In the “time before,” I was an ambitious home cook. Now I want instant noodles and potato chip sandwiches.

“The feel of packaged white bread is so alluring it almost makes me cry.”

I grabbed a knife from the block on the counter and pierced the plastic packaging holding the hot dogs together. Slimy water squirted out over my hands. Is this what it’s supposed to smell like?

Four months earlier, you would never have caught me stabbing hot dog packages and sniffing their contents at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday. Back then, I was braising osso bucco, simmering palak daal, and icing a fantastical cake. Just four months ago, I was a food snob; my kitchen skills were at their peak.

When Covid-19 forced everyone into lockdown, I vowed to cook elaborate meals with all the newfound time on my hands. I could finally try the homemade pasta recipe I had bookmarked months ago or try my hand at nihari, a Pakistani favorite. The first couple of days were great: I checked a number of recipes off my list that I had a hankering for. 

Something about those incredibly-familiar-but-not-so-recent flavors and textures makes it all seem like everything is going to turn out fine.

Soon after, it was like my taste buds shifted. I no longer wanted to have the wine we had been aging in the basement for almost 10 years; I didn’t feel like slicing into a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread. All I wanted was comfort, but in a vastly different way from “the time before”.

Covid-19 made me look back at the food I grew up eating as a child and hadn’t touched in years: hot dogs cut like octopuses, boxed mac and cheese with ketchup smiley faces, stacks of salty potato chips in between slices of soft white bread.

Something about those incredibly-familiar-but-not-so-recent flavors and textures makes it all seem like everything is going to turn out fine. The feel of packaged white bread is so alluring it almost makes me cry. It takes me back to my parents’ kitchen 25 years ago, when I would sneak a piece of bread, add on a processed slice of cheese and a ring of canned pineapple, and microwave the whole thing until it was bubbly.

I can’t fix what’s happening outside the four walls of my house, but I can control what gives me pleasure. For now, my online grocery order will include many packets of instant noodles and turkey jerky, plain yellow mustard and squishy almost-plastic dinner rolls. I’m going to fill my home with food that hasn’t been a part of my life for decades, and it’s all going to be okay.

Also tagged

Anam Ahmed is a copywriter and essayist based in Toronto, and writes personal essays on family, identity, and parenting for ZORA, SheKnows, Grok Nation, Apparently and more. Get in touch with her at www.anamahmed.ca.