I remember the first time I tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Moreover, I remember my initial resistance to it.
I was at a friend’s house and I believe we were playing in the treehouse in the woods behind their house. Probably around snack time, he, or maybe his older sister, suggested peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I was horrified! It seems so irrational now, but it just sounded utterly disgusting and twisted to me. Of course, long story short, they somehow managed to talk me into trying it, and it was love at first bite.
The truth is, I’m never very good at embracing combinations. Not through picky eating, but rather because I’m normally quite content with one topping or filling or item; why use two delicious ingredients when one will give me the same enjoyment?
Maybe this comes from the fact that my mum usually cooked quite simple, wholesome meals: we didn’t really need toppings or crazy flavour combinations, we enjoyed the foods as they were. Or maybe it is the French side’s influence, as French cuisine is known for its classic combinations and no further toying with flavours.
Speaking of the French side, my French grandparents weren’t overly fond of pasta (which is odd, considering my grandmother’s Italian background). Pasta was only ever mentioned as a joke; “Well, if the butcher’s isn’t open, there’s some pasta in the cupboard!” they would scoff while I quietly thought how delicious a big bowl of pasta would be. But this is the weird bit: if we ever did have pasta, the only topping option was butter and salt – and as I didn’t like butter, I had mine plain with salt.
Well, actually, this is the weird bit: while tomato sauce didn’t feature with pasta ever, it was the default topping for rice. Rice with tomato sauce! Is that a thing? Now, I can’t say that was a food combination that I loved, but it has obviously now been tinged with the rose-tint of nostalgia, and the thought of a pile of rice mixed up with tomato sauce seems far more comforting than my default choice of soy sauce.
But the pasta madness continues. Although at home with my parents we would have ours with tomato sauce, my dad one night decided to tell me that he used to enjoy his pasta with sugar. I can’t remember my initial reaction, but I tried it, and it was fine – it’s just wheat and sugar after all, hardly an innovative pairing, but I was too embarrassed to tell any schoolfriends lest they think my family were weird (although, let’s face it, when you were a kid everyone’s family seemed weird in some way or another). It wasn’t something that became a staple, but I guess it certainly taught me to be more open-minded when it came to trying different combinations.
A bit like Joey in that scene in Friends where Rachel mistakenly combines trifle and shepherd’s pie, I kinda think if all the components taste good individually, how offensive can they be together? Hence, sun-dried tomato goes in everything, tahini goes on almost everything, and sriracha or Tabasco go on most things tahini is present in.
But probably the weirdest food combo I have come close to embracing was one of my housemates’ in university. Although from what I could tell she lived off Philadelphia cream cheese bagels, and goats cheese pizza with balsamic glaze that came in miniature plastic bottles that would accumulate around corners of the kitchen, we would occasionally cross paths in the kitchen when she would be preparing her breakfast of… toast with…
Marmite and marmalade!
I know – two of most people’s least favourite spreads – combined!
I speak as someone who is fairly indifferent towards both yeast extract and marmalade – I can eat both of them and occasionally will enjoy them if I’m in the right mood – but I can’t say they have the most appealing flavours in and of themselves. Combined, though, I guess they fill in each other’s gaps: marmalade offers the sweet to complement the salty of yeast extract, and yeast extract brings the umami to marmalade’s bitter.
I guess this might be one of those rare exceptions where two wrongs do make a right… but I’d still pick peanut butter and jelly!
I’m so looking forward to reading and seeing (and, eventually, tasting!) everyone else’s weird food combos!