Everyone has those foods from childhoods that you constantly crave or remember fondly. When made by someone else do yours seem to taste as good? If your mom makes the best fried chicken and someone else makes it does it taste as good? Your Nana makes the best spaghetti and meatballs but when you make them do they taste as good? Favorite family recipes seem to suffer from the same problem that foods associated with events or cities face. Philly Cheese steak doesn't taste as good in San Francisco. A hot dog never tastes as good as it does at the ball park or a street corner in New York. The problem these foods are face are that in a very specific setting they just seem to taste better. Maybe it isn't as much a problem for the foods as it is for the eater.
I have in recent months made a couple of the recipes that I grew up on. The Chili didn't have the same potent flavor as the one my Dad makes and I am certain I followed the same recipe. The enchiladas didn't taste like Mom made. While these items were eaten with relish by friends and roommates they just didn't have the same effect on me that I remember from home.
It certainly isn't the dishes because those changed over the years at my house and the food still tastes the same. It isn't the pots and pans since I mostly cook from hand-me-downs from my parents kitchen. So the same chili I made was likely cooked in the same pot my dad used. So what could it be?
There is a theory, and probably studies to back it up, that smell and taste are so interconnected that certain scents will make a person salivate. I am starting to believe that emotion might be the trifecta of eating. If you have a strong emotional reaction to a particular food because of location, timing, or people involved you are less likely to have the same sense of enjoyment when you eat that food in a different situation.
I had a very strong reaction to my first hot dog from a street vendor in Harlem. So much so that the next trip to New York a hot dog from a street vendor was all I wanted to eat. Lunch at The Plaza couldn't even replace the emotions that I associated with the vendor I could see out the window. On a following trip I bought a hot dog in Time Square and it was once again beyond words. Chili made by my dad and stored in the freezer still tastes better than the pots of chili from the same recipe I have made. Enchiladas mom made certainly taste better after a long trip home than they did this past weekend. My chili is good, as are my enchiladas, but they just don't seem to hold a candle to eating them in the house I grew up.
I make a great meatloaf, lasagna and mac and cheese. These taste like some of the best food I have ever had. Those three, however are recipes that I have taken from other places or have adapted to be my own so I have no emotion attached to them. With no emotion ever being attached they don't run the risk of falling short of the trinity. All they have to do is smell good and taste good. It must be why I can go to five Italian restaurants and eat lasagna at all of them and tell you they are all amazing meals and not feel the slightest bit of disappointment. Though if I were to try and cook my dad's spareribs they would fall short every time.
Not every food seems subjected to this but the ones that are can cause crushing blows to the mind. A mind that anticipates the euphoric pleasure it associates with the smell and taste of those enchiladas, hot dogs, chili and ribs.