The Taste of Memory

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

In the Pixar movie Ratatouille, the critic Anton Ego has a character changing moment when a bite of ratatouille triggers a childhood memory. New York Times Magazine Food Editor Amanda Hesser, and Dr. Marcia Pelchat, with the Monell Chemical Senses Center, join us to talk about why there is such a strong connection between taste and memory.

And we want to hear your story. What dishes or foods trigger memories for you?


Amanda Hesser and Dr. Marcia Pelchat

Comments [11]

Joseph Arsenault from Harlem

Isn't the first time you taste something so indelible and unique an experience as to never be repeated? The first occurence of an experience sets the model. We search to repeat it but it can never really happen again, only an imitation of it that with each repetition defeats the unique features that set the sensation in place to begin with.
The idea that the limbic system may well be connected to the formation of memory makes a lot of sense. This would explain why that model experience is also associated with environmental cues that can be recalled. But the recapture of the experience itself can never be duplicated, only intimated, only approximated.

Aug. 07 2007 12:08 PM
Lorenzo from NY

The reverse is also true: I remember my first "mind blowing" reaction to the first taste of tonic water or ice cream and wish that my taste buds were virginal again.

Aug. 07 2007 11:56 AM
Robert from NYC

The smell of mom frying the sausage, meatballs, pork neck bones and braciole on Sunday mornings in the 1950s as the base for the "gravy" (tomato sauce) for maccheroni dinner at 1:00 pm every Sunday followed by those meats simmered in the gravy along with a fresh salad. The smell of tomato sauce brings it all back.

Aug. 07 2007 11:55 AM
Joan from Garrison, NY

Moo Soo Pork was a favorite dish of mine while I was a student. Then I worked in a morgue briefly after med school. Bodies in a certain stage of decomposition smell exactly like moo soo pork and I've not eaten it again.

Aug. 07 2007 11:54 AM
Jay from Brooklyn

I once went on a terrible date where we split yam fries at zen palate on 14th street. I used to love yam fries, but after tha date I could never eat them again without wanting to gag.

Aug. 07 2007 11:54 AM
LIA from manhattan

gnocci (italian dish) from an Italian restaurant in Manhattan. used to eat it with my mother every Saturdays until she passed away so I keep going to that restaurant. in Argentina and Uruguay we eat gnocci every 29th of the month with money under the dish for good luck (it works)

Aug. 07 2007 11:54 AM
Johnny S from Elizabeth NJ

Our local radio station, WDLC in Port Jervis, NY, used to play big band music and jazz on Sunday mornings.

As my brother and I would wake up to my mother cooking up coffee, bacon and eggs to the sound of Benny Goodman and Mitch Miller. And now, I can smell her coffee, bacon and eggs when I hear big band music.

Aug. 07 2007 11:53 AM
Chuck Newman from nj

Brussel sprouts. I cut one open one time and it was full of tiny bugs.

Aug. 07 2007 11:52 AM
Libby Kessman

Every summer I must have at least 1 hot dog. I am searching for a hot dog that re-creates for me the taste of one I had as a child at our annual Hebrew school picnic on a nearby farm, complete with pony rides, sack races, and marshmallow toasting over a fire. I have not had this taste again. Does anyone know of a restaurant serving a grilled outdoors hot dog? Hudson Beach (in Riverside Park) comes close, but I fear the hot dogs they are making nowadays aren't the same.

Aug. 07 2007 11:15 AM
Trevor from LIC

Understanding that taste and smell are directly related, I've often pondered memory's link with my sense of smell.

When I was 16 I went to Ireland and had the time of my life; for some reason, I wore Old Spice *Fresh* deodorant on the trip, and not my usual *Classic* Old Spice (my Mom bought it for me). Anyway, when I came back I switched to the Classic again. Some years later, I was standing in a store contemplating what deodorant to buy, and picked up the Old Spice *Fresh*, and tears came to my eyes as I could suddenly recall so much I thought I'd forgotten...

Besides, who hasn't smelled something that reminded them of an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend from years ago?

Aug. 07 2007 10:59 AM
Jeff Howe from Downtown Brooklyn

I am perpetually hoping to taste a hamburger that will trigger my memory of the bowling alley burgers I ate during my summer visits to my grandmother's trailer park. I grew up in Ohio, but we would spend our summers back in the Northwest, where my parents were from. I'd get dropped off to spend a few days with my Grandmother. She lived in a trailer packed to the gills with overstock items and other forms of junk. She occupied a vaguely terrifying presence in my consciousness. She would drag me to the bowling alley across the street, where she would play league games with the other retirees. Being four or five, I didn't bowl. I sat at the sandwich counter. I loved the hamburgers there. I'm sure the burgers were full of meat by-products and served on three-day-old buns, but for years I always tried to replicate that taste. For a long time I assumed it was something in the water or air in Oregon, but that can't be it. Maybe there was magic in the bowling alley. I guess I'd like to believe that.

Aug. 07 2007 10:51 AM

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