Apologies for it having been a few weeks since I last wrote on here. For reasons that I am not quite ready to disclose yet (it will be written up in one or several Most Epic Future Blog Post/s), I have been unable to do any writing. But those reasons now appear to be a thing of the past, and I am back and ready to entertain you all with my words.
While I was on my mini hiatus, I found myself thinking, as many of us often do, about food. There was one day when, after having spent the past few days feeling unenthusiastic about the concepts of food and eating, I made myself toast with butter and Vegemite. As I bit into it, all of the biological urges to eat that had recently found themselves repressed came bursting back out in a haze of enthusiastic glory. As I continued to attack my toast with a vigor not unlike that of a cat with a new catnip toy, it occurred to me that butter and Vegemite toast is one food that, were I suddenly to be denied it, I would feel like a tiny part of me were lost.
After dwelling on this idea a little longer, I came to realise that butter and Vegemite toast is not alone in this esteem. It turns out that there are a fair few foods and drinks that have somehow managed to worm their way inescapably into the centre of my being, going from merely ‘something that my tastebuds find pleasant’ to ‘something that makes up a legitimate building block to the grand structure that is me’.
So I thought that I would write about my ten top so-called ‘building block’ foods and drinks, for your reading pleasure. Before I begin this, it should be noted that, while I find all of these foods and drinks delicious, they are not necessarily my -favourites-. Tea, Japanese potato salad, and my father’s chocolate mousse are not on this list, for instance. That is because these are all foods that I could, if I had to, live without, and still feel like my whole self still existed. The foods and drinks on this list, however, have become a part of my soul. Of this I am certain.
On to the list!
Toast with Butter and Vegemite
Might as well start with the one I have already mentioned. To those of you not in the know, Vegemite is a very salty spread made with yeast extract. It’s black in colour, has a thick, tar-like consistency, and is very strong, meaning that it needs to be spread carefully and relatively thinly on bread rather than slathered on like Nutella or peanut butter. There is an art to it.
As partial as I am to a Vegemite sandwich (there have been times when one or two of those bad boys has been the highlight of my day), in my opinion, the very best way to have Vegemite is on slices of hot white toast, with a generous (but not too ridiculous) spread of butter underneath.
When I say that these foods and drinks make up a part of me, I suppose I can say that in the case of water I mean it literally, as well as figuratively.
We all need water to live, of course, but my connection with this most basic of beverages is a little bit different. As a child (and still today) I always detested any sort of fizzy drink. That carbonation sensation is nothing short of torturous for me to endure. This always proved problematic when I’d go to a restaurant or a Macca’s or somewhere with friends or family, and the only drinks that were available were fizzy drinks. If the option was there I would go for orange juice (more on that later), but when all else failed, there was always water. Cold water (the colder, the better!) now accompanies me pretty much everywhere I go, and if I ever forget my drinking flask when I go out for the day, I always feel the mild discomfort that comes when you know that something important is missing.
I’m nothing if not predictable, and any anthropologist who found themselves observing the behaviour patterns of Yours Truly would note that I tend to gravitate towards the most chocolatey dessert options pretty much every time. I have also had occasion once or twice to have to go without eating certain foods for a period of time (a month, eight weeks, 40 days, etc.), and chocolate bans have always been the most difficult for me to endure, by far.
I could not really say why I am so fond of it. It might just be a Forbidden Fruit sort of thing, where chocolate was the food that I was most banned from eating as a perpetually fat child, and it was therefore the food I wanted most. Who knows? Either way, chocolate is a part of me.
I see your fried chicken, and I raise you karaage (pronounced kuh-ruh-uh-geh). The first time I lived in Japan, my host mother made these curious looking pieces of fried chicken one evening. So I had a bite… and a love affair greater and more beautiful than that between Rogue and Gambit (and only marginally less beautiful than Willow and Tara) was born.
The second time I was in Japan, my karaage fix came largely in the form of karaage ‘sticks’; skewers speared with four pieces of karaage chicken, available at every 7-11.
When I moved back to the UK, it became clear before too long that my love for karaage was such that any sort of long-distance relationship was not feasible. So I found myself a recipe and learned how to make it myself. It’s surprisingly easy, and your tastebuds will love you forever for it. If you’re interested in making your own, take a look at this Nicko’s Kitchen video recipe.
You know how a lot of people have certain foods or drinks with which you immediately associate them? I associate my housemate with tea, for instance. Or my mother with coffee. Or my brother with BBQ sauce. Well, among my family and a fair number of my friends, I have to assume that I am most commonly associated with orange juice.
