15 Women Describe The One Food That Helped Shape Their Identity

by Natalia Lusinski
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Maybe you grew up having weekly Sunday night pasta dinners with your family, and your mom used an old Italian recipe with lots of fresh tomatoes and garlic. Today, you can still taste it when you think about it. Or perhaps you were born abroad, then came to the U.S. and fell in love with one of the first foods you ate, like a Chicago hot dog with all the toppings. No matter what, there’s likely a particular food that helped shape your identity.

Mandy Enright, a registered dietitian and creator of the couples blogs and podcast, Nutrition Nuptials, tells Bustle that certain foods help ground you. “No matter what goes on in the world outside, food is something that can always bring a smile to your face or a memory back, particularly when it’s associated with certain experiences, people, or a certain time period,” she says.

Whether you were raised eating it or introduced to it as an adult, there’s likely a particular food that defines you. It's about what the food represents to you, such as family closeness or freedom, Enright says.

Below, 15 women share the food that defines them, so get ready to relate — or become hungry.


Victoria, 34: Chocolate


“More than any other, I would have to say the food that defines me would be chocolate. Not only because I run a company that does chocolate walking tours and events, [...] I was born on National Chocolate Chip Day, [... and] I frequently get referred to as ‘Chocolate Lady,’ but also because I tend to think of the stuff in much more profound terms than simply a sweet treat or indulgence. [...] I have seen chocolate bring people together, cross cultural boundaries, and make friends out of strangers; it isn’t such a small thing.”


Shamila, 35-44: Eggs

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“My only memory of my paternal grandmother, who passed away when I was only six, was of her making me fried eggs with bright yellow yolks over an open fire in her cooking hut in rural Kenya where she lived. They were the best eggs I’ve ever had, fresh with a hint of smokiness. Ever since then, eggs have been my favorite food, so much so that if I had to pick my last meal [...] I would pick a fried egg sandwich. Scrambled, boiled, poached, fried, or baked, the combinations are endless, but the outcome is always the same: Delicious. It’s this versatility that makes me say that eggs define me: I’m not easily put into a box and nor do I want to be; life is meant to be an adventure.”


Milana, 45: Pineapple


“I grew up in the former Soviet Union where food and scarcity were synonyms. [...] There was a poem about pineapple: 'Eat pineapples, chew on quail. Your last day is coming, millionaire.' When I came to the United States, I went to a grocery store and cried from the overwhelming variety of food that I never knew existed. I could finally try a pineapple. It was even more delicious than I expected. I now eat it for special occasions, the simple food of the millionaires.”


Alexandra, 24: Gourmet Mac And Cheese

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“My friends say gourmet mac and cheese is a great food that describes my fashionable and peppy self. The warm and comforting feeling you get from a big bowl of mac describes my personality. Additionally, gourmet mac and cheese — a classic but trendy food — gives new flavor to something already tried and true. Regardless if it’s dressed as buffalo chicken mac, Panera’s Baja Mac, or Wawa’s Garlic Mac, the amped up version of mac and cheese is similar to my wardrobe — fancy and eclectic, but approachable.”


Rachel, 31: Mint Hot Chocolate

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“Mint hot chocolate is my favorite comfort food, erm, drink, especially in the winter months. My great aunt used to make it for me whenever I’d visit her; while my other relatives (the adults) sipped Baileys Irish Cream, she’d make me a fancy hot chocolate — with whipped cream and a candy cane — so I wouldn’t feel left out. Now, whether I’m at Starbucks getting a Peppermint Mocha or at home making a mint hot chocolate, it always relaxes me and brings me back to my aunt’s living room.”


Christina, 28: Kenkey


“The food that best defines me would be a traditional meal from my home country of Ghana, West Africa. It’s called ‘kenkey,’ which is made from the same ingredients as the traditional tamale: fermented corn. It is then pounded and ground into a thick paste, then boiled while wrapped in corn husks. I feel like the resilience that the corn has to turn something sour (fermentation) into a beautiful dish adequately represents my struggle as a digital marketing entrepreneur. It is served with shito, a spicy anchovy-based sauce, fried eggs, and fish. The reason that it defines me is because it accurately reflects the love that I have for my country and the richness of my culture.”


Laura, 32: Pasta With Tomato Sauce


“The food that totally defines me is pasta with tomato sauce. And, not any tomato sauce but my tomato sauce! [...] Pasta with tomato sauce is a family classic and I perfected my tomato sauce over the years, after meticulously studying my grandmothers making it. Yet, what that bowl of pasta really does for me is make me feel at home wherever I am; it’s the most comforting thing there is after a mother’s hug.”


Isabel, 25: A Buffet

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“A buffet defines me, because I like to think I’m open-minded, like to try just about anything, am not a picky eater, and do not have a favorite food. This also defines me because I try to stay unbiased and non-judgmental.”


Amanda, 41: Frappuccino

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“Ask anyone who knows me and the food that defines me is coffee — not regular boring hot coffee, but specifically, venti Starbucks Frappuccinos or iced coffees. [...] I absolutely love the combination of a chocolate treat and coffee caffeine kick — it’s like a chocolate milkshake with a power surge. It’s my go-to drink or go-go-gadget juice. I’m a high-powered achiever, a working mom with two kiddos, and the only way to get it all done is to run on high octane; I’ve really melded myself with the Starbucks Frappuccino brand. It’s so embedded into who I am that my elementary school kids only draw pictures of me holding Frappuccinos.”


Angie, 52: Chili

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“My Grandpa Mack made a beef chili without beans that he put on hot dogs at his restaurants in rural West Virginia. My aunt also used the recipe at her dairy bar a block from my house. As a kid, I bet I ate chili dogs — just chili on a bun — with onions at least three times a week! In 1991, my husband and I used my aunt’s chili recipe when we opened a restaurant. Customer demand for the chili inspired us to take it to retailers in 2003. That’s when we learned the recipe was my late grandfather’s. My heart was so happy! It brought him back into my life. A Shark Tank appearance made Custard Stand Hot Dog Chili even more popular. It’s available in stores in 18 states. Grandpa Mack would have loved that people across the country have his chili in their fridge.”


Mandy, 37: Chicken Parm

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“Chicken Parmesan is a food that has played an important role in my life. When I was in high school, my friends and I would go to the local pizzeria and split a Chicken Parm sub as we discussed life. Chicken Parm is also a food I’ve made for many dinner parties with friends, and it’s even the first meal I cooked for my now-husband back when we first started dating. And yes, even to this day when I visit my hometown in Jersey, I still go to the same pizzeria for the same Chicken Parm sub to relive those memories. And it’s as tasty as I remember!”


Chelsea, 31: Chocolate

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“Chocolate. Being a female business leader in a craft bean-to-bar chocolate company wasn’t something I set out to do specifically — but I couldn’t imagine a life where I wasn’t a part of it. The flavor ranges — from savory complex darks to salty sweet buttermilks — are now a part of my greetings to the ones I love and a gateway into the ‘Made in America’ movement. I was even married to my business partner in the factory during our work day, and chocolate is a part of all aspects of our life.”


Fabiana