Covid-Quar Blues: Your Most Memorable Meal

When you’ve stuck at home for over a year, memories of social interactions can take on wistful dimension, the “If only I’d known!”

In that spirit, a friend recently asked, What was your most memorable meal?

I had to think about that. Being nearly seventy, I can attest to plenty of remembered meals, for good reasons and not so good. I decided I’d rule out memorable in the train wreck sense, as none of those were funny. (Disastrous meals that turn out to be hilarious in retrospect can turn into fond memories.)

My childhood memories about glorious meals come straight from the intensely felt, uncomplicated hunger of the young. There are also meals shared with sweeties wherein the joy of emotional connection adds its grace note to what might have been a simple home-cooked meal as much as a gourmand’s delight at a fancy restaurant—in both cases, the details of the meals have faded, leaving memories of the people themselves.

In that sense, meals I’ve shared with other writers, often delicious meals, became that much more enjoyable because of the fast wit, the headlong literary explorations, the group commiserations over the grunt labor part of the writing life, the joy of talking shop without fear of boring others. When I think back over many of those, I can’t always recollect what we were eating at any specific meal, though I can recollect portions of conversations.

In all those situations the experience trumps the food, so I had to search my mind for a memory in which the food at least matched the experience, and ah, I finally found it. This was in the mid seventies, when I was in Paris with a friend.

I had just finished up three years of grad school, waitressing six days a week. Because I hadn’t had a day off between school and the restaurant (in those days we worked double shifts on holidays and kept our mouths shut, or they’d replace us in a heartbeat), to save my sanity, I had lived off my tips and squirreled away three years of my (less than minimum wage) pay, to blow on this month-long trip to Europe as my reward.

So there we were in Paris during the glorious days of October. After a magnificent day of visiting Cluny and tramping for miles on the streets, we chose an Italian restaurant for an early dinner. The place was less than half full, but the waitpersons ignored us, going to everyone else. That was okay with us—our feet were tired, and we had so much to talk about, an hour flitted by before the waiter finally came around.

We soon sipped a delicious local red, and then came the meal. I’d ordered ravioli, and what did I get? I have to pause here to admit that though I love to eat I am not much of a cook, and I’ve never managed to get to Italy, so for all I know the ravioli is just as good there, if not better, but what I tasted was what I thought of as Italian food with a French sauce: light, with a hint of wine, a perfect blend of fresh herbs, and of course the tomato. It was so delicious the experience of eating it made me headier than my half-glass of wine.

Something had changed for the waiter—I don’t know what—but suddenly he became friendly, brought us more wine unasked, then recommended dessert after asking what we had seen and done so far in our Paris stay. I don’t remember what I chose of the recommended deserts, but that, too, was excellent.

The experience was so perfect—fine wine shared over multivalent conversation amid Paris’s ineffable charm, then the superlative meal, and capping that the moment of friendly connection. Yes, I can live with that as my most memorable meal!

What’s yours?

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Covid-Quar Blues: Your Most Memorable Meal — 7 Comments

  1. Within recent memory when I was visiting Naples, I stopped on the way home for a simple Pizza Margareta, which lost me a mere euro, thirty. I had it with some lightly chilled Falernian red. Oh. My. Such divinely chewy crust. The toppings were not loaded on but the tomato sauce was sweet and fresh, and there was just the right amount of real mozzarella and a few leaves of basil. Food Heaven.

  2. One thanksgiving when I was in grad school a group of us had a communal feast – it involved 3 20 pound turkeys multiple salads at least 7 vegetable dishes 5 pies a trifle and multiple breads. We went from early afternoon to I think 1AM. Eating would peter off – many of us were sitting on the floor, then someone would drift over to the table and pick up a few nibbles which would trigger a general movement foodward. Mid afternoon there was a break for a round of touch football, then more lounging about conversing and eating.
    The leftovers were minimal.
    The turkeys were down to the bone!

  3. Your Paris trip sounds wonderful! My most memorable meal was definitely not about the food, but the circumstances. On my early backpacking trip through the Greek islands, my partner Jim and I were hiking down the Gorge of Samaria when a rainstorm swelled the river (the gorge is so narrow that you have to hike in the river at times). We barely made it out of the flood at a wider spot with a tiny abandoned chapel where we lit a candle. Out of the torrent then entered two hikers coming up the trail. They were Belgians who spoke no English, but I had a smattering of French, so we managed to share basic info and our mutual basic foodstuffs. As I recall, there was part of a loaf of bread, a can of sardines, and some cheese. We shared our sleeping pads, too, as they had no bedding. We all enjoyed the excitement of the storm and managed to get some sleep. We went our separate ways the next morning as the flood abated, but later they sent us a photo.