Global Librarian said...

Opps! Typo.

Impossible Jane said...

I don't think the longing of food from home ever goes away. B.F. still longs for food from home after 13 years. Sometimes we are able to find it here in the states at a very costly price but to him it's worth every penny. He also gets this Tourrets-like rage at the yogurt isle every time we visit the grocery store because Americans just don't appreciate good yogurt (not true really but he thinks so). *sigh*

GLD said...

Sooooo, your telling me that on our next trip to the hostel on the hill we're to pack Duncan Hines Brownie Mix? Is that what your trying to really say. You really need to come out a ask I'm not good at hints or don't you remember!!

Global Librarian said...

Dad, are you hinting you'd like another European vacation?

Un-Swiss Miss said...

If you do get desperate, the next time you swing by Basel stop by at the nice Rewe over in Germany. It stocks random American food in its international section, including marshmallow fluff, BBQ sauce, and brownie mix. I'm pretty sure it's Duncan, too!

Marcy said...

lol, I've totally had food on the brain lately, too, particularly KFC and even McDonald's, which I would never touch back home.

The homesickness comes in at strange times. I've paid chf$12 here for Glamour just b/c of that sudden urge to read something in English, that comes from home.

Expat Traveler said...

I guess we always long for foods we can't get ahold of.. I enjoyed real mexican food this past week in California because well I just can't get the stuff I want here in Vancouver...

And yes - that brownie does look wonderful...

I'll offer sending brownie mix to you for some fennel tea & Marzipan chocolate from Migros!

Anonymous said...

Mexican!!! I'm pregnant and constantly craving Mexican food -- real Mexican food like back home in North Carolina made by real Mexicans. But how do you explain to the French that Mexican food is not supposed to be refined! but just simple and delicious and greasy! Oh well...I'll just have to make do with my home made fajitas with tempeh (because on top of craving Mexican -- I'm vegan!) Yeah, I know.... a vegan in France .... impossible. It's even a huge reason why we are now deciding to expatriate ourselves to the states. Here it's impossible to have our children take their own lunch box to school. They'll be forced to eat like good little frenchies: meat, dairy products, meat, more dairy products. So yeah, nostalgia of food: I hear you! And it's so powerful that it's a major factor in life-changing decisions.

Nantes, France