Everyone has a skeleton in the pantry. Mine is Pot Noodle. Unbeknownst to my mother I ate them as a teenager at school for lunch. They’re those horrid instant noodles that come in a pot, covered in powdered flavouring, with a sachet of dodgy sauce. Add boiling water, stir in sauce, reseal the foil lid, wait a short while, and hey presto, you have a one-pot meal of reconstituted gunk that leaves you feeling extremely thirsty afterwards.
As 17 year-old school girls – with the privilege of leaving the school grounds at lunch-time that younger students weren’t afforded – we were quite possibly addicted to Pot Noodle. Okay, they were cheap. Around 50 pence (77 cents) a pot. I was living in England at the time, in the north, a town – soon-to-be city – called Sunderland.
We’d nip out to the local corner shop for our lunch-time Pot Noodles, bring them back to the Common Room, pop the kettle on, and slurp them down – usually before the suggested steeping period was over. We’d drink the dregs afterwards. Disgusting really. But we were usually saving our cash for the inevitable under-aged, piss-up and a pub crawl that we partook of most weekends.
There were several different flavours: beef and tomato, chow mien, and even chicken tikka somewhere along the line. Despite chicken tikka masala being hailed a national dish the Pot Noodle flavour didn’t catch on with the British public and was discontinued. The chicken and mushroom flavour was my favored fast-noodle fix.
Australia has Cup Noodle. I know this not because I buy them, but because I was on a Jetstar flight recently when my neighbour – who had been asleep and snoring – woke up and ordered one from the inflight menu. I admit I had a little sneer to my food-snobbish self when the Cup Noodle was passed across and I nibbled my cheese and crackers and sipped my plastic cup of Shiraz.
After a few minutes, my neighbour removed the all-crucial, heat-trapping, aroma-catching foil lid. I tell you, I almost wrestled that Cup Noodle from her pretty little hands, so tantalising was that hauntingly familiar smell.
I’m not proud to admit that I salivated my hankering after that girl’s noodles was so bad.
Maybe there’s a chemical explanation, or it was a memory trigger, or it’s due to the inclusion of notoriously naughty ingredients, such as mono sodium glutamate. Maybe i was just hungry.
So, I ask you dear reader. What makes bad food smell so good? And what blast from the past do you salivate over when it wafts – hauntingly – past your nose?