It could be a city we visited and loved, a restaurant that is revisited or even a product we used to crave many years ago but which if you are objective is really disappointing.
Food memories play a very important role in building our identity. What we eat ends up shaping who we are and who we really want to be with. Food is about sharing moments and experiences. It is also about our past memories.
If there is one thing I crave for whenever I am away from Malta, it is the glorious and ripe Maltese tomato. Grown in abundance under the Mediterranean sun, its taste is unbelievably good. And if there was one thing that I could not get used to when I arrived in Belgium, nearly 10 years ago, it was the fact that I could not really find tomatoes that could compare to what I had experienced in the past.
Things started to change when I discovered that I could buy tomatoes from specialist shops and not supermarkets. The cost can be prohibitive (cherry tomatoes at 24 euros a kilo is not uncommon) but at least you get that acidic flavour of the sun which makes tomatoes so good.
At this time of year, tomatoes are at their best and there have been times when I’ve transported a few kilos with me, enough to lengthen my ‘summer experience’ away from the country I call home.
The advent of an international low cost supermarket chain in Malta has meant that many Maltese who buy their vegetables from there have got used to tasteless tomatoes which are imported (a shame given that the fruits and vegetables grown in Malta are exceptional).
Eating well nowadays, wherever you are in the world, unfortunately means that you have to go the extra mile to find good produce. Unfortunately, many have swapped taste for convenience. When it’s a race against time it can be understandable, though eating well is to us a matter of prime importance.
What am I trying to get at you might be asking? Just back from a five-week visit to Malta, I must say that my quest for the gorgeous, delicious Maltese tomato ended without any success despite consecutive visits to the farmer’s market and also questions to vegetable sellers about the provenance of their tomatoes.
The question I have been asking myself and my wife is whether our memory is playing tricks on us, whether our expectations of the Maltese tomatoes have grown so high, whether the tomatoes we are buying are so good that the Maltese tomatoes are no longer considerably better.
Is it a case of nostalgia playing tricks on me? Has my palate evolved? Are Maltese tomatoes being sold to the large manufacturers who produce tomato sauce and the famous Maltese tomato extract ‘kunserva’? Or has something happened to the Maltese tomato?
I’ve made fresh tomato sauce with Maltese tomatoes which was excellent, I’ve drizzled them with excellent extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and they tasted extremely good but not the way I remembered them.
And my best memory of Maltese tomatoes was not really a classic. It was grilled cherry tomatoes served with fresh local goats cheese and anchovies (few in Malta would dream of grilling tomatoes unless it is to replicate an English breakfast).
I’ve looked in the countryside for clues. One reason I came up with was that the tomatoes might be grown in greenhouses instead of the sun-drenched fields. It’s a hunch but it’s the only plausible explanation I can think of. What was sure is that I did not find out what happened and I left the island without a taste of my past.
If anyone knows what happened to the Maltese tomato please drop us a line.