Nadeem Aslam (in “The Homesick Restaurant”) shares a story of stumbling upon a dish that had been spiced in a peculiarly familiar manner: “the food – the flavor of the mutton, of the samosas – was the best we had tasted since our visits to our eldest aunt’s home in Lahore. That was 20 years ago, and he aunt had been dead for 10 years. We reminisced as we ate, each new mouthful sending us deeper into our memories.” After eating Nadeem and her eating companions asked the waiter if they could meet the cook and, to their surprise, met a cousin of theirs, the daughter of their aunt, who had arrived into the country (UK) illegally and wasn’t yet ready to meet her relatives until she established herself.
One could think of this story as that of an intriguing coincidence. It strikes me, however, as a story of mindful eating. Paying attention to the taste provoked the associations of memory. The memories led to the hypothesis (“How did the cook learn to do all this?”) that there must be a connection between the taste and their past (after all, as Nadeem explains, “Each Pakistani woman spices her curries in her own way”). The rest is what’s the story about. Thus, if deconstructed, the story arc is as follows: mindful eating leads to reminiscence which leads to a hypothesis and a subsequent discovery.
The awareness-building/habit-modifying moral of the story?
Eating links us to people, places and things of our past and as such can be a great way of going down the memory lane on a journey of self-remembering. Reminiscence eating is an opportunity to turn a simple act of eating into an existentially meaningful experience, with the added advantage of slowing down the process of eating and thus giving fullness time to emerge. Next time you eat, look at the food in front of you and allow yourself to free-associate about the past. What does this dish, this smell, this taste remind you of?
Give yourself a taste of the past and turn what could have been mechanical and meaningless eating into an episode of sentimentally-meaningful mindful eating.
The Homesick Restaurant by Nadeem Aslam in the New York Times Magazine, November 30th, 2008.
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Carrie Arnold (August 31, 2009)
Last reviewed: 9 Jul 2011