Foods I Have Known, (Sometimes) Digested and Loved: An homage to Ruby Tandoh's Eat Up

In any large quantity. No self-control. Jesus Christ. 

My Gromma's coffee cake
Made with the cheap instant stuff and produced at a rate of at least one per family per week (my Gromma had six kids and each one of them had children too). I would often feign or overstate illness to be able to go to her house and lick the bowl while we sat in a blanket-and-dining-chairs den watching VHS tapes of Dad's Army or Open All Hours. In my twenties, thinking I knew better, I tried to recreate this cake with espresso. It doesn't work. You need the cheap shit; nothing else will do. 

Cold soba noodles, Michelin-starred
We walked for at least an hour and a half though the evening streets of Kyoto to get to the restaurant, an unassuming-looking place with only a handful of tables, run by a husband-and-wife team who spoke very little English to our very little Japanese. We were handed a menu; the choice was hot or cold. She chose hot, I chose cold. We were each brought a ceramic tray with three sections; in each one was a local delicacy and we had no clue what any of them were. They were all incredible. Afterwards, they brought her a steaming hot bowl of plain soup with soba inside; to me, a bamboo mat with a giant pile of cold soba noodles and a small sauce for dipping. It was transcendentally good, cost about 18 pounds each, and remains one of the best meals I've ever eaten. 

Three discount Tesco salads in a phone box on a rainy Friday night in London
Broke, in love and spending our last few days together before we flew to opposite sides of the world. We walked the Tate Modern until they kicked us out, spent pennies on the last few reduced items we could find in Tesco before it shut, and sheltered from the weather in a phone box, eating with plastic forks. 

1 1/2 Voodoo Donuts
I don't like doughnuts. I think they're gross and greasy and overrated. But everyone recommended Voodoo Donuts and when we went for a look, there was a line around the block even though it was 9pm on a Monday. We joined the queue; I ordered a vegan Oreo doughnut and he ordered something else; they gave us a third for free, just to be nice. We sat outside in the mild Portland evening; I bit into the lightly sugared cloud of dough, through the fragments of biscuit, let the fattiness lubricate my mouth. We split the free one. I could have eaten more. 

9 months' worth of shit poached eggs
I no longer eat eggs. But there's a special sort of pleasure I get from cooking people breakfast or brunch, and  when my best friend became my partner I set myself the task of re-learning how to make the perfect poached eggs, because perfect poached eggs are sublimely fragile little scoops of runny heaven, and I want someone I love to have these in their life. It took nine months of almost daily fails, sometimes with tantrums; if the eggs weren't aesthetically pleasing enough, they would go in the bin, him pleading with me and me responding, "Look, I'd rather you go hungry than eat this shit." But we got there in the end. Having perfected my method*, I can now top avocado sourdough or pan-friend potatoes or parsnip rosti with three, silky soft, almost-leaking poached eggs, and the pleasure I get from serving them up to my favourite people far outweighs any pleasure I would get from eating them myself. 

(*Bit of salt, bring to the boil, vinegar in, brief stir, then a swift but gentle drop in from a ramekin, bring them out before you think they're done)

That Mars Bar after I fainted getting a tattoo
Hangovers, periods and tattoo appointments do not make good bedfellows. Draped over the back of a chair to expose my spine to the tattoo gun, I commented how strangely fine I felt just moments before sliding sideways off the chair and being caught by my friend. I came around; they propped me up; I promptly fainted again. By the time I'd come around again they'd been to the shop and bought me a Mars Bar and a drink. I bit into it, the first one I'd eaten in probably a decade, and holy mother of god, the sweet rush. The thick, breaking chocolate. The soft nougat. The caramel. The surge of the sugar going through my body, the tastebuds responding, my poor wearied self coming back to life again. I finished the thing and the rest of the appointment was a joyous, exhilarating ride of mild pain and euphoria. It wasn't even my first tattoo. 

The world's best 5 Euro pizza
Last June. An anniversary trip. Our airbnb host had recommended GustaPizza but we didn't make it there until the day before we left. It was 5 Euro per Marinara and we had to fight our way through the afternoon crowds and eat our pizza perched on the pavement outside. The next day, before rushing for our plane, we took all our luggage and found a shaded spot in the sweltering sun of the Piazza nearby. I left him with the backpacks and went to grab our order. On the walk back to the Piazza I grabbed a huge bottle of Moretti. Italian summer, ice cold beer, nuns running by and the best pizza that I will ever, ever eat.  

72 individual Creme Eggs
"I don't want Easter Eggs this year", I said. "Don't get me any," I said. "But if you do HAVE to get me some, get me Cadbury Creme Eggs."
Twelve boxes of six creme eggs were bestowed upon me by my extended family, who will no sooner pass up the opportunity to gift chocolate than they will pass up any of the (at least) three desserts on offer at any family meal. I forced Creme Eggs onto flatmates, flatmates' boyfriends, people in my lectures, strangers on the street, anything to get rid of what is frankly a dangerous amount of chocolate around someone with bad impulse control. Kept a box of six for myself, of course. I'm not an idiot.

A cold beer after putting up a tent
Before I even liked beer, this was just the best thing.

A glass of orange juice, a bowl of Weetabix, a mug of instant coffee on a tray
My parents are creatures of routine. About twelve years ago that routine changed thanks to a new job, but every morning for the preceding ten years or so, my dad got up first, went downstairs, put the kettle on, poured the juice, made the coffee, drowned the Weetabix in milk, put sugar on top, put it all on a tray at and took it to my mother in bed. 

Every hot honey and lemon water that’s brought to me in bed
We are not creatures of routine. Every day is different, every morning structureless, and it's essentially impossible to make breakfast for me as I love doing it and am demonstrably better at it. But if he’s up first, he’ll bring me a warm, soothing cup of hot honey and lemon water every damn time.

Masala dosa with beetroot chutney by the side of the road in Bangalore
Our friend, of course, knew the best places, being a local. He drove us to the tiny stand and parked up as the traffic kicked up dust. The owner of the stall poured out the fermented batter onto the round hot plate and spread it thinly; it crisped up and slightly caramelised. In went the spiced potatoes (mustard seeds, coconut, coriander), and on top of that, the home-made beetroot chutney. He wrapped it and handed it to me on a paper plate. It must have been the 20th dosa I'd eaten that trip and I still think about it most days.

Pickled onions from the jar
Eaten with a teaspoon, the struggle to get them out being half the fun. 

An affogato so good I almost cried
Affogato is the best thing a person can put in their mouth. Lush, creamy gelato drowned in a sharp espresso, the heat of the latter melting the former, the whole thing slowly turning into a perfectly balanced semi-solid melt as you spoon it onto your tongue. I was in Florence with my best gal pals; my favourite Londoner, my inspiring Belgian, my driven Italian. We found a place that did vegan Nutella gelato and with my voice wavering, I asked if they could go off-menu and cover a scoop of it in espresso for me. They smiled and they did. The sun was shining and as I put the first spoonful to my mouth tears teetered on the edges of my eyelids. 

The world's most perfect sandwich
Home-made sourdough, only recently mastered, sliced thickly; a very discreet layer of chilli jam; a fat, chunky layer of hummus, home-made and with some of the chickpeas still almost in tact; aubergines, sliced by the inch, fried in hot olive oil on each side, sprinkled with salt and dried oregano; hummus again; chilli jam again; final bread. Squished down, eaten in the car on the drive home for Christmas, with your love breaking pieces off for you and shoving them into your mouth while you navigate the motorway. Crumbs on the seat, hope in the heart.