Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tasting memories

Anyone who went to a French high school (as well as many people who didn't) is familiar with Proust’s madeleine. In À la recherche du temps perdu, the narrator eats a madeleine with tea, and finds himself instantly flooded with involuntary memories from his past.

Many things can trigger memories. Music sometimes works that way for me: I’ll hear an old Alanis Morissette song on the radio, and I’ll find myself transported to my teen years in Brussels, with all the angst and confused feelings that come with that period in life (blech). But with food (and smell, as the two usually work together), the experience is usually much more powerful. That’s why we sometimes find ourselves craving foods that we know aren’t even particularly good: because they bring us back in time.

But sometimes, the foods you remember aren’t available. Which is why I was looking forward to tasting something in particular when we reached Japan in May. I had not been there in over fifteen years (I briefly lived there when I wan eleven years old), but there was something I absolutely needed to taste again. Not refined Japanese cuisine, or even traditional Japanese street food, which I hadn’t even had that much of, back when I was living there.

No, what I wanted to taste again was iced milk coffee from a vending machine.

It sounds silly, but one of the first times I ever tried coffee was from one of these little cans. And I’m an espresso-lover now, so it really was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. This drink is more milk than coffee, and is quite sweet, so it’s ironic that I, who now take my coffee black and bitter, remember it so fondly. It’s nothing special, with its malty taste and watery texture. Nevertheless, as soon as I spotted a vending machine on our first day in Tokyo, I shelled out 220 yen and treated myself and Laurent to a can each.

It tasted just like I remembered it. And apparently, I’m not the only one who finds the stuff addictive: Laurent got regular cravings for it throughout the rest of our trip.

At other times, you think you’ve forgotten all about a specific food, yet you instantly remember its flavour as soon as you see it. This happened to me when I saw these little candies for sale:

I have no idea what they are exactly. Some kind of dried legume or something (or a pea? I really don’t know), covered in a flavoured sugary coating. I hadn’t thought about these sweets in years, but I immediately remembered them, along with their texture and their flavour. It’s funny how it all popped back into my head and tastebuds.

Now, if only I knew what these are… If anyone out there knows, I would be grateful!


  1. I'm sorry but I can't help you with the name of your illusive treat. I loved your recounting of the quest for your remembered drink. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  2. No idea what this mystery candy is, but so can relate to your post. You are lucky that your awaited treat was the same as in your memories. Now I want to try one lol.

  3. This is such a perfect post on the memories that we take away with us. The coffee is especially interesting as I think what you're relating is the evolution of your coffee taste from the memory to today.
    Really enjoyed this one.

  4. This is a beautiful entry, Val. I smiled through the whole thing and nodded a few times :) that said..I was hoping you took part in this month's DB challenge. Oh well, how can one choose baking over traveling and tasting great food all over? :)

    That said, no idea what those sugar coated legume like things are LOL