We just got back from a trip to Colombia (I promise to tell you about it very soon!) and while we were there, I thought a lot about writing, and the kind of writing that I want to be doing. Don’t worry, this space isn’t changing much (and more recipes are coming your way) but every once in a while, I’d like to share a more essay-style, short-story-like piece with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I’d love your feedback!
The missed opportunity of re-living an experience back home through the taste of a place.
“Is that…sausage?” the inspector at U.S. Border Patrol quizzically asked me as I was passing through customs on my way home from Lisbon, Portugal several years ago. The X-ray revealed a large, curled rod dead smack in the center of my suitcase. I could see it, and my knees immediately started to buckle. Caught red-handed, I fessed up: I did try to bring a chorizo sausage back with me. To be fair, I didn’t know that cured meats were on the no-no list, but still. Yes, it was purchased in Lisbon, but it was vacuum-packed! And the nice man at the deli assured me that I could take it on the plane with me.
The woman made me pour out the rest of the questionable contents of my bag: soft and hard cheeses, fried beans, preserves. I silently spoke to myself: ‘please don’t take the sausage, please don’t take the sausage, please don’t take the sausage.’ But she took away the sausage. My consolation prize was that I got to keep the cheese. “Technically,” she said with a frown, “I should take this away from you, too.” She must have seen my pleading eyes.
I wonder what the Border Patrol inspectors do with all of those ‘illegal items': caviar, exotic fruits, seeds, and meat products. I came home, sans sausage, sulking in the knowledge that I never even sampled it at the store. My friend Maggie reminded me that at least we did not buy the ‘very expensive’ sausage, opting for the mid-range option. Still, I really wanted that sausage. And what did that lady do with it? Probably throw it away.
I have this habit: when I travel to a new place, I try to buy a piece of jewelry from that place. The logic behind this is that I am almost always guaranteed to get something that no one else back home will have, I will always have room for it in my suitcase and it will always remind me of that place. I have rings from Prague, Dublin, and Venice, necklaces from Boston and New York, and earrings from Moscow and Portland. These small mementos serve as permanent reminders of experiences. But food, food is different.
There is something about bringing a little slice of taste from a place that you’ve visited that’s so different from a traditional souvenir. Sure, you can still enjoy some pottery, a wallet, a handmade piece of art, but with a food item, you can actually relive your trip for just a few more days.
It doesn’t just evoke a memory: it re-creates the experience in your kitchen, your backyard, or even on a spontaneous bike ride or trip to the park. Passion fruit butter from Hawaii spread on a piece of toast the morning after you get back from Kauai lets you relive breakfast with a view of the ocean. A beer from one of Portland’s breweries, drunk with your dad by the pool at his house brings a little piece of Oregon to California. And Panforte from Siena, Italy, enjoyed in a park near your home takes you on an evening passeggiata.
So what did I miss most about that chorizo sausage that I never got to taste? Well, that I never got to recreate the experience that I had in Lisbon. Not even just for a little bit.