With Christmas holidays with us, good food is on our minds, naturally. However, what I am about to say on the foods we have had to stomach would not make you merry. Tis a season to be jolly but I may not strike a chord with many either. This is because I am dealing with taste and memory or better still the memory of taste.
If well-digested this piece is food for thought for consumer-right ideas. For instance, what do we do when we realise that a product that used to please our palate is gradually losing its essence?
The meat of the matter is that most food items do not taste like they used to. To be blunt, they tasted better as far as I remember. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t feel well on this issue. I know about nostalgia and this has got nothing to do with it. It is the kind of impractical complaint you feel, you are aware of and, yet it doesn’t go away. Worse of all, you don’t know who to complain to. This is because not everyone will understand your beef. Holding back the years (Simply Red) on the issue does not help. As the years roll by you keep taking a bite and you know that something is killing our foods softly (Roberta Flack).
Let me begin with something I picked up recently for no reason other than the sentimental. In tune with the season, I got for my household a box of a biscuit which rhymed with ‘crocodilly’. I brought it home to the curious looks of a certain Mrs. A. My 21st century toddlers looked at it indifferently, and I knew I had to have it all alone. Of course, the taste came nowhere near the ‘Crocodilly’ biscuits we gobbled and stringed round our necks and wrists. Those big boxes made Christmas Christmas. In the count down we watched with silent grudge to see if dad dared forget.
For extra special treats (and for families lucky to have a ‘been-to’ arriving for Christmas), Danish cookies were simply the best (Tina Turner). I mean the Danish cookies of yesteryears were a bunch of temptations and you would like to treat each piece like a lady (The Temptations). The whole family ate it together as in a ceremony. When it was opened the entire room is engulfed in a nice aroma. It was a solemn time where each family member is handed a portion of memorable delight. Of course, before one could say Osofo Dadzie it was all gone leaving the round tin container as a collective souvenir.
Still on Bronya does anyone remember how tasty Christmas chickens were? Forget whether they were local or poultry fowls, they all tasted special. Chicken soup was a real delight, especially when our mothers spiced it up with akukor mmensa.
Christmas, aside many other food items just don’t taste as good as they used to. See, I was born and grew up in Accra in the 1970’s and food was genuine and tasty and I am not talking any monkey chop some banana (Dan-I) business. I grew up eating sunspot and a milk-chocolaty one in a pyramid (was it triangular?) box. Mine, the promise of those would keep you goody goody half your growing days. I mean you dared not ignore your courtesy for boys and girls.
As someone in my thirties I feel empowered to tell my far younger friends that I am not in love (10cc) with today’s sardines. I am not necessarily talking any royal of the coast or a brand that sound like tetanus. If you ask me for a remote comparison eating sardine today is like watching Sad Movies (Boney M) in black and white after one has been exposed to colour TV.
Canned sardines used to be good, tasty and delicious. Indeed, when you were lucky to have one you couldn’t wait to say ‘lets get it on’ (Marvin Gaye). In those days a box of sardines was not a fishy affair. Plus, you didn’t have to eat it with energy, like you do smoked amani. You handled it gently, memorably. My year mates and seniors would remember that as soon as you opened up a tin of sardine all the cats living within one square mile would be coming in from the cold (Bob Marley).
For my twenty-something and under friends, sorry, but it is time to smell the coffee. And there’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil (Osibisa). If you doubt me, let me tell you this. In my school days you didn’t actually need the sardine fish. That was a luxury. All you wanted was a trickle of the oily juice. Mix that with boiled rice and you are game.
The other one, (is it mackerel?) was also not lacking in the backing. We called it Tinapa. When you download (oops, that’s not a seventies word), them into light soup, Tinapa would make everybody go kung fu fighting (Carl Douglas). Corned beef (I mean the original ‘kona’ beef) was on a pedestal of its own. Having it for a meal was like a feast event. No wonder when Corned beef was scooped out and ‘after the love has gone’ (Earth Wind and Fire), consumers couldn’t help but exhibit the empty can in their room divider (display shelf). It was a can-ny testimony to a culinary achievement. Please do not giggle. In those days it was not only a groovy thing to do, it was afro and psychedelic. In our ‘Tom Brown School Days’, rice water, ‘kaka oats’ ‘oblayo and ekoegbemi’ were cereal sensations. You took them in the morning and you just ‘wanna be starting something’ (Michael Jackson). Like Oliver Twist, one always wanted to ask for more. You know why? A drop of evaporated milk made all the difference. Unfortunately, when I take milk today it does not ring my bell (Anita Ward).
My disappointment with evaporated milk extends to many of the brands available on the market. The situation is not any better for the powdered versions. They are just ‘there’. Powdered milk wasn’t bad at all. Why in Hawai 5-0 was I ‘nicking’ my baby sister Faustie’s Lactogen. There was very, very good reason. In those good, yummy days, when girls just wanna have fun (Cyndi Lauper) chocolates were a sure bet. The chocolates of yester-years could make a girl kill. Even if it means they had to scheme like a James Bond’s 007 lady. My sister Margaret would save all term long just for chocolates. And on ‘our day’ I was the one entrusted to buy chocolate at Kingsway or GNTC.
As a growing kid I snacked up on a range of easy-bites that are either no more fashionable nor as delightful. Achomor, kulikuli, akankyier, agbelikaklo, atsifuifui, joley kaklo anduley (monkey tail). Whilst I am at it do you know that the young ones hardly know the difference between boflot (bough floats) and too-gber? As for akpiti, forget it. It has become a mystery word.
Quite evidently, our dear waachey is still very much around. But would you say that the waachey of blessed memory is still the one we eat today? Isn’t there something they added that they are no longer using? If waachey was served and folded up in that green leaf, there was a pyramid of spicy delight that awaited your pleasure. And by the way, where is kanzo? You wanna know? Kanzo is the burnt under of the waachey that is scrapped from the giant cooking pan. There was side kanzo and under kanzo, And waachey kanzo was so good it was for sale. Ask the cyto boys! Now, am I allowed to stretch this a bit, in the spirit of the season… please? Thanks everyone. The water we drink today cannot compare with that of the past. You wanna bet? Remember the cooler? That orange-coloured, earthen-ware pot shaped elegantly with a long, narrow neck resting on a round bulging midsection. It came along with a cute lid and a small round pad that supported its narrow base.
The cooler is usually placed in the corner of a room. Water from the cooler was always cool and nice? To enhance the taste there was something our mothers did to water. They burnt the dried husk of the pounded palm nut they had used for soup. This flavour in a water pot is something else. Call it ‘water brewed in the traditional pot.’ Now when served from such a receptacle an earthy pleasantness made water a very, very sweet commodity, better than the so called ‘pure water’. Those were the days when you drank water and you say to yourself what a wonderful world (Louis Armstrong).
By all means food, in addition to its processing, requires some Respect (Aretha Franklin). But by no means must we assume that it is only prepared foods that are Under attack (ABBA). Vegetables and spices are turning out for the worse. I personally discovered green pepper in my cooking experiments at the University of Cape Coast. That was in the late 1990’s. Within a decade what has happened to green pepper? All the aroma is gone like a candle in the wind (Eric Donaldson).
Not too long ago a combination of ginger and garlic provoked a great flavour, but no more. Bringing it further home, kpakpo shito used to make komi kala (Wulomei) an exciting proposition. Today, kpakpo shito is a pale shadow of itself. Even ‘ojenma’ pepper has stopped being a thriller (Michael Jackson). Is it the fertilizer or it is climate change? Or is it just me; dreading another tasteless Christmas?
Source: Kofi Akpabli
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