Why Food Stays In Our Memories

Before leaving for a new adventure, in addition to booking the airfare and a place to sleep, we also seek the typical dishes that we might taste in the new place we are going to discover. The reason is because food is an important part of the culture. Each of us has our own culinary traditions, that most of the time are also related to special occasions, so one of the many ways to discover a new culture is to taste and smell every dish that the country can offer us.

Food makes people happy - at least most of them! 

Happiness is an emotion related to an affective feeling, an experience, a landscape, a sunset, or meals. In the case of food, it may be due to the emotional value of taste memory; when we eat a food that reminds us of a certain moment in our lives, the memory leaves a happy feeling thus leaving us in a good mood. These are elements that are stored unconsciously, but can influence our conscious behaviors. Taste memory is not the only one to condition our emotions. Some foods produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin that release a feeling of happiness and can contribute to positively improving our mood. Just think of the power of chocolate - a legalized drug that makes us happy.

Drinking a glass of wine together with friends positively influences us, because it helps us to alleviate tensions accumulated during daily life. A perfect combination for our happiness could be given by food and wine, especially when they are accompanied by people who are important to us and/or who make us feel good. This is how enogastronomic tourism blends these two elements, making them the main reason for travelling.

One of the main scientific reasons why food stays in our memories is due to the hippocampus, a particular region of our mind where all our memories are stored. This part is strongly connected to smell and emotions. It is the combination of these two elements that makes people remember food vividly. We can have a sense of recall even before we are consciously able to remember the event along with the emotion. That is one of the main reasons why the memories of food stick in our mind.

But we do not just have good memories related to the food we have experienced, we also have bad ones and each of us has at least one. Have you ever tried the famous bugs from China or the fried spiders from Cambodia? Even non-foul-smelling dishes create an impression in our mind, Sometimes even more than the good ones. At the end of our trip, we would have one more funny story to tell, about how we came up with the idea to try that disgusting food.

Food is an important part of our cultural traditions!

As we taste something new, we need to be respectful of the tradition we are dealing with. For example, the sushi we know is completely different from the Japanese one. In  fact, Japanese are mainly used to eating Nigiri, which must be dipped in soy sauce from the side of the fish, not from the side of the rice. The piece can be eaten either with chopsticks or with one’s hands in one bite. Be careful not to pierce it with chopsticks, otherwise it will bring you bad luck and could be seen as a sign of rudeness. Some tribes in Africa welcome people by offering the blood of a freshly killed cow. If you refuse to drink it, it is seen as a sign of bad luck towards the host tribe.

Food is not just a fun memory or a story to tell, for many countries in the world it  is synonymous with welcome and reunion. For example, in Italy, the meal is seen as a moment to be shared with relatives and friends, especially during celebrations, but also after a normal working day, where families get together and have dinner, by sharing daily moments. 

Walking through Cuban cities, you can see the citizens cooking in the streets, you can see them through the windows of their homes, especially on the days that bring in the New Year. On these  special days you can enjoy the smell of roasted pork and fried plátano, a traditional Cuban side dish, and large pots of boiling rice. People outside their homes are excited to celebrate this event with their families and neighbors. You can feel that the most special moment is not so much the chime of midnight, but all the preparation leading up to the celebration of that moment - the quality of time spent in the company of loved ones.

So, whenever we travel, we must always respect and appreciate all the different tastes, smells, and sights that we can discover in the cuisines of other countries. At the same time, we must welcome travelers who come to explore our homelands, because the strongest and most vivid memories that remain etched in our minds are  what we share and feel while we are enjoying our special meals.

Valentina B.

January 4, 2022

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