Cheese on toast, curry or a pint of bitter … if you've been abroad, what food and drink is first on your list when you get home?
I'm sitting in Changi airport in Singapore, thinking about food. Having bulldozed my way through the city's hawker markets on a stopover from Australia, my mind is on my next meal. Not the foil-wrapped tray that awaits me, but a proper taste of home.
I've been away from the UK for 15 months, and in that time been asked what I miss, crave and covet. A greasy spoon fry-up, a bacon sandwich, Sunday lunch or a binge of Monster Munch and the Beeb? It's like being asked to pick my favourite song. Home is London. It's Yorkshire and Lancashire, too. All play parts in my life and shape my tastes. Choosing between them is too loaded for me to consider on an empty stomach, so rather than a homecoming meal, I am preparing for a homecoming food journey.
London is the first stop and the scene of my last meal all those months ago. Atonement for an airport festive turkey sandwich is on the cards. There is only one place to wipe the slate clean on that breaded abomination: Brixton, a place I've missed more than I would have imagined. The lanes of Brixton Village and Market Row, the bustle on Electric Avenue. I've tried to explain it to many, but they don't quite get the appeal. Perhaps it is an experience that has to be had, not explained.
Amongst the myriad tastes there is a spot where I'd be divorced pretty sharpish should I not make it the first stop: Rosie's Deli Cafe, sitting boxed in between tables with a coffee and fancy cheese on toast. Yes, I could have gone for bone marrow at St John or salt marsh lamb at the Canton Arms, but Rosie's appeal is far beyond comfort food. It is comfort of a different sort. The kind you feel when moving to a city, finding your haunts and defining your village. Biting into a generous cheesy wedge feels like home.
The homecoming could stall here on a slice of toast, but must move north. To Yorkshire, and an experience that I've tried to replicate in Australia but as yet fallen short. Ingrained in my childhood is my introduction to curry. My dad would take us to Bradford, for dinner (or should that be tea?) at the celebrated likes of the Mumtaz and Aagrah, or somewhere a bit more flock than fancy. I'm imagining a lamb rogan josh, the quintessential Kashmiri dish of my childhood and one that I graduated to from korma training wheels. It all felt very grown up at the time, and an experience that most of my friends didn't have. It could be anywhere, as long as there is a pile of chapatis and rain beating on the front window. On the bleakest of winter nights, a curry can lift the spirits. In western Australia, where winter days feel like the best of English summers, the rain or bleak chill is the missing ingredient.
Last stop, and a short hop over the Pennines to Colne. It is sacrilege for a Yorkshireman to consider Lancashire home, but this mill town is where I find myself drawn. A ritual pint of Burnley's finest, Moorhouse's. A Black Cat or Pride of Pendle, drawn from a hand pump; I'll watch as the glass fills with each pull. My stepdad will know where it's particularly good, and be sure that I have at least one before trying anything fancy. Every homecoming needs a raised glass, and this is the place and the beer.
Whether these departure-lounge daydreams will live up to the food fetishising remains to be seen, as does the question of where home is. Either way, it will be a homecoming that won't see me go hungry.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ian Munnings