We experience new places through food. As travelers, migrants or explorers, our first encounter with a novel taste or food culture may happen in one of many spaces — a restaurant, family home, market, grocery store, or food truck — but the encounter itself is inescapable.
Unfamiliar flavors, textures and food cultures can excite (or disorient) us. Discovering the cheese section of French supermarkets felt like a spiritual awakening. Finding out that French grocery stores close on Sundays was less enchanting, particularly when I was caught without food during a snowstorm.
Adventure — and adventurous eating — can bring joy, energy, renewal, motivation, and connection. But what happens when we return home, or when the unfamiliar gradually transforms into the familiar? How do we hold onto newfound freshness and creativity when we return to our everyday routines? How do we meaningfully integrate novel experiences into our larger understanding of the world, so that they don’t just become distant memories?
As Kathryn wrote earlier this month, food can be a vessel for memory, tastes and smells containers for images and sensations from our adventures. Food can also be a metaphor for — and a means of — creating new possibilities through mixing old and new, familiar and unfamiliar. As much as the kitchen can be a space of retreat, renewal and rest, so too can it be a space of reinvention and experimentation.
I recently found myself craving melk tert (milk tart), a dessert from my native South Africa. Traditionally, cinnamon is the only spice added to melk tert, which is otherwise exactly what its name suggests. My variation on the tart featured orange zest and cardamom, a spice I associate with my move to Greensboro. (A good friend and I made cardamom spritz cookies a couple of months after I arrived here.) My cravings for melk tert link to a larger desire to reclaim parts of my South African heritage, particularly South African resilience, but a resilience overlaid with the gentleness and communality that I’ve experienced in North Carolina.
Have you made any experimental dishes or desserts recently? If so, do they hold a particular meaning for you?