The Joy And History Of Breaking Bread: Exclusive Interview With Simon Majumdar
Original Story Published on Behind the Plate with Kenzie Osborne
Breaking bread saves lives. You don’t need a piece wagyu steak decorated with gold leaf, an expertly crafted plate of homemade pasta, or a slice of a three-tiered chocolate cake to have an incredible meal… Rather, all you need is a plate of food in front of you, and a table of hungry bellies around you.
Too often, we overcomplicate what it means to have a meal. We stress over preparing an “instagrammable” dish, and worry about the nutritional content of each ingredient. In doing so, we completely miss out on the point of breaking bread… The act of simply sitting down and breaking bread with another person is worth far more than the all the “likes” you’ll get from posting about a charcoal ice cream cone… Believe it or not, the best meal you’ll ever have may honestly be a single slice of semi-stale bread.
The WOW Moment Of Breaking Bread
Many of us crave the taste of an incredible meal. We want that “WOW” moment — and we spend hours on instagram and social media scrolling to find these over-the-top recipes. Unfortunately, no matter how “WOW” an instagram recipe looks — it probably won’t be a memorable meal..
So, if it’s not the ingredients themselves, then what is it that makes a meal so darn jaw-droopingly incredible?
Simon Majumdar knows a thing-or-three about creating a memorable culinary experience. He has travelled the globe, tasted the world, and discovered the histories of the ingredients we love. He has tasted elegant dishes from the finest restaurants and indulged in exquisite street food from the worlds best vendors… So, what are his fondest memories?? You’d think it would be one of the 5-star gourmet dishes he’s enjoyed or some sort of out-of-this-world street food snack (but, you’d be wrong…) Rather, it’s the moments of breaking bread with someone across the table that he’ll cherish for a lifetime
Dining Together, Always And Forever
Ironically, when I asked Simon what food was like for him growing up, there wasn’t a single mention of the food itself. There was no mention of a specific dish or a group of “special ingredients”… Instead, he spoke about the act of breaking bread, sharing food, and celebrating flavour with his family.
“I come from a mixed-race family — my dad is from India and my mom is from Wales. My family has always valued and appreciated food. My dad passed a year and a half ago, but prior to then, food was such a big part of our relationship. We’d send pictures of our meals to one another almost every day. Even now, during the pandemic, my siblings and I will send photos of what we cooked that night to each other. Everything in my life has been signed and posted by food. Food is the vital prism through which my family has lived through.”
Simon’s family spent hours upon hours at the dinner table. It was a space for them to connect, share a few laughs, and have some friendly political debates with each other. Although every day was special in its own way — Sundays and Fridays were particular treats.
“Sunday lunches were really something special. Every Sunday, we’d have a big meal of roast pork and crackling. I’ll always cherish the memories of spending time with family and celebrating our Sunday tradition. Our weekly Friday fish and chips night is also a tradition I’ll remember forever. My family would gather around the TV, watch a show, and indulge a tray of fish and chips. The food was amazing — but it’s the memories, the conversations, and the experiences that I’ll never forget.”
A Different Dining Culture In The US
Simon grew up in a family that almost worshipped dining experiences. So, when he decided to take a leap to the USA, he was somewhat saddened by the lack of emphasis on family meal time.
“Breaking bread is central to how food should work — but unfortunately, it’s something we struggle with in the USA. Family structures have changed, and there’s less emphasis on sitting down with family every night. It’s more of a ritualized thing now… It’s reserved for special occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Sharing experiences through food is something we all enjoy — it’s in our DNA. People are trying to recreate those experiences and re-normalize sitting down for a meal together. Whether it be through social media or with social distancing, I hope to continue to see more families spending time together during their meals.”
Falling In Love With The Stories Of Food
I think it’s pretty clear that food has been a vital component of Simon’s day-to-day life… But, in reality, food was never intended to be a part of his career path. Sure, he appreciated a good meal, and loved experiencing new flavours — but his passion was more-so in theology and journalism. After university, Simon pursued a career in book publishing. During his time as a publisher, he had the opportunity to review plenty of cookbooks. He was fascinated by the creativity and versatility of food — and was curious to learn more.
As he continued to publish cookbooks, Simon and his brother began to explore the world of dining in London. They started a small blog reviewing restaurants and sharing their thoughts on the local culinary scene. He absolutely loved it. Not only could he write about food and taste a world of flavours — but he could also “break bread” with his brother during each and every meal.
The History And Joy Of Breaking Bread
As Simon continued to taste the incredible flavours of the world, he became increasingly curious about the stories behind each ingredient.
“History has always fascinated me. Not just with food — but with everything. Learning how a country has developed, and discovering the history of wars really informs us of who we are today. Food is such a critical component of our history. Not only have ingredients influenced our actions, but our actions have also influenced our food and dining culture.
Well folks, this is the point in our conversation when I became absolutely over-the-moon amazed… I guess I’d never really considered the history of food per-say. I’d considered the artistry, the emotion, and the culture — but (ironically) I seemed to have left history behind…
“So much of history has been informed by food. For example, building the railroads led to our industrialized food system, spices were once the most expensive thing on earth to trade, and Manhattan once had a war over nutmeg… Everything I love about food comes from a historical view. We often eat food without being conscious of where it comes from. In doing so, we miss out on the incredible history and stories. As I take a sip of gin, I find it funny to think about the fact that it used to be a cure for gout and a spirit for medicine… I think it’s so interesting!”
