Few things can evoke memories like food. Even just a whiff of a certain dish can take you back in time, and have the potential to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.
Everyone has their own unique dish that makes them feel nostalgic – it might be a tried and true classic, or something one of their family members completely made up.
We asked chefs about the one meal that instantly transports them to the past.
“It would be my mum’s – a dish called Roman lamb,” reminisces Berber&Q chef Josh Katz. “I don’t know if there’s anything really Roman about it, or if it was just a cookbook she used that called it Roman lamb.
“It’s my favourite dish she used to cook on a Sunday – it was a shoulder of lamb cooked in this rich tomato gravy, with a lot of tomato paste, garlic, Worcester sauce – things that really weren’t very Roman at all. It was slightly sweet and sour, it had a lot of brown sugar and vinegar, and I think it had rosemary. That takes me back to Sundays as a child.”
Berber&Q: On Vegetables by Josh Katz (Kyle Books, £25).
Melissa Hemsley loves her nostalgic dish so much, she included it in her new cookbook. “I call it store cupboard soup in the book – it’s done five different ways, and is heavily influenced by what we used to eat on a Sunday,” she says. “We’d watch the EastEnders omnibus and settle down to this massive pot of soup. It’s not exactly the same in the book, but it’s based around tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, or any kind of bean in the cupboard – which is so good for us, affordable and often overlooked.
“So you get your tinned tomatoes and beans, your ends of packets of pasta – like snapped spaghetti – and it’s a thick, hearty, kid-friendly soup. That’s pretty nostalgic for me, something with a tomato base that I can grate cheddar all over.”
Feel Good by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury Press, £22).
Chris Baber knows immediately the dish that makes him feel most nostalgic: his grandfather’s broth. “It’s something I’ve never tried to recreate, and talking about it now, I can literally smell it and almost taste it,” he says.
“Every winter, he had this pan – he must have nicked it off the back of a skip, I honestly don’t know where he got an industrial pan from – but he’d make this broth that was pearl barley, ham hocks, carrot, turnips, and he would simmer it for hours and hours,” Baber recalls of his grandparent. “He’d make proper suet dumplings, and every winter he’d make such a large vat of it, we’d go to his house and he’d make sure my family – we’d all take so much away, and we’d have it at home over the few weeks in the winter, or keep in the freezer. That, for me, is childhood memories.”
Easy by Chris Baber (Ebury Press, £16.99).
“When we were very young, we used to go down to the south of France and stay at an old friend of the family’s house,” remembers River Cottage chef Gill Meller. “It was a pretty rundown old place with an outdoor shower, and you had to fill a bucket up to flush the loo, but we used to eat really well down there, and everything would be cooked outside over a simple open fire.
“We used to make these grilled duck breasts with figs from the tree. Every time I have a dish like that – duck breast and figs, that combination – it takes me back to being down in the south of France with my mum, brother, sister and father. It’s everything about the wood smoke, the smell of fig trees, the ripe, warm figs off the fire. That’s a very evocative dish.”
Outside: Recipes For A Wilder Way Of Eating by Gill Meller (Quadrille, £30).
For Jeremy Pang, a slow braised pork belly in a caramelised dark soy and fermented tofu is the dish that comes to mind.
“My dad traditionally cooked that with whole boiled eggs in,” he remembers. “Whenever dad was back home in the UK, he’d arrive at 5 o’clock in the morning, and you’d wake up to the smell of that slow braised pork dish. That reminds me of my childhood home a lot.”
Jeremy Pang’s School Of Wok: Delicious Asian food In Minutes (Hamlyn, £20).
Wahaca’s Thomasina Miers still makes the dish that makes her feel most nostalgic: chicken liver pate. “It’s so delicious, and it feels to me like people have stopped cooking livers altogether,” she says. “I get mine from the market, because they’re really cheap and they’re really good for you – they’re a source of vitamin A, which we’re all lacking in our diets.
“I put masses of brandy and port in mine, and I make it really smooth. I do it a lot for my supper clubs and it always vanishes because people like it so much – but it basically comes from my childhood.”
Meat-free Mexican: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes by Thomasina Miers (Hodder & Stoughton, £25).
“My mum had three puddings she could make: banoffee pie, lemon tart, and apple tart. My favourite job was to help her out with the apple tart,” says Anna Higham. “It would just be a pastry case and crème pâtissière, and then we would slice up the apples and fry them in brown sugar and butter. It was my job to fry apples and lay them out and make them look nice.
“[Now I have] a dish that’s brown butter apples – Russet apples, which are my favourite apple – and you poach them really, really gently in brown butter overnight. It uses an obscene amount of butter, but they come out tasting caramelised and fudgy, with this incredible texture. I pair that with some buckwheat shortbread and ice cream. Those apples I could just eat endlessly – they always take me back to mum.”
The Last Bite: A Whole New Approach To Making Desserts Through The Year by Anna Higham (DK, £22)