One of my favourite things is being surprised by a rush of nostalgia when a certain flavour hits your tastebuds, or you’re engulfed by a particular aroma.
It happens on occasion, but this recent one-two punch in a small red glove caught me by surprise.
The tomato… memories of hot summers in Italy you say? Insalate Caprese and the perfect sugo? Nope. Let’s rewind 30 years or so to suburban Australia.
But first, let me set the scene; I was on a particularly draining assignment in Prague. 7 straight days filming, averaging at 14hrs on set. Overall a stew of personality clashes, client histrionics and all the fun that comes along with a commercial shoot. Thankfully, I’d been put up in a serviced apartment, which enabled me to cook breakfast - which goes a long towards reminding you of home comforts.
So, the one morning that didn’t entail a 430am wakeup, I decided to cook an omelette for breakfast. Nothing special; just eggs, ham, cheese and a diced tomato. The first bite instantly made me think of my dad… apart from barbecuing and steaks, he didn’t cook much. But on occasion, as a Sunday treat, he’d make an omelette or scramble - always with cheese and tomatoes. Cooked just enough so that they were warm but not hot. Slightly softened but not mushy, right on the precipice of the flavour changing from bright and acidic to deeper and richer.
I don’t think there was any real consideration - he just liked to chop a tomato and throw it in with everything else. Nothing revolutionary on the culinary scale, but for me it’s special… because he made them that way. It was nice in that moment of being alone, stressed and exhausted to have such a wonderful memory come flooding back.
A few days later, I caved and grabbed a pre-made sandwich from the catering area on set. A bit sad, probably at least 8 hours old and frankly questionable; I didn’t care - I had many hours left in the day and I was starving.
After the first mouthful it hit me - school lunches. Sliced tomatoes mushed between cheap white rolls, with some lettuce and ham. Quite nice when fresh, but after a few hours of sitting in your lunchbox at the bottom of your school bag (‘ports’ we called them) it wasn’t exactly at its best. The flavour is hard to describe…. I think the word ‘defeated’ sums it up best. A little slippery, squashed and almost off-tasting. Bitter and yet a touch sickly. It’s such a particular taste I was thrown back to primary school so fast I almost got whiplash. Back then I dreaded those sandwiches - the Australian heat was no friend to freshly made treats - but now I was just pleased to have something that made me laugh, and to break up a long, long day.
A reminder that things don’t always have to be perfect to give you a reason to smile. Take the bitter with the sweet … and the mushy.