Hehe.. When in doubt, prevent gout with a swig of gin…
“Eat My Globe” With Simon Majumdar!
If you haven’t checked out Simon’s podcast Eat My Globe (link HERE) — it’s a must-listen-to show! He shares his thoughts on the history of food, and reveals the incredible stories of the ingredients on your plate. His podcast has become an outlet to share his passion for food with the world, and educate his listeners about the incredible history behind each plate.
“I’m limited to 800–1000 words when I write… I’m limited to 20 seconds of time when I am on a TV show… But, on my podcast, I can talk for hours and hours about whatever I want. The first episode I did was about the history of fish and chips. Essentially, back in the 1400s, jewish people were persecuted from Portugal and fled to London. When they arrived, they brought with them their fried fish to sell to the locals.
Around a similar time, some Belgian inhabitants were expelled from France. And, with them, they brought their horse-fat-fried potatoes. The Belgian and Jewish people were originally selling their products separately — but, in the 1800s they realized that the two would be a perfect marriage. Thus, they began to sell them together and the infamous “fish and chips” duo was born. Essentially, fish and chips exists because of Britain’s unique religious tolerance in the 1800s.”
What!?!? My mind was blown… Fish and chips is such an essential meal in my family (my dad is Scottish and much of my family is from England). Why didn’t I know this?? Here I thought fish and chips originated from some drunken pub in England — but, the story goes (just a tad bit) further than that…
The history of food can reveal so much about the history of a country. Curry was invented by the British in India, Wall Street was named after they built a wall to keep pigs out of new Amsterdam, potatoes were banned in 1780 because they were thought to cause syphilis, tomatoes were considered poisonous (then later considered to be aphrodisiacs), and Manhattan was traded as a result of a war over nutmeg… (If you’re mind is not spinning in circles right now, I dunno who you are — this is crazyyyy!)
With every meal, there’s a new discovery to be made. It almost feels like striking gold.. You’ve found something so unique and special — and to be able to share that with someone else? Incredible.
Discovering Hidden Gems In The World Of Food
Simon continues to sift through the history of this-fruit and that-spice, all while sharing it with the world through his podcast, books, and TV appearances. He appreciates the ability to share, but more so, he’s humbled to have the ability to connect with all the chefs and food lovers in a one-of-a-kind industry.
“I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by such incredible chefs and culinary talent. Alton Brown is one of the smartest humans I know . It was an honour to be the first guest star of his show, Good Eats. The food industry is the most humble, giving industry out there — and to be a part of something so special is incredible. I’m constantly blown away.. Am I really sitting next to Alex Guarnaschelli?? Do I really get the chance to stand next to Guy Fieri?? I’m so fortunate to be where I am and have the opportunities that I do — and I’m grateful for every moment I’ve been gifted.”
The humble nature of the food industry proves just how much influence sharing a meal can have on ones life… Being a part of such a kind and giving network has turned Simon’s life around for the better. It’s not the about the 5-star dish some famous Michelin star chef can prepare.. Rather, it’s the experience of learning about culture, discovering history, and breaking bread with people from all walks of life and all countries of the world.
“I have one mantra I live by: Go everywhere, eat everything.”
Well folks, if I had a mic, I would be dropping it now… Go everywhere, eat everything. That’s how you can change your life…
Thank you so much to Simon Majumdar for spending the time to speak with me about your journey and passion for food. Speaking with one of my greatest role models in the world of food writing was such a humbling experience. Your outlook on sharing food and incredible knowledge of the history of each ingredient is truly fascinating — and I hope to one day have the chance to share a meal with you!
Before I let Simon get back to digging up some more food history — I had to ask two of my nagging quick fire questions…
What Is Your Favourite Food Memory??
“I was once travelling on a train in Morocco. I was in a compartment with an 8-person family who spoke Arabic. We started speaking French with one another so we could sort of understand what was being said. They asked if I had any food, and I didn’t really have much- I think I had a half of a pack of Pringles and a Diet Coke. Without saying a word, they began to make tables with their suitcases across the floor. They took out their food and began to serve me the best of what they had on hand.
I watched as they placed the best pieces of fish, chicken, and cheese on my plate. It was incredible. No matter where we’re from, hospitality is in our DNA. When you’re breaking bread with someone else, you begin to realize that we’re all quite similar. It’s a great way to break down barriers. You can enjoy a meal with someone from a different religion, sexuality, or colour. All of those things that shouldn’t matter (but do in our society) suddenly go away. There are only two things in this world that can do that — music and food.. And trust me, you don’t want to hear me sing…”
What Advice Would You Give To A Culinary Student Or Graduate?
“The culinary family is really extraordinary. Being a member of such a giving community has been a highlight of my life. Being surrounded by amazing people from the culinary world is such a gift. There’s so much to experience, and so many incredible people to meet.”
“Don’t overcomplicate things. Geoffrey Zakarian is technically one of the best chefs I’ve met — yet he prepares his dishes with so few ingredients. He can make a magnificent meal with just 4 ingredients. Don’t try playing jazz before you’ve learned to play the piano. Practice, learn, discover, and highlight the ingredients that are meaningful to you.”
Dive Into The History Of Food With Simon Majumdar
“Eat My Globe” Podcast: www.eatmyglobe.com