My food fixations define my life.
That’s not (entirely) an exaggeration.
While I do, of course, have interests and personality traits beyond food, as an autistic person, I’m prone to hyper-fixating on certain foods, tastes, and textures. Some of these fixations vary and have relatively short lifespans; it’s not uncommon for me to love a certain food for a few months only to one day go off it and never want to eat it again.
But some meals, I come back to, time and time again. Sometimes it’s purely for the flavour. But more often, it’s because that meal has a special connection to something else that matters to me— something that speaks to what my soul needs at a certain moment in time. That’s why certain meals stand out to me as “milestone meals.” And that’s why I want to share a select few of those meals with you.
No doubt, the humble roast dinner holds a special place in the heart of many a British reader. But for me, as an American immigrant, their significance is a little different. Unlike you, I didn’t grow up with a traditional roast dinner on Sundays or holidays or any other event. So, when I first discovered roast dinners, it was almost a ceremonial moment of cultural initiation: a way of saying “welcome to an element of British culture.”
Roast dinners quickly became my new hyperfixation and so I became friends with the staff. We added each other on social media. They invited me out for drinks. They remembered details about my life and asked about my day. And so, a roast dinner at my local carvery quickly became a multifaceted milestone meal for me. Gotten through a hard day? Carvery. Accomplished something? Carvery. In a great mood? Carvery.
No matter how I’m feeling, I’ve always known that going to the carvery and seeing my friends there would make me feel better. There’s just something about a Yorkshire pudding dripping in gravy, with a friendly chat on the side, that fixes everything.
Chicken Tenders From Friday’s
People often ask me what I miss about America and I always say, “Deep-fried everything.” (But if my mum is reading this, I totally said, “I miss my mum” first!) It’s beyond cliché, I know, but I really do miss American food. Someone once told me that what I’m missing is really just all the additives and chemicals (and, believe me, I know. I still miss them).
So, if I can’t get proper, deep-fried, chemical-filled American food, TGI Friday’s is the next best thing. Like the carvery, Friday’s became my second home almost as soon as I moved to Southampton. Now, 7 months later, I still eat at Friday’s on an almost daily basis, partly because the chicken tenders remind me of home and partly because I’m friends with all the staff.
On days when I’m writing towards a deadline that drains me, on days when I feel as though life is leeching my very soul from my body, I go to Friday’s. Because I know that, no matter what, no matter who’s working, someone will always say something to bring a smile back to my face. The chicken tenders will always taste perfect. They will always taste like home and the flavour will always warm my heart. Sometimes it’s just the motivation I need to keep going on a hard day.
I can’t write anything about The Stable without first acknowledging that I am not— and never will be— over the untimely demise of my beloved local Southampton Stable. From the moment I walked in there on a date with my ex in November— there truly could not have been a weirder beginning— The Stable felt strangely like home. You know how, sometimes, you meet someone and you just think, “You’re going to become very important to me?” That was how The Stable felt from the very first moment.
From that day forward, The Stable became my hub for literally everything. It was my favourite place to gather with friends— a beacon of bottomless brunch and joy, the site of many an emergency hang-out, and the unquestionable locale of every “Fancy a pint tonight?” text. I wrote the first half of my dissertation there, cried over heartbreaks, and celebrated every joy at the altar of those rustic wooden picnic tables.
Thankfully, the Winchester Stable has arisen as a new hangout and haven, offering the light of a new vibe and a new set of bartenders who have quickly accepted me as the town eccentric. It’s not quite the same but I’m still thankful for the consistency of my favourite cider and pizza and the presence of a new safe space to simply vibe.
So, as you can see from this slightly eclectic collection, the flavours that bring joy to my life may be different from someone else’s, but they are intensely meaningful to me. And no matter how our tastes may differ, I wish this same joy for everyone else who has a milestone meal to call their own.