What Is Food To You?
“What’s your favorite food?”
This is a question we hear quite often. Most of us just pick whatever comes first in our minds. After all, what food you like isn’t that important, in the end, is it? It’s just a meal; really nothing all that special, when it comes down to it. But maybe we should take our favorite foods more seriously. What makes a particular meal your favorite? Is it a memory? The way it makes you feel? Is it a food that, no matter where you may find yourself, immediately brings your mind back home? I think it’s probably different for everyone.
It took me quite a while to discover my favorite food. I’m not entirely sure I’ve found it yet. Perhaps, like so many other things, what food I most enjoy will change over time. But for now, I think my favorite meal is a simple picnic meal. A salami sandwich, red peppers (not green, only red or yellow can make it in my book), some cheddar cheese, and an apple. Now I’m sure you’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now. “Seriously?” you might be thinking. “All the fancy, delectable meals in the world, and this kid goes for veggies, salami, and cheese?” I’ll admit, a perfectly roasted chicken with baked potatoes is delicious. And I adore salad. But I believe that what makes a favorite food is the memories that go with it, the place in time it brings you back to. And for me, a simple picnic lunch does that better than anything else. Days spent at the beach with my family, sitting in a huge oak tree with my best friend, eating away at my salami sandwich by the side of the road in Europe, tossing a bell pepper slice at a monkey in Honduras. Those memories will forever be tied to my salami sandwich, bell peppers, apple, and cheese.
But it isn’t only the normal foods, the ones you can eat whenever you want, that bring back memories.
One of the most popular stories you’ll hear swapped among travelers is the “Crazy Food I’ve Eaten” tale. Everyone has one. Even people who haven’t traveled have one. So, what’s the weird food you like to brag about having tried? I’ll admit, I’m one of the worst braggarts when it comes to this. I’ve tried bugs, snake head soup, and jellyfish salad (I didn’t know it was jellyfish at the time, does it still count?). But the moment that I could honestly describe as one of the weirdest experiences of my life was the moment I tried grilled chicken head. It was my youngest brother’s fault. He knows I can’t turn down a dare if it isn’t life-threatening. We were in Chaing Mai, Thailand, on a little side street. It was lined with food stalls, their steam rising up into the sky. Ezra stopped to buy a chicken leg. He wrinkled his nose suddenly, and pointed. “Ew. Hannah, that one isn’t a leg. And that one is a leg too far down!” Sure enough, they were selling chicken heads and feet. Ezra grinned mischievously. Oh boy, I thought. Here it comes. “Dare ya to buy one, and eat it,” he said. I sighed. The vendor, a middle-aged woman, must have understood part of our conversation, for she nodded vigorously at me. “Ya! Ya! Is good!” She scooped up a chicken head, freshly grilled, and put it in a plastic bag for me. It was too late. I had no choice. Besides, I was rather interested at this point. So I paid for both the head and Ezra’s dinner, and took it to our table, where we were instantly watched by a group of interested tourists. Everyone was watching! What could I do? So, I tried it.
Never, under any circumstances, unless it’s a dare and you can’t help it, try chicken head. It was horribly slimy, almost entirely fat and gristle. I couldn’t bring myself to crack open the head and eat the brains. It was simply too much. I’m a coward, I admit it freely! But although it was horrible, the memory of that particular adventure is mine forever, and so it was worth it.
Believe it or not, the chicken head was a cultural favorite where I was. Every country has at least one cultural favorite. It’s easy to see which food is America’s signature dish. The hamburger, of course. The hamburger originated in Europe, but it has become distinctly an American dish. Millions of hamburgers are sold each day in the US, and as any traveler can tell you, they’re only really great in the States. It wouldn’t surprise me if the hamburger was a significant food in many Americans’ lives.
Everyone has a favorite food. Some are simple. Some are extravagant. Most have memories tied to them. It seems our taste buds have a notion of what home, adventure, or even entire countries should taste like. So, what is your favorite food?
Hannah Miller is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program
Photo courtesy and copyright Hannah Miller