The Culture of Food

Finding a Taste of Home in a Pot of Cup Noodles

Sometimes, travel means craving the familiar. Like the satisfying slurp of cup noodles as you sit on a rooftop in Morocco 12,000 kilometres from home

It’s a lovely evening in Marrakech. The sun is about to set and I’m perched on the rooftop of the riad where I’m lodging. Though the building is only three storeys high, I have a sweeping, screensaver-worthy view of the Atlas Mountains; the zig-zagging outline looks like somebody has cut it out of a photo.

I pull apart my wooden chopsticks with a clean snap, and peel back the cover to reveal a mass of curly noodles, steeped in a dark, ruddy broth. The steam rises, and I’m hit with a scent so savoury, so remarkably pungent that I begin to salivate. It is unmistakable: activated MSG, my old friend. My cup noodles are ready.

I tug at the noodles with my teeth, and wash them down with a sip of broth. It is utterly delicious. And not just objectively delicious: delicious in that deeply comforting, hit-the-spot-nostalgia kind of way.

If my younger self could see me now, she’d be shocked. That I’m 12,000 kilometres from home, with a stunning view of a part of the world so astonishingly foreign to me… and eating cup noodles.

She would have expected me to immerse myself in new cultures and try novel foods. But the truth is, in the last two months I have had my fair share of foreign flavours: spice-laden tagines, tangia stews soaked up with disc-shaped khobz bread, snacks of briwat spring rolls and brochette liver skewers. And I really just want some cup noodles: a soothing, familiar taste of home.

More and more, I find myself packing a quarter of a suitcase with instant noodles and snacks to take on my travels, tucked neatly in between my dresses and socks.

Sometimes, I share them with those I meet along the way. There is a camaraderie in sharing a meal with people you’ve just met, even if it is a humble cup of instant noodles. I tell stories of how the ubiquitous cup noodle has journeyed with me through life, nourishing me in the middle of sleepless nights, rescuing me in moments of kitchen laziness and always making me feel infinitely better. Stories come from food.

Halfway through my reverie the riad manager, Karim, ducks through the door and sees me with my noodles. His expression is one of horror, curiosity and concern.

‘Next time we will eat tangia. You must try my tangia with my mother’s preserved lemons,’ he insists.

‘Oh yes, inshallah,’ I say. ‘If God is willing.’

I secretly hope He isn’t. I fish for more noodles and slurp, louder this time, to express my satisfaction.

Cathay Travell Book


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