Why does food stir emotions?
Think about the remarkable trips you've done in your life. Remember the sweetest childhood memories. Picture an exciting weekend with your better half or a night out with friends. Chances are enormous that food played a key role within most of these circumstances, if not all. Our care for food - and for everything that comes with it - exceeds the purpose of simply feeding ourselves. We rely on food to make the most of our experiences just as food can resonate pleasant emotions because of the way it is experienced.
Although a gastronomic occasion might imply that we expect to be surprised, it's not just about the indulgence. Even the most gorgeous, delicious dish will not stand alone in the absence of company. In order for flavors, colors and aromas to reveal their splendor, diners must engage with their surroundings. It's about how and who we share thoughts, secrets and love with, therefore making it possible for the food experience to be cherished afterwards, when the lights go down.
Certain recipes arouse an ocean of emotions whenever my imagination brings them alive. They are so tasty, aromatic and flavorful. However, it's the moments I've experienced in the presence of those dishes that I miss the most. The encounters around a table that have made me want to freeze that instant forever... These are the true stimuli upon which human beings are so dependent. This also corroborates the fact that many of us don't find genuine pleasure in cooking alone: the experience won't last in the absence of others.
I can relate to anyone who has been struggling to cope with the lack of socialization which the pandemic has hindered us all from. I hear you. While we wait to be reunited again, let me praise some of my favorite food. They may not be on my everyday menu, but they still nourish my soul just to think of them:
Pizza napoletana: having Italian roots can certainly spoil some culinary experiences in life. You become too critical, too demanding. That's why sometimes I would rather not eat pizza if it's not prepared according to the rules. The only place where I've eaten a true, delicious one outside Napoli was in São Paulo, Brazil. This comes as no real surprise to me given that the biggest Italian community far away from their home country is based in my tropical land. Despite my eternal fondness for pizza, what I really miss are my Brazilian friends who I would sit with every Sunday night. Our true friendship is what comes to mind whenever my mouth and heart wishes for a margherita.
Green curry: it took me 37 years to taste a Thai Green Curry for the first time. It was during my first time in Thailand (October 2019) and since then I long to go back. I absolutely adore everything about this recipe, especially the fresh warmness that stands out thanks to the abundant yet perfect dose of spices. This was by far one of the most incredible travels of my life. The exuberant, colorful temples and the sensations we feel once inside them, the generosity of the people, the spirituality: it was all so overwhelming! Sometimes I feel such a heavy sickness sits in my stomach as I miss every single bite of that trip.
Brazilian Rice and beans: if I had to choose only one meal for the rest of my life, it would be the typical Brazilian rice and beans. I'm crazy about rice, in all its forms, but it's the combination with the freshly made brown beans which makes it a one-of-a-kind specialty. This is also the basis of almost every Brazilian’s eating habit. Very nutritional as well. My grandmother prepared the most unforgettable one. These memories are still so alive I can almost grasp the picture of myself, a little girl, in her kitchen. She was the most devoted and passionate cook I ever met in life.
Kanafeh: it's a bit strange for me to consider this to be one of my most significant dishes because I can barely remember how it tastes. Although I know it's really delicious, I have no palate memory except the context in which I came across this typical delicacy from the Middle East. It was during a visit to Amman, the capital of Jordan, in 2017 when a local guide (his name is Yazan and he has since become a dear friend) presented me with an unmissable sweet pastry. We had been to a place where Kanafeh has been prepared for centuries - a special reason in its own right! However, it was the benevolence of my Jordanian friend, who would carry an honest and candid expression, whenever a dish from his home country made me smile.
Artisanal bread: I baked bread for a couple of years and although I've never done therapy in my whole life, it felt like one of the most gratifying treatments I could ever have chosen: it doesn't cost much, the silence will never be awkward, and the only timer is the one inside your oven. It was also rewarding to see my friends' satisfaction following so much effort, after I patiently waited for the long fermentation process to pursue its own pace (the beauty is that you cannot predict how it will look like: each batch reveals a singular personality). Years ago, however, speaking about natural fermentation, levain and sourdough were still somewhat foreign concepts before they then became a worldwide hit. Gladly, after then, so many people started to appreciate not only this small-scale industry but what it requires to bake bread: true love, positive energy and a genuine purpose to make people happy.
Cassata siciliana: whenever Sicily comes to mind, my heart beats a little bit faster and I instantly think about Palermo. This city's misjudged magnificent beauty and its affectionate, loving people are notable trademarks of my favorite Italian piece of land. The southern cuisine is irresistible and divine; it also has a long-standing tradition of pastry making whose heritage was left by Arabs, Greeks and also Spaniards. The Sicilian cassata was created in Palermo around 998 A.D. Its pie shape has a soft consistency and is made of "sponge cake" (Pan di Spagna) and a cream of sweet ricotta with chocolate chips. The dough is covered by a layer of icing sugar and marzipan and decorated with candied fruit in festive, opulent Baroque designs. Although I wouldn't refuse any cassata, I prefer the delicate and small, green-colored ones, to eat in just a few bites. It's delish!