Since fizzy drinks were a no-go for me, my childhood restaurant experiences were almost always associated with a glass of OJ. There were several occasions in high school where I was ‘dared’ (I say it was more ‘given permission’) to drink entire 2L bottles of OJ by myself. OJ remains my Number 1 beverage to order at restaurants and, especially, fast food outlets, to this very day. How do I like my OJ, you ask? Pulp-free and chilled (using ice if necessary).
My Dad’s Spaghetti Bolognese
Like all great home cooks, my father has a couple of signature dishes. If you had asked me as a child what my favourite dish of his was, I would have said ‘his chocolate mousse!’ without hesitation. And to be fair, his chocolate mousse is probably the closest I have come to tasting the clouds of Heaven in this mortal realm. But as I have grown, matured, and come to appreciate the joys of great savoury cuisine more and more, I find that his spaghetti bolognese is the dish that I always miss most when I am away.
Dad’s spag bol is a bit different to most other recipes, in that he tends to add a lot of veggies. Celery, capsicum, onion, mushroom, carrot, tomato… it makes for a flavour combo that is entirely unique, and I can’t get enough of it.
A summer food like no other. When I was a kid, it was a truth universally acknowledged among myself, my brothers, and probably a fair few of our friends, that there was no greater treat out there than that of an ice cream cake. There was indeed no greater dessert than scoops of ice cream, perhaps with a healthy drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce (never strawberry – we weren’t that kind of family). And of course, if mum or dad stopped at a service station during a long trip and bought us each a Paddle Pop, our day was officially made.
I find that my preferred flavour of ice cream changes every now and then. Right now I’m quite fond of a Belgian chocolate gelato from Waitrose. Ben & Jerry’s Caramel Chew Chew also serves me well. And although my teeth hate me for it, I always enjoy ice cream most when it is nice and hard; almost needing to be bitten into.
As much as I love a nice cup of English Breakfast tea these days, I didn’t grow to enjoy that most noble and British of beverages until I was 22. Until then, whenever the need arose for a hot drink, my number 1 choice was hot chocolate. And to be fair, hot chocolate still is my main choice.
There’s something about the combination of strong cocoa flavours, warm milk and cool, luscious whipped cream that I find simultaneously calming and rejuvenating. Perhaps it is because I have spent many occasions as a student/stressed out office worker finding solace in a cup of hot chocolate. Whatever the reason, I certainly intend to continue doing similarly in the future.
For my money, there are two hot chocolates out there that I will never hesitate to give my seal of approval. One is found in Sheffield, at a student union cafe called Coffee Revolution. They put a decent amount of chocolate into the mix, and the fresh cream they put on the top is heavenly. The other, surprisingly enough, is a Starbucks Signature Hot Chocolate. Slightly more expensive than their Classic Hot Chocolate, yes, but at least 100% more tasty.
Quarter Pounder Meals
I love McDonalds and I am not ashamed to admit it. I’ve found that, as time has gone on, my ‘usual’ McDonalds order has changed as my palate has evolved (so to speak). As a very young child I was a nuggets girl. Then I got into McChickens and Filet of Fish Burgers. Eventually I gravitated towards the humble Quarter Pounder, and I haven’t really looked back since then.
The way I see it, Quarter Pounder meals are my way of saying to myself ‘go on, you’ve earned this’. They are tasty, filling (regardless of how hungry I am, the medium size seems to be the perfect amount for me, every time), and don’t cost so much that you spend the next couple of weeks needing to nurse your frail, defeated wallet back to life. There is also something so comfortingly consistent about them – I know they will always be available, and that they will never disappoint. My personal serving suggestion is to have them with orange juice and sweet and sour sauce, and to add a layer of chips to the burger for a little extra starchy saltiness. Perfection.
Let’s round off this list with these delicious little balls of perfection. With a name meaning ‘grilled octopus’, takoyaki are a type of Japanese street food. Using a special hot plate lined with semicircular moulds, small portions of mixed savoury batter are fried for a minute or two. A small piece of octopus meat is then added to the batter in each mould, and the batter is carefully ‘flipped’ within the mould and allowed to fry a little longer. It might then be flipped around a couple more times to achieve the ideal spherical shape. To serve, six, eight, or ten of these balls are laid out in a special tray and covered in nori seaweed flakes, mayonnaise, and bonito fish flakes.
I was first introduced to takoyaki when I was sixteen and living in Japan. A friend took me to a takoyaki vendor at a local train station. We shared a portion of eight takoyaki, and, like I have already said several times in this post, I never looked back. It is now rare for me to visit a Japanese restaurant or street vendor and not order myself some takoyaki. I have to say though – so far, I have not found anywhere that makes it quite like it is made in Japan. I think it might be one dish where you need the authenticity of Japan around you to get it just right.
So, do any of you have a similar list of foods-that-make-up-your-soul? Alternatively, have any of my foods piqued your interest? Say g’day in the comments below and we can Discuss Things.