Retro food. Do you go there?

Retro, nostalgic or classic? Find out the difference on Food24.

by: Aletta Lintvelt | 05 Nov 2010

My granny used to make instant puddings with Ideal milk, crushed pineapple and Tennis biscuits crumbled at the bottom. At Christmas I ate trifle with sherry-soaked cake and lots of preserved ginger. And I still love Peppermint-crisp tart.

Nostalgia is a powerful drug. It keeps us connected emotionally to a moment long gone. I read somewhere that nostalgia is the death of hope. Growth always requires a certain level of discomfort. Tasting something new, growing our repertoire of dishes means giving up something very comforting, something that makes us feel safe. Making or eating a dish for nostalgic value, is a feeling of coming home or an attempt to re-create a rose-tinted memory.

But what makes food retro – as opposed to just nostalgic or an old classic? Cottage pie – traditional. Avo Ritz – so retro! For me there is a difference between traditional food that has been made for celebrations and as family staples for generations. These dishes may have also grown outdated given our current tendency for fresher, lighter-cooked food, but we keep reinventing them. For example, in 2010 we may not garnish the roast with a bunch of curly parsley nor serve it alongside a moulded cucumber salad.

For me a retro dish must have the faded glamour of a once-fashionable flavour. The Eighties gave us a host of retro dishes – abundant as it was with fantastic inventions such as the Soda Stream machine, the microwave, the instant powdered ice-cream that, really Mom, tastes NOTHING like the real deal. Let me just say at this point that I’m not an uptight food snob that deny myself the pleasure of processed foods. Melrose cheese on white toast – I’m there.

That era also gave us Crayfish Thermidor, Sole bon femme and snails adrift in a sea of butter and garlic. Let’s take a moment here and remember housewives everywhere setting pancakes drenched in sticky orange sauce (and sometimes the table) alight at dinner parties.

Anyone who ever ate a piece of perfectly good steak after dragging it through lukewarm sunflower oil and then dunking it in a cheese sauce, while politely elbowing their fellow diners, will know the horror that is fondue. Okay, perhaps seeing a grown-man pass out after spiking himself with an over-zealous fondue fork, did kind of kill the romantic allure of the whole thing for me.
Perhaps it is at cocktail parties (or funerals) that the culinary aspirations of those heady days were most evident. I have vivid memories of my mom as a 33-year-old woman, in a red velvet dress opening her handbag at the end of an evening. Out came a guilty serviette spilling vol au vents and tiny onions of artificial complexion, impaled side-by-side with sweaty orange cheese on small sticks. And glaced cherries in bacon.

Are you an emotional eater? Which retro dishes do you crave, cook or sometimes make for your family as a little plaster against the world?
Now excuse me while I wolf down this boiled egg with the yolk removed, minced, mixed with a combination of mayonnaise, breadcrumbs and tomato sauce and some cayenne pepper (the secret according to my mom) and then assembled back again.

Got a rush of warm fuzzy retro-feelings? Then make a night of it at The Ritz, Brio or La Perla.

- Aletta Lintvelt


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