Remembrance of Meals Past

~By Christine Sarkis

Everyone has at least one superpower. I have been blessed with two: the knack of identifying a song by its first three bars, and the ability to remember everything I have ever eaten. It’s a silly trick, but one that is at the heart of my lifelong devotion to the anticipation, taste, experience, and memory of food.

In truth, it’s not quite everything I’ve ever eaten; rather it’s the foods associated with big days in my life. For many years it’s been a family parlor trick of sorts. Whenever anyone gets to reminiscing about a past occasion, someone will turn to me and say, “What did we eat that day?” I think back, remember the weather and the event, recollect the table setting, and begin to conjure—course by course, item by item—the foods that defined the day.

It is in this way that I remember the birth of my youngest sister (fruit salad and vanilla cupcakes with coconut and three little jellybeans on top), my first meal after moving to London (tea sandwiches made with shredded cheese, a touch that seemed so foreign; scones with jam; and strong tea), my birthday meals (most recently, seared yellowfin with a kumquat confit, and a cheese course to follow that was so delicious I got a little teary over it), the first time I leaned across the table and ate off of my now-husband’s plate (me: pasta with watery tomato sauce; him: perfect veal piccata and haricots verts).

Call it the reverse madeleine effect. The event conjures the meal, stimulating tastes long forgotten. And offering endless hours of meals to savor anew.

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