Monday, November 2, 2009

Hungering for Home

Due to poor planning on my part, and irritating business hours on someone elses, I'm shifting this week's 'Back for Seconds' posts to Tuesday and Thursday.  I'm sure you can wait.

But in the meantime.  A week or two ago, I had a facebook exchange with my daughter and son about missing foods.  By now, everyone in my immediate family has lived in at least two countries, which means we've all eaten at home in at least two countries.  Enough to repeat certain dishes, to learn to like foods that were initially uninteresting, unfamiliar, or even unpleasant.  And then there are the foods we ate as children, prepared by relatives now gone.  We miss them--the foods and the people who fed us.

I posted a slide show at The Atlantic's food section about homesick Ecuadorians eating in Madrid on my son's facebook wall.  Simon lived in Ecuador for a year, and often talks with great longing of the encebollado, a tuna and yuca soup, and hornado, a roasted pork, popular at markets in the northern mountainous region where he lived.  My husband has his favorite Czech pastries, laskonka, meringues with chopped nuts sandwiching buttercream.  Grace is a mixed-up girl.  When she's home, she might be missing habichuelas con dulce, the sweet red bean soup made with coconut milk, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and cloves she ate when living in the Dominican Republic.  Or she might be wanting some hutspot, a Dutch mashed potato and carrot supper.  Francesca, my youngest, is in Italy now. It's pretty clear from her letters that spaghetti con vongole is going to be missed upon her return stateside.  And me? Well, I hope my 'Back for Seconds' posts are cluing you in to foods I want to eat again.

The point is, sometimes we want those foods because of a craving, a desire for that particular taste.  But maybe even more often, it's a longing that goes beyond the taste; it's a kind of homesickness.  So in that facebook exchange, I said there ought to be a word for missing foods.  'Gastalgia', Simon suggested, irritatingly quickly--from 'gastronomy' and 'nostalgia', I assume.  As in "I'm feeling a little gastalgic right now for Denmark". 

Nostalgia, incidentally, is from Ancient Greek words meaning 'returning home' and 'pain or ache'.  I like the idea of using words meaning 'returning to the table', but fear combining that with 'pain' or 'ache' has an unpleasant connotation.  Maybe something meaning 'longing for the table'?

Or maybe the Portuguese word, saudade , which I'm told lacks a perfect English translation, is worth looking at.  According to Wikipedia, it's described as "the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again."  It's also described as an emptiness, so that fits well with the idea of hungering for home. Hmm. I wonder how you say 'hunger for home' in Greek?

I'm open to suggestions. And if the perfect word already exists, I hope someone will tell me.  If it's super obvious, you can all have a little chuckle at my expense.


Grace said...

That "gastalgia" was really annoyingly fast, wasn't it? Simon is amazing.

Charles Shere said...

Past taste, is what I call it.

Giovanna said...

Yep, that Simon doesn't miss a beat.

Past taste is good for a noun--you get the beginning of pasta and pastry there, always a good lead in to a taste. But how to turn it into an adjective or verb?

Charles Shere said...

With a hyphen. "Oh, that's so past-taste…"
does "nostalgia" form a verb?

Giovanna said...

Touché. Can't think of a verb for nostalgia. But you can be nostalgic for something...can you be past-taste for a bowl of your grandmother's soup?

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