I pour in a can of diced tomatoes into a pot of browning Italian sausage. The steam from the tomato juice boils and blooms in my face, creating an impromptu sauna in my kitchen. I cover it with a lid and go back to sauteing my onions. Twenty minutes later, I slide two sunny side eggs onto two matching plates and sprinkle oregano, feta, and olives on top. I’m cooking one for me, and the other for the only human I have seen for the past 65 days.
I set down the plate onto our dining room table, and my partner and I dig in.
“Wow, this shakshuka is… amazing,” my partner says as he sticks his fork into a sausage bite and swirls it into egg yolk and tomato sauce.
“I’ve never had it before, where is it from?”
“Israel. I’m obsessed with this, and it was so easy to make,” I replied as we sat next to each other, enjoying our Saturday breakfast. We have been extremely good about keeping a routine to maintain some semblance of normal as we ride our quarantine together.
“You know what I would love to make?” as I rip into an olive and shove a bit of sausage into the other side of my mouth, “I have this cooking guide for a West African peanut soup dish…”
“Oh, you know what else we could add to the list? Paella night!”
“THAT’S genius,” I say.
We spend the next thirty minutes reminiscing over food highs, favorite meals, and curious bites from our travels.
The memories of past travel bites help digest the shakshuka and the circumstances for being quarantined. We started writing down lists of food that we wanted to recreate ( or at least make a solid attempt).
Maybe eating my feelings would mask the pain of not being able to travel, which is the beginning of every healthy relationship with food. But like everyone else in the States, my wings are clipped. The most I have been able to “travel” since March is to venture off to a farther away grocery store, only to find myself sobbing in front of the curry section. I keep walking out with a moist facemask and four bags of ingredients to make mole, dumplings, and tikka masala.
For everyone with an Instagram account and a well-stocked grocery store, it seems as though food is a main ingredient to keeping our sanity during this time. We can’t stumble into our favorite restaurant, have potlucks with friends, or travel to Vietnam for the perfect bowl of pho.
Our range of motion may have been cut down to size, but our appetites haven’t.
I have been cooking my way through the cultures I ache to visit or miss dearly, the food my guide. With my sense of the world suddenly confined to the spices in my kitchen, I have instead embarked on a series of culinary adventures, whipping up anything from Egyptian falafel bowls to Korean BBQ.
Before I was a writer, food was my main medium. I spent years in kitchens, bakeries, and catering gigs. I loved learning how ingredients blended, broke down, and balanced each other. I relished in the breadth of labor from the delicate placement of garnishes to the bicep workouts from whipping cream.
Then I started traveling, which buttered me up to no end. I would indulge in the greasy spoons, hole in the wall bakeries, and the occasional white table cloth extravaganza. From searching for the best gyro in Athens to licking the bowl of a perfect pot of masaman in Thailand, like many, I would eat my way through the country.
My feelings of a place are tangled into my eating adventures like a messy plate of fettuccine. They have implanted some deep memories in me: a whiff of grilled meat can bring me back to Singapore’s hawker stations within three seconds of hitting my olfactory system.
Many of us are perfectly fine microwaving Digiorno’s or downing a bag of Doritos to handle this disruption of normalcy. And I will not deny it: the first week of quarantine, my partner and I stress shopped and grabbed three pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (on sale) of which I ate most (all) of. But for me, cooking has always been a creative escape, and the obvious guide to any culture I encounter on my travels. As I visited new places, I found such a connection and inquisitive fascination to a new culture because of how they cooked food.
As I dig deeper into my refrigerator, I mull over how the food that I love from different countries are made. I marvel at the techniques needed to make them and wonder what the minds behind them were thinking. Cooking and eating other cuisines provides us with a guide to that culture on a visceral level: what ingredients come naturally to that land, how did they think was the most delicious way to process them, and what makes them feel safe and comforted before bed. I think about this as I peel away the skin at sweet potatoes and julienne carrots.
Food is essential to making us feel comfortable: at home, in quarantine, or traveling. Expanding our palettes gives us a taste of the diverse human experience, and for me, exploring different cuisines is the most robust way for me to cope until I can purchase my next plane ticket.
I must acknowledge that each household, apartment, and in some cases hotel rooms are experiencing a wildly different version of this pandemic. If food is hard to come by here visit Full Cart. If you have an abundance and would like to (wipe down) and donate visit here.
What have been your favorite recipes to cook during lockdown? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!