- a blog about food and value

Guest post: The smell of food

Roast chicken...

This is our 1,960th post on this site.  I think it might be my favourite so far. Liam Moore, a friend of mine with a sense of smell that would put a hound to shame, writes a very gorgeous blog about the scents of this planet, and he kindly agreed to write a guest post for us.

Inhaling the Earth
By Liam Moore

What is your favourite food? Where do you begin? If it was your last meal, what would you choose?

My friends and I were asking this to each other last week—right before we ordered pizza and a movie-marathon was kicking off. Naturally a majority of our answers were foods from home, “It’d have to be an Indian dish. That’s what I grew up on living in Wales.” Another friend said her dad’s Sunday roast. I said toasted soda bread smothered in real butter and a light spread of Bovril—side of tea. I began to have a déjà vu at this point. I had asked the same question months ago to another friend, only that time it sounded like, “What is your favourite food smell?”

Coming from Spain, he told me it was paella. It reminds him of any given Sunday. And whenever he catches a whiff of chicken, lamb or seafood paella, he would be transported right back to his family home with his parents, sister and grandparents. It’s almost time-travelling food, he told me.

That day, I told him my favourite food smell would have to be Sunday roast. And let’s be honest, if you’re a meat eater, the smell of a silverside joint cooking is animalisticly mouth-watering.

... coffee...

My mum would have got up around 7 or 8am most of the time and put the meat in the slow cooker ready for lunchtime. By 11am, this half raw, half cooked meat isn’t pleasant yet. There’s a weak juicy bloody smelling liquid surrounding the roast. But a few more sniffs, and it’s beginning to show signs of promise, of rich tempting gravy, soft flaky mouthfuls and crunchy nibbly end bits.

When I’d lift the lid off the slow cooker around 1pm, the strong, damp steam filled my nostrils and blanketed my face. Things were really smelling good. At 3pm the entire kitchen is a hodge-podge of vegetables steaming over a pot of potatoes and crisping golden roasties glowing through the glass oven door. The windows steamed in the kitchen and you couldn’t tell it was a grey, wet Sunday, but that didn’t matter.

... and fresh bread. What smells make you hungry?

We never ate round the dinner table either, sadly. Plates on laps and dreary Sunday afternoon tv was our gathering point. As a distraction, and just plain hungry, I’d forget what my food smelled like, and just dig in. But I always remember the preparation that went in. The strong cooking odours would be more powerful than the taste—no surprise there as smell is directly plugged in to the part of the brain that deals with emotions, memory and behaviour. I can even remember the smell of the starchy wooden chopping board as the just peeled, ready to be boiled potatoes would be placed. Or even the smell of questionably fragrant washing up liquid piercing out amongst the cloud of food smells. It’s always good to soak as you go!

I think we sometimes forget to stop and smell the food, at least I do. I look forward so much to the end result, that plate on my lap, that I forget to savour and experience other moments. Moments like the chopping of the parsley, the butter melting on the corn-on-the-cob, loaded with cracked black pepper too. There’s even that “Ahh” smell as the plate is under my nose and I’m seconds away from digging in. We stop and smell the roses, but do you stop to smell the food?


  1. I’m not sure if it’s my favourite food smell but its certainly my favourite smell memory, It is Sunday evenings with my Dad making what seemed to me as a child to be hundreds on pancakes for our tea and a big pot of tea keeping warm in from of the fire before the feast with all the butter and sugar started, this memory is so clear that I can even hear the tune for Murder She Wrote in the background!!!
    I love smelling my food, Its very important, my friends think I’m weird, I’ll pile the perfect amount of everything onto my fork and before I taste I’ll take a little smell and nod in satisfaction. I think at this stage it is habit and second nature to me but I knowingly smell everything before I taste it, even the everyday things like tea, cereal, sandwiches… I think I am a bit weird!!!

  2. Niamh, I’m with you. I’m a “nose”, I smell everything, I taste food first with it. I always attract a few weird looks when I go shopping because I smell the food before I buy it, and it doesn’t stop at fruits: bread, meat, fish, cheese, you name it. I smell my plate before eating it, whether at home or out. I’m blessed, or cursed depending on what the smells are, with a nose that can detect the faintest of scent.

    My mum was a dreadful cook, my memories of food as a child has to go to my grandmother’s kitchen and find a sun – ripen tomato drenched in olive oil. It’s when I learned to cook myself that I started to enjoy food, and my favorite smell of all is of bread baking. Oh, the smell of bread as I passed by the “boulangerie” in my years in Paris! Give me a freshly baked loaf any time over a cream cake!

  3. As for the last meal, not being under pressure of health conscious choices or worries about digestion and so on, I’d really blow it: oysters to start with, with an indecent amount of fresh bread and butter, followed by roasted turbot with garlic butter (loads of), with asparagus and young broad beans, cheeeeeeeeeeses with more bread, a mango sorbet for pudding and a box of chocolates from Cocoa Atelier. With a glass of Puligny-Montrachet, thank you

  4. The best smells are frying rashers, frying garlic and/or onions, chopping herbs like thyme and rosemary, grinding toasted spices like cumin and corriander, baking raisin bread with cinnamon, cloves and allspice, mulled wine, lemon zest… too many more to name!

  5. Great article! I love the smell of the brown paper bag when you’re walking home from the chipper, the end of it all soggy with malt vinegar and chip fat. Always reminds me of growing up when, for a treat, my mum would send me and my sister to the chipper while she fried eggs and heated up baked beans. The smell of garlic never fails to get my mouth watering. And any sort of baking. Man, I am SO hungry now.

  6. I love how everyone so far has had a real personal affinity with smell and food on some level.

    Nanazolie you certainly know how to go out with a bang 😉 Rebecca, Méabh, I’m very much with you on the garlic front. The smell of the freshly peeled cloves, or the leaves in the garden, and nearly the best one, frying, is just so mouth watering. It never fails to prep me for a big feed.

    Niamh, I think you’re very right to smell your food. It is one sense we forget to indulge ourselves in. We pleasure our sense of taste by eating, hearing by good tunes and sight by enjoying films. But smell… well there really is a whole world to be explored, I really do believe it!