Eat, Drink and be Merry
My sister Sarah loves marmite. This makes travelling easy, or at least returning from travelling with a gift for Sarah: a bottle of Marmite and you’re sorted.
Now, I’ve always said that when it comes to spotting people’s true nationalities (a game I used to play at airports) you can tell where someone comes from, however perfect their accent, by the language they count in. That never failed me.
I always believed food was another give away. Don’t we develop tastes in the early years of our childhood? What we get used to is what we learn to love, right? (Like the joke of the man who receives a burned meal and likes it because it tastes ‘just like my mother used to cook.’)
However, Sarah is Swiss. She’s lived in Switzerland since she was fourteen. Swiss people don’t normally appreciate the dark brown spread on their bread nor do they warm to the salty flavour or the yeasty smell. So according to my ‘test’ I’d guess she was English.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, I’m not sure every English person loves Marmite (‘Love it or hate it’) and there may be the odd Swiss person who actually likes the taste of Marmite. But still, I believe it’s what they grew up with that keeps their taste buds happy. This in turn makes it wonderfully exciting when travelling at a young age. Children may be fussy eaters and as a mother it’s often quite a task to get them to eat vegetables and healthy foods. On the other hand, given the chance children will experiment and if exposed to local foods they will try them and maybe even decide to like them. After all there is so much more than just the taste which ties us to the food we eat.
I remember the family fondues we used to eat in our holiday chalet in the alps by the open fireplace after a day out skiing in the alps. I am still looking for a fondue that will taste the same, and I’m sure it’s not just the quality of the mountain cheese. Sometimes I get out my wooden banana flattener (two wooden boards joined at the tip) and I make Colombian ‘patacones’ which are deepfried green plantains that have been squashed into a form that looks a bit like a pancake. The taste is slightly less sweet than the bananas you normally get here but I love it for the memory too. It brings me back to the summer holidays we spent on the beaches in Cartagena and swimming with dolphins.
My youngest sister Eva just recently made my parents a Peruvian cebiche, which is an amazing dish of marinated fish eaten raw with a lot of onions. We used to eat it at the end of a beach day on the gorgeous playas just north of Lima. My parents’ eyes twinkled when they told me about Eva’s cebiche – and there’s no stopping them when someone finds a bottle of pisco, a Peruvian, brandy which, when mixed with limes, syrup and egg white turns into a most treacherous drink that tastes much like lemonade but, in my Mum’s words, ’Oh my, when you get up, your legs are like jelly.’ My parents are not drinkers not by a long shot (they’re Swiss after all!) but again they associate our amazing years living in Peru with the cocktail and so the drink ties them to the past (and it’s not like my sisters and I don’t have our fair amount of jolly pisco tales but that’s another story).
Bringing my kids up in Switzerland makes it hard to introduce all these specialist foods (not to worry, pisco’s still a well kept secret). I have found my kids impatiently try their first taste of my childhood I want to share with them and the look of disappointment says it all, ‘yuggh,’ is often a reaction. I’m not giving up though, they don’t have to like Marmite but when it comes to Flake (just the bar), well there are no excuses. It is after all a part of the cultural heritage.