Our childhood food memories hold so much weight, sometimes all it takes is one bite. From recipes passed down through generations to cultural dishes, food can wake up our taste buds and take us back to a memory. Do any specific dishes do that for you?
My Childhood Food Memories
My parents are Chinese, so naturally, my first food experiences and many of my food memories involve Chinese dishes. I get my fill when I visit my parents or when they visit me, but I haven’t tried cooking many recipes. In working on this post, I realized my desire to learn to cook more Chinese dishes, not only for posterity but for my own enjoyment. I don’t want to have to run to the nearest Chinese restaurant to taste the dishes that mean a lot to me.
My friend Sharon of StreetSmart Kitchen is an inspiration to me. Coming from her hometown of Shanghai to the United States, she learned how to cook her favorite Chinese dishes with guidance from her mom and created a popular blog while doing it. When it comes to Chinese dishes I crave, mapo tofu is one of my favorites. I’m sure to reference Sharon’s recipe when I try making it. My parents don’t have recipes written down, so Sharon’s blog is a good starting place to learn.
The simplest of dishes, congee is another dish I crave. It’s as glamorous as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, though some Chinese restaurants do have it on the menu, especially for dim sum. I remember it as a dish my mom made us when we were sick, and it’s typically a breakfast dish. I usually crave congee with pork and thousand-year-old egg. Mmm…you’ll be hearing from me when I try to make this recipe!
We rarely ate instant noodles, but my first experience is seared into my mind because I couldn’t believe my parents hadn’t been feeding us this all along. I had my first instant noodle cup in third grade on a plane to China! I remember thinking it was the best noodles I had ever had. Ha! I also have fond memories of Spam sandwiches and fried Spam on top of rice. It’s not something I crave, but I had to order it when I saw Kimchi Spam Fried Rice on The Peached Tortilla‘s brunch menu.
I grew up in the United States, so I also have funny memories of discovering traditional American dishes. I lived for my elementary school’s pizza and chocolate milk, both things I had never had at home. The school cafeteria was also where I was introduced to spaghetti! At summer camp in 4th grade, I discovered cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch to be exact. I looked forward to it every summer because my parents didn’t give in to feeding us sugar for breakfast.
Bloggers and TV Know What I’m Talking About
Read through food blogs and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of stories and accompanying recipes about a childhood dish.
My friend Alyssa who blogs at Her Modern Kitchen shared her Grandma’s Dilly Bars:
My Grandma’s Dilly Bars take the classic Rice Krispie Treat and mix the marshmallows and rice cereal with melted chocolate and creamy peanut butter. As a kid, she served them chilled cut into squares and they were the perfect sweet snack for a hungry kid playing all day. In those final days of sun, I remember begging my Grandma to make Dilly Bars over and over again so I could get my fill before she retired the recipe for the season.
Dilly Bars still remind me of the final days of summer. Even now that my Grandma has passed and we’ve sold our lake cottage, I still crave her chocolate-peanut butter Rice Krispie Treats. So in these final days of Summer, I find myself digging into my stack of family recipes to make Grandma’s Dilly Bars — serving them just as she did, chilled and cut into tiny little squares.
My friend Kaylin of Enticing Healthy Eating has a similar story about her grandma making “Thanksgiving Salad” or frozen fruit salad cups when she was a kid.
Restaurant menus also bring back nostalgia with certain dishes. I’ve seen a few dishes in Austin, including Launderette‘s Birthday Cake Ice Cream Sandwich, Rosewood‘s Fig Blondie, and Drink.Well‘s Twinkies. Also, Halcyon‘s signature s’mores could take you back to the campfire at summer camp or scout trips.
On TV, I’ve seen chefs on Chef’s Table and other cooking shows aiming to re-create the flavors of childhood into an elevated dish. The Chef’s Table Pastry episode featuring Christina Tosi is a clear example of this! I love the way she talks about the fun these reminiscent desserts create for people.
There’s something about those childhood taste bud memories that delight. It takes us back to sweet memories of a time or a person that means and meant so much to us as children. I hope you can find a way to re-live those memories! In my case, I’ve got some recipes to learn!
What’s a dish that brings back childhood memories for you? What’s the story?