|Remy, the aspiring culinary rodent. |
Ratatouille (2007), © Disney/Pixar
When my parents moved to Florida five years ago, they took many of my food traditions with them. I never really learned how to make many of our cultural foods. As a teenager I suppose I had presumed they would always be close enough for me to request breakfast staples and special occasion dishes as needed or desired. Fortunately, S and I live within driving distance of a thriving West Indian community, so when I start to long for a taste of "home," I can find something close enough to the flavors from my childhood to satisfy. It's not quite the same, but it is enough.
For the New Year, short of a full Trinidadian feast including dhal puri and rum cake, the thing I wanted most was a currants roll. This is my favorite pastry—and though simple, when done properly, with actual currants (and not raisins or candied fruits), it's divine. It reminds me of any number of things that are connected with Trinidad: the roti shops, the markets, the taxis. But more than that, it reminds me of the Saturday morning breakfasts we had when I was a kid. Regardless of where we lived, my dad was always able to find a Trinidadian roti shop and Saturday morning breakfasts usually included a currants roll to top off a doubles. He'd always bring two, one for each of us. My mom never cared for them, but liked to eat the crust off of his—which made him a little nuts because you can't just eat the insides, you need the crunch of the crust too. It's a pet peeve we share to this day.
S's mom is a fantastic cook. For our New Year's Eve festivities, she made an array of great Bengali dishes. But the holidays are a time when food and family commingle, and with my own relatives being rather dispersed for the season, I really think I was looking for something culinary that was significant to me. So S and I bundled up and headed into Queens. We picked up the Trinidadian feast that I been craving, and a fresh currants roll. I ate it just as I did when I was a kid: peeling back the flaky layers one by one, and savoring as many of those sweet currants as possible.
Food can mean so much more than sustenance. My favorite scene from Ratatouille is when famed and feared food critic Anton Ego is served the title dish (prepared by Remy, of course), and is transported back to his childhood—we flash back to his family home in the countryside where a cold and red-nosed Ego is served this rustic meal by his mother and is warmed instantly (see below). Food equals safety, comfort, and a sense of self. Thank goodness I can at least purchase the foods that comfort me best. Though perhaps it's time I learned how to make some of them.
Ego is reminded of his childhood with a savory bite.