Life

5 brilliant essays on the power of yellow food

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Five writers reveal the yellow food that means the most to them.      

From pineapple to mangoes, yellow-coloured food can sometimes bring us comfort and joy in the most unexpected of places. Whether it’s a spread of butter that “tastes of grass and air and freedom” or a chicken biryani that is as “comforting as a feather bed”, here five writers share the yellow food that means the most to them.     

Choosing Pineapple by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

Recently I ate so much pineapple that my mouth bled. A bit gross, I know, but if that doesn’t tell you that I’m in love with the fruit then I don’t know what could. Pineapple, despite its magical juicy taste, sunshine-yellow colour and alleged cancercuring properties, is basically a flesh-eating monster. It contains an enzyme called bromelain that literally breaks down proteins, including (human) meat.

It was in Jamaica where the tragedy happened. I’d had pineapple for breakfast, more pineapple for lunch and some pineapple juice when my mouth started to tingle – the sweet, tart taste of the fruit suddenly becoming uncomfortably metallic. But the country is synonymous with pineapple, and it was hard to avoid. Just a few hours later I was sipping from a gaudy pink straw on an icy coconut-cream and fresh pineapple piña colada. The pineapple slice balancing on the edge of the glass looked up at me menacingly.

My Caribbean heritage once felt inaccessible, but in the past two years I have proudly explored it through Jamaican food culture. Pineapples, would you believe, have become an intrinsic part of my journey and have a history older than my ancestry there does – they were brought to the islands from South America by the Taíno people, indigenous inhabitants almost wiped out by diseases, such as smallpox, that European colonisers brought to the islands in the 16th century. The sugarloaf and cowboy varieties of pineapple have now been grown in the country for hundreds of years – a memory of the people who once roamed the tropical lands.

I might be one of those people who will have pineapple on pizza, but thanks to my lineage I’ve also eaten it grilled with coconut and rum, stewed into a delicious jam, baked into an upside-down cake and sandwiched in style next to the tastiest rice and peas and smokiest jerk chicken, straight from the barrel, and slathered in BBQ pineapple sauce.

As a Jamaican might tell you, “Belly full, pitata ave ’kin”. That’s patois for, “Contented people can afford to be choosy”. Pineapple would always be my first choice.

A Lot Of Butter by Ella Risbridger

There’s a Danish word I want to introduce you to. It’s tandsmør, or “tooth butter” – butter spread so thick you can see the marks of your teeth when you bite into it.

There was a time when the world was anti-butter. Remember that? A world of low-cal sprays and low-fat spreads. I think we’re past that. But still there’s something in me that hesitates to write the kind of love song to butter that butter deserves in case someone tells me off for it. There’s a greedy decadence to real butter that makes me nervous to confess how much I love it. But, in the spirit of tandsmør, I’ll try.

Hot buttered toast; butter on a jacket potato, split, the gold sinking slowly into the fluffy white inside. A pat of herby green sinking into steak; whisked into a sauce at the last minute to keep it perfectly, pristinely glossy and smooth.

The airy spaces in a croissant where butter used to be; the satisfying press and fold of rolling butter into puff pastry. The way it smells like hazelnuts as it browns and foams and dwindles again to deep brown. The way really good butter tastes of grass and air and freedom.

“I bet,” a friend said to me the other day – apropos of literally nothing – “that you go through a lot of butter.” He was right; I do. But how could I resist?

Mum’s Biryani by Robyn Wilder

Chicken biryani transports me to my early childhood. To the muted oranges and browns of the Eighties, my family sitting around the table. And set out before us, a great golden spread of biryani. This rice dish – North India’s paella – is usually cooked with chicken, potatoes, onions and spices, and yellowed with saffron and cumin. It’s spicy but not hot; filling but not extravagant, and as comforting as a feather bed.

Biryani day would come once or twice a month. My mother would disappear into the kitchen with lots of pestle-and-mortar action, potato peelings and great plumes of steam from the pressure cooker. I always found it exciting. 

However, the taste was never quite what I expected. Blander, somehow. I would move the food around my plate, until my mother beckoned me over to her. Then she’d feed me from her own plate, with her hand, as is the Asian way. And wouldn’t you know it, the food would taste amazing. Exactly as I’d expected it to. I’d stand there, being fed by my mother, while she and my father exchanged wry glances, until her plate was empty. And then she’d take my plate and eat off that. It is one of my favourite memories.

It is also bittersweet. My family is long gone; my father and grandparents dead. And my mother’s health has been declining for years. The first thing to go was her ability to cook. Then she became confused and immobile. Now she lives in a home and doesn’t always recognise me when I visit.

It occurs to me now that the food from my mother’s plate only tasted different because she added salt. I’ve chased the taste since, at friends’ houses and restaurants, but no biryani has tasted as good. So I’m going to start cooking it for my children. And I will feed them from my plate.

Sweets The Colour Of Sunshine by Poorna Bell

A few weeks ago I was in my friend’s family home to celebrate her impending wedding. As we fanned ourselves with napkins and newspapers, trays appeared, each crammed with different traditional sweets.

There was only one I was interested in: laddus the hue of saffron and flame, sticky with ghee and studded with raisins and cashews. They were just like the ones we had at home.

My friend’s homeland is Pakistan and mine is India. There are roughly 2,000 miles between our ancestral homes, and several wars. Yet here we were, in the midst of a beautiful summer, brought together by things as human and universal as love and marriage. To me, laddus aren’t just sweets. They represent sharing, giving, joy, love and families coming together.

My first memory of one was at the first Diwali we celebrated when I was seven, in India. I remember the slick of coconut oil pouring onto my skin for the traditional bath that symbolises purity and cleansing. The lighting of clay lamps on the front porch to cast light against darkness. And an offering from someone I loved, a treat the colour of summer itself, as if to say well done for getting all that oil out of your ears: a laddu.

Missing Mangos by Kate Young

During childhood summers, we always had mangoes in the fridge. Bowen mangoes – first cultivated in my home state of Queensland. They’re orange-yellow with a tangy flavour. When I see mangoes in the greengrocers now, priced a couple of quid each, I think longingly of the huge boxes of them we used to buy at the market for $10 (£8).

We had mangoes in such abundance that for months they would show up in salads, as sorbet and eaten over the sink in the morning, juice running down our chins. My sister and I used to fight over the seed, the joy of nibbling at flesh left behind until we had sucked it dry.

In my teenage years, I worked in our local Indian restaurant. The only thing I had permission to make was a lassi: yoghurt, ground almonds, sugar, salt and mango, blitzed and served over ice. I’d make a bigger batch than would fit in our huge glasses, so I’d have a little to drink myself.

In England, mangoes are an occasional treat. They’re delicious, of course, but they pale in comparison to my memories of mangoes. Last summer I travelled back to Australia, and sucked on the seed of my first Bowen mango in 10 years. It was the taste of the season, of home, and of my childhood. I hadn’t realised quite how much I had missed it.

stylist.co.uk has had a yellow makeover on 15 August, to celebrate our Yellow Issue and pay homage to the colour of the season. Read more about the most playful shade of all here.

Photography: Dennis Pedersen