Jottings: Savoring the memories
Food is much loved universally, whether it's street food, home-cooked meals or elaborate fare served at Michelin-star restaurants. Food brings people together in a shared bond of nourishment, enjoyment, and community.
For me, food is the pleasure derived from the taste, smell and texture of food, and the wonderful memories of shared meals with family, friends and sometimes perfect strangers.
Within my circle, my love of food and the amount I can tuck away is legendary. It's no surprise then that many of my fondest memories are about food framed by people, place and time.
There's a memorable January 2017 visit to a Sikh gurdwara in India. My husband and I joined one of my closest childhood friends and her husband, both of whom are Sikh. We paid respects to Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Sikh guru, on the occasion of his birthday and were served a simple meal by volunteers. The Langar or free community kitchen in gurdwaras is a hallmark of the Sikh faith. Free meals are served to anyone. People sit in rows on the floor as equals and enjoy the same simple food. Accompanying my friends on a ritual they hold dear, sharing a meal with strangers and being part of a tradition established more than 500 years ago ranks up there in my memory book.
Here's a fun and fond memory from a few years ago. My friend's grandmother, who was in her 80s, and his dad were visiting Portland from New Mexico. They brought with them corn husks, green and red chilies, and other ingredients. Grandma was going to teach us to make tamales using her special recipe. I was thrilled to be invited to join my friend and his family, since as you guessed, I love tamales! Grandma and I bonded and communicated easily despite not being able to speak each other's language. The aroma of delicious tamales soon filled the air. We set the table and attacked the tamales but stopped short when there was a loud exclamation from my friend. He discovered that a ring he had been wearing was missing. Luckily it wasn't his wedding ring, or his wife would have been very upset! We hunted around the pots and pans and discarded corn husks, but to no avail. We concluded that the ring must be in one of the tamales waiting to be eaten at a future date. But no such luck. The ring has never been found.
My earliest and fondest memory dates back to my early childhood in India. Unlike many kids, I didn't object to going to bed early. I've always been an early to bed, early to rise person. Dad, on the other hand, was a night owl. Every so often he would enjoy an evening out with friends and return home when I was fast asleep. Occasionally as a special treat for my siblings and I, he stopped at our favorite street food vendor to pick up the yummiest Chinese rice noodles. With savory meats and vegetables, the noodles were wrapped expertly first in banana leaves and then in newspaper to form a neat envelope. The leaves cushioned and sealed the steaming noodles well. On arriving home, dad would shake us awake for our surprise midnight feast. Bleary eyed yet eager, we would attack with gusto the best rice noodles ever! Satiated we would fall asleep with smiles on our faces. Dad passed away after a prolonged fight with cancer when I was eight years old. Among my few memories of him, this one is the most vivid and enduring. Eric Ripert, the famous chef, author, and television personality, said it best: "…food is about memories, feelings, and emotions."
As we head into the tail end of the year, I hope to share meals with family, friends, and maybe perfect strangers. I hope to have conversations, listen to other perspectives, and create new memories. I hope you'll do the same. For as James Beard said: "Food is our common ground, a universal experience."
Lilisa Hall is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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