Last night I went to the movies with mom and we watched The Hundred Foot Journey, the movie adaptation of the book of the same name. It’s a story about a talented chef with no formal cooking education and his family, and their journey from India to Europe eventually settling in the French Alps. I won’t say anymore because I don’t want to spoil the movie but there are two things that made me want to write this post. 1. Early in the movie they talk about “food” being “memory” and 2. There’s a scene where the young chef is emotionally overwhelmed when eating home cooked indian food. As an expat myself I couldn’t help identify. Food, most definitely, is memory… and memory is a b*tch!
Although I was born in Venezuela, I came to live in the US at age one and returned to my home country at age nine. I lived in Venezuela from ages nine to 26 when I returned to the US and have lived here since. To date, I have lived in the US longer than in Venezuela but I have been eating Venezuelan food my entire life and although I don’t really eat traditional Venezuelan food or comida criolla as we call it, there’s a feeling I can’t quite describe that comes from eating arepa, frying plantains, cooking black beans, or making chicken salad. Cooking with ingredients and spices from home remind me of my grandmothers in the kitchen, of the music we listen to while we cook, of the holidays and our stories and what makes us, us… always dysfunctional but also loving, and now so far away.
Back to the movie… as an expat we learn quickly that in order to succeed, we must adapt. The young chef-to-be realizes that early on but as expected, the call from home is always strong and relentless. I too find that as much as I love this country and as adapted as I am to it (so much so that when I go to Venezuela I no longer really fit there), I still long for having coffee at a Venezuelan bakery, grilled meats with guasacaca with friends and family at the beach, and a good sancocho (soup) after a particularly heavy-drinking night. And now I realize that it is not really the food I miss because I can make them all here, in fact, I have. I miss the events that surrounded the food. I miss the language, the jokes, family and friends. I miss fitting-in… there. And I conclude, as the movie does, food is memory. When I eat Venezuelan food I am reminded of the room I was in, the house, the people, the smell, music, sounds, and emotions that I shared at one particular moment in time. And that’s why I love to eat it and hate it a little too.
I leave you with the trailer and strongly recommend the film… I’ll be picking up the book soon and have a good cry for sure.
Do you have a “food is memory” meal? Care to share?