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JULY: Food, nostalgia & Typing Room

This last month I have been trying to write an abstract for an academic journal submission about food, home and belonging, and identity. I’ve toyed with lots of different ways to approach this and I still haven’t worked how; but in the course of the month I have been reminded about how important nostalgia is in building home, and therefore a sense of identity. This idea of nostalgia and food came from a surprising place, a mid-week lunch at a ‘fancy’ restaurant with my friend Kevin. Typing Room had been in on my hit list for awhile, so it was great to to finally get there. 

The plan was a quick-ish lunch, the three course menu.

Now remember that time, not long after you had moved out of home, when you realise you can have dessert for dinner? And you do it, just because you can? Well, Kevin and I went against all good plans and had the five course tasting menu - because we f*cking could, because I’m a grown up and I can spend my money just the way I want to. And so began my unexpected trip down nostalgia lane - a nostalgic attitude to being a grown up. I hadn’t expected to feel nostalgic, but so many dishes struck a chord.

Our waitress had very cool earrings on and these gorgeous glasses, a gold piece across the top of the frames. The restaurant is gorgeous too, slick, but warm - perfect. Me in black, chiffon shift dress, with my loud laugh, enthusiastic arm gestures and Kevin in his perfect outfit matched with… flip flops - we were almost there, but not quite. But it was ok, it just added to the notion of ‘f*ck it, I’m a grown up and I can do whatever I want’.

Nostalgia is visceral - a scent can catch you and take you back in time in an instant; the smell of Lynx and I’m 15, staring dopey eyed at my skater boyfriend. Tastes are possibly even more provocative and they also come with a yearning - you crave a certain thing to match your mood; msg loaded two minute noodles (Maggi Mee) when I’m tired and hungry, rice any time I’m feeling sad. Therefore when food reminds you of your childhood, or happy memories you feel ‘home’, and a sense of home can make you feel like you belong in a space. 

Typing Room snacks were delicious and fun, as snacks should always be. But the killer was the bread, IPA sourdough with marmite butter. Weirdly, having eaten marmite and vegemite consistently all through my childhood, I seem to have forgotten about it as an adult. God this was good. Kevin and I eyed up a table that had left some, calculating if we could swipe it (joking, kinda). That malty flavour, with creamy butter is the precise taste of a New Zealand winter morning, toast in one hand, wearing my favourite grey angora jumper that I had (too big) from the age of 10 and that I brought to London with me at the age of 19, that I still have, holes at the elbows sewn up with pink thread. That butter is rain on the windows and the dread of walking up the road to school in it. That butter is my dog Spiro, starting out the window with me, despising the rain as much as I was. 

I won't talk about every dish as this would be too long a post (photos of most are at the bottom of the post), but the the over arching feeling of nostalgia for me was also about the simple, cleanliness of the food. Every dish was clever (some a touch too clever); but regardless it still felt clear and simple. Growing up in Malaysia and New Zealand there was always a sense of honesty about the food. Fruit from our fruit trees in the garden, rhubarb too! Vegetables from the local veggie shop, or our farm. I was spoilt with so much unprocessed food - my mother made everything herself, from muesli to ice cream; and I grew up eating a lot less meat than I do now. Lee Westcott bloody loves a vegetable; which is reflective of this style of clean flavours that feels so akin to my childhood food journey. I found that my instinct was to want more salt on the first bite (that’s the Maggi Mee part of my childhood), but then by the second bite I was caught up with the specific flavours of each of the ingredients. 

The glory of food is that it is personal, it is subjective, and it is also about the right time. I remember when I read ‘The unbearable lightness of being’ the first time - I hated it, stopped about two chapters in. Then I took it to Berlin for a summer and loved it. I think it connected with me because of the freedom of that summer - the ability to set my own timetable, to be single-mindedly working only on my thesis, to write up work that I loved, in a city where I knew no one. I truly believe food is the same, it’s about time and place; it is about how it relates to you and what it makes you feel and think. Which means, that this menu, on this day, worked for me. Others might not feel the same and another menu at Typing Room might not have the same affect - although I do believe that it would be hard to not find connections with Lee’s food and I get a sense there is nostalgia in his cooking in general; for example the strawberry dessert so reminded me of summers (and my sister’s birthday, when we use to go strawberry picking) as I’m sure it would others. The petit four mini tea cakes were gorgeous and hard not to relate to afternoon tea, and therefore you mum/your grandmother/your aunts - or just being spoilt by relatives. 

The thing with cooking is that it is a repetitive action, but we forget that in its repetition it is also creative. No dish, regardless if you've cooked it many times before, is ever the same; through cooking we create and re-create. As we do so, we add pieces of us to the dish, we add memories of home, ingredients of our new home/space, techniques we’ve learnt along the way. Through this creative repetition we begin to build our sense of belonging in the new spaces of our adulthood. Layer upon layer of who we are gets mixed into the process of cooking. Nostalgia is part of this; reminiscing and often romanticising, evokes happiness, which is such a key factor in creating ‘home’. As food taps into the five senses it is a short cut to memories and emotion. 

Earlier this summer I cooked for 22 people to celebrate Gawai (harvest festival for us Ibans) and the act of cooking food from my childhood for close friends and family reminded me how important it is to keep building on nostalgia, keep building on thoughts of home, whilst adding in aspects of my adopted home of London. Through these acts, through the acts of relishing gorgeous food that makes me feel sentimental I was able to establish that ‘home’ is exactly where I am now.

Here are three pictures from Gawai. The table in my garden with everyone, my sweetcorn ice-cream, and me Vera serving in to everyone out the kitchen window.  More pics plus what I cooked here. (Photos by Selena Troung! @SelenaToday_ on instagram)

Typing Room pictures


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