Unforgettable memories and favourite childhood food

Unforgettable memories and favourite childhood food

Does the culture we are raised in influence what we remember about our favourite childhood food?  Would the Dutch differ in this from expats? And if so, how?

During our recent "Taste, Memory & Culture" event, all participants enjoyed the discussion on what it is that makes a certain food from our childhood so special to become unforgettable. Obviously, everyone was recalling special and nostalgic moments.

Nostalgia, a sentimental longing for the past, always includes ourselves in a central position, be that at family meetings, reunions, birthdays, or scenes from holidays. Nostalgia prompts a wave of positive and warm emotions!

A traditional or a globalised dish?

When asked "which is your favourite food from your childhood?", a slight but clear smile appeared on all faces. Would that be a traditional food from own culture or something from abroad, from our highly globalised world? Would Dutch differ in that from the expats?

It was indeed striking that as much as 68 percent of the Dutch, who by the way were between 19 to 26 years old, named a non-traditional type of food.

For example, a French dish (boeuf bourguignon), an Italian (spaghetti Bolognese) and even a Japanese dish (sushi).

The remaining 33 percent of the Dutch, mostly in their fifties, did recall a typical Dutch "delicacy", like boterham met pindakaas, met spek or draadjesvlees.

It’s also remarkable that all expats, mostly from Southern and Eastern Europe, without any exception, remembered something typically traditional.

For an Italian it was milk with biscuits before going to bed, for Greeks a spinach pie (spanakopita or chortopita), or spaghetti with minced meat (the Greek style makaronia me kima), for a Dutch-Hungarian a comforting potato dish rakott krumpli. All made by grandma or mum.

What makes our memory unforgettable?

What keeps then our memories alive? Although, 22 percent of the Dutch and 33 percent of the expats associated memory with family, there was a critical difference.

The Dutch focused on "myself" in having fun or in being creative with their core family, while the attention of the expats went to the atmosphere of harmoniously sharing with family and friends. What is dominant is the "whole scheme" instead of "myself".

Cross-cultural psychology has indeed shown that cultures influence what people emphasise in their lives. That can be revealed by "whatever comes first in our mind".

You may feel happy when you are proud of yourself for being innovative or creative, but in another culture may be more effective when you enjoy your time together with people you feel familiar with.

One may argue that the one case does not exclude the other. True, but what counts here is what really comes first in our mind!

Another 22 percent of the Dutch remembered discovering their favourite childhood dish while being on holidays (e.g. in Italy). The "On holidays" and "Family-fun" memories occur only among the Dutch, while the "Family-friends-togetherness" only among the expats.

 The "Routine" and "Taking care of me", categories, are shared. In the "Routine" category, people bring to mind a daily habit. For the Dutch (22 percent) that was lunchtime at school (boterham met pindakaas), for an Italian "before going to bed" (milk with biscuits), for a Greek, "after school" (usually as lunch, Moussaka).

Lastly, "Taking care of me" is represented equally (33 percent) in each group. The trip down memory lane goes to the person who took care of me, grandma (for the younger) or mum (for the older). 

A message for professionals

These are the nostalgic memories of about 30 people, which limits the cultural diversity covered. Nevertheless, you may recognise yourself in some of these outcomes.

Although such a small survey lacks strong reliability, it does point to suggestions, especially for professionals taking care of our food. Isn’t it important to know the context people in the one or the other culture enjoy their food?

Nostalgia prompts self-continuity and positivity

Psychologically speaking nostalgia is "a reservoir of positive affect". Is it our childhood years, past summers or holidays, visits to grandma or the figure of our mother that makes it unforgettable?

Whatever it is, it boosts a positive sense of connection, self-continuity and self-regard for everyone.

Universalities and differences

Do the differences imply that Dutch are more open, innovative and love changes? Do expats from certain cultures love their own traditions better or do they have a stronger need for belonging compared to the Dutch?

Is it a product of the loneliness expats experience, a realisation of the importance of a beloved, back-home person, a need to connect life back home with life in the present, a need to belong?  

Whatever it is, nostalgia helps! As research has shown, nostalgia can buffer the acculturative stressors immigrants experience as they strive to adjust in their new culture.

Katerina Pouliasi


Katerina Pouliasi

My first "collisions' with Dutch culture, transformed into a strong curiosity about the nature of cultural differences, have led me to in depth research on "Culture, Self-understanding and the Bicultural...

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