The taste of nostalgia and memory
I was walking to get Italian food the other day and spent an uncomfortably long time going in the same direction at the same pace as another stranger. It was one of those situations where you pretend you don't notice each other but you each keep slightly speeding up or slowing down to shake the other and question whether or not you should acknowledge each other. Thankfully, he broke the silence.
He asked where I was going and when I told him to get pasta, he laughed and asked if I don't like the food here. I really wanted to say I love it. That I love Indian food as I always have and name the dishes I really enjoy, like dosas. It might have been the proper answer, but I told him that I honestly really missed my food from home. I told him I missed the lighter spices and flavors I ate all the time.
He told me he's the same. When he's traveled even just up north, it doesn't take long for him to crave the flavors of his home. He acknowledged it doesn't mean the food is bad, but it isn't the food he's eaten almost daily for years and years.
I've been thinking a lot about that conversation this week as I struggle with guilt when I enter the dining hall or a local restaurant and find there's nothing I really want to eat. As I walk around craving sandwiches, noodles, roasted and raw vegetables with balsamic and beans. The food I eat at home is often as repetitive as it is here, especially during the school year, and it is arguably more simply spiced.
Do I miss it so much because it's the food of my childhood? Because it's what my mind and body associates with meals, comfort, family, and even celebration? Does everyone, no matter where they are from or where they go, find themselves wanting nothing more than the types of foods they know flavored with years of nostalgia and memory?
That stranger alleviated my guilt and hoped my Italian food would remind me of some dishes my mom used to make. I still wonder if there's a hurdle I can cross to more deeply embrace new experiences with new flavors, but I know my mom is very excited to cook some old favorites together when I come home.