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LJ Idol Season 8: Week 6
Food Memory

It's a strange time to be writing about food, when I'm feeling sick a lot of the time, and have no appetite the rest of the time. Even some of my childhood food memories aren't working the way they ought to in terms of getting me to eat anything like properly.

To me, food has always been one of the strongest of souvenirs. Duck evokes the Paris I knew as a small child, a world of a bizarre mix of spectacularly dodgy tourist restaurants picked off the street by my hapless father, and 1 and 2-starred Michelin restaurants when the thought of yet another omelette or greasy pizza had sparked off an argument between my parents. Snails in garlic butter and frogs' legs are the food of the Paris I knew as a student, a very different Paris from that earlier innocent one, a Paris of long hot nights by the Seine, and nights spent drifting from gay bar to gay bar. And dating a Frenchman, flying with him in his private plane, and eating the wonderful Alsatian cookery he introduced me to.

Oysters and lobsters are Cancale as a thirteen-year-old; mussels will always remind me of my father insisting on chowing down on 1kg of them for lunch every day in La Rochelle when I was fifteen (until the day when they served him 2kg instead, and he came back swearing never to eat one again. To the best of my knowledge he hasn't). Gambas flambés in Pastis are Perpignan, and there's an entire restaurant in Montpellier that is the definitive experience there (L'Olivier: a couple of years ago it was still run by the same little old lady who didn't look to have aged a day since I first went there aged sixteen).

Tiny snails, and rabbit, and crêpes flambées with Armagnac are a tiny little restaurant set into a wall in a village perché in Languedoc-Roussillon.

My mum's lamb chops and shepherd's pie were all I could keep down when I was first pregnant (later on, when the sickness became hyperemesis gravidarum, I couldn't even keep that down; the occasional mouthful of lemon drizzle cake was all I could manage). My mum's birthday cakes (Victoria sponge cakes with icing and buttercream flavoured with orange juice) are still my staple cake of choice.

Hazelnut meringue is my nan's, yet also belongs to a summer in Châteaudun where I cooked it for a Bastille Day barbecue held by my boss and his family, with whom I was living, and who gave it the ultimate accolade of being the only dessert cooked by an English person that they had ever enjoyed.

And then there are the memories that have come over the years of learning to cook: that expensive sea bass or sea bream can be substituted by the much cheaper trout in one of my favourite Provençal recipes; that sauce de Sorgues is even more fiddly to make than Hollandaise sauce and nowhere near as nice; that Provençal sunshine chicken is perfectly married with squid ink spaghetti.

Without this huge diversity of food and flavours, my memories would be much more two-dimensional, much more impoverished, much more insipid, than they are. Just the mention of a certain food can flash my mind back to what it was like to be there, at that time, and in that place. In many ways, food is my memory.

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Awesome! I'm hoping to travel the world and taste all the wonderful things.

Yes! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

I'm a little envious of all the great places you can recall through your foods. :)

Well, I left the bad bits out ;-) (As I said, I was feeling sick when I wrote it, so writing about bad food experiences would probably have been extremely counter-productive!)

we're definitely all entitled to remember the bits we most want to, especially in those circumstances. :)

I don't think anyone would have wanted to read a retrospective on "school and university dinners" — even if the tale about the hot buttered stone at graduation lunch is quite amusing in retrospect ...

I enjoyed this "food tour" of your life so far.

Thanks! Hopefully I'll get to try lots more good stuff, although being ill makes that harder, both in terms of travelling and in terms of not having as good an appetite as I used to.

Being ill can do terrible things to the appetite. I, too, hope that you'll get lots of chances to try more good stuff.

Yes, pain kills the appetite, and the pain relievers make me feel sick — a winning combination!

This seems like a pretty good set of memories to have. And much tastier then a photo album.

Got some pretty good photos, as well, but photos seem to fade more with the years than the tastes do. Also one of the fun of trying new tastes is getting to try to recreate them later in my own kitchen ...

Such an interesting look at all the worlds food you've tried. I'm jealous!

I think this sentence has one too many "him"'s

him with him in his private plane

Thanks, fixed now (before another DDoS comes along ...)

I haven't tried anywhere near as much as I'd like to try. Really need to go to more places outside Europe, although France and Italy by themselves have more than enough to keep someone busy for more than a lifetime!

It's all your fault.

I now have an overbearing urge to drop everything and take a four-week tour of France.

And the worst part is: I have the money and leave-time to actually *DO* that.

Mind you, my bank account will take one HELL of a hit... but I know I haven't really had French food unless I'm actually *IN* France... and I've never been.

So if I fly off to Paris in the next week, I am holding you personally responsible.

loved this piece. loved it, loved it, *loved* it!

Re: It's all your fault.

I couldn't really discourage someone from doing that :-) But you might be better off waiting for the spring (although it's probably a lot warmer in parts of France than it is in Cambridge right now: at least, I hope it is!)

What a great world tour! Loved it!

I am amazed at all those exotic sounding foods you had at a young age. When I was in Paris in 1987, we wanted "pomme frites." I think I missed out on a lot! :)

My mother was a translator so we spent an unreasonably large amount of time in France, which also led to my dad doing work in collaboration with French academics, so more trips! Also when I went on school French exchange I was lucky to be paired up with a family who wanted to show me France and French things, rather than doing whatever would make the English person feel happy ....

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It's quite a handy trick to have, as it makes placing the timing of things quite a bit easier :-)

A lovely entry. I liked it, your trip down your culinary memory lane, well done.

It did, unfortunately, lead to me craving oysters all weekend, which was a bit if a nuisance as there aren't any to be found in Cambridge in December :-/

Mmmm...I miss Paris...what great memories, you really make them come alive!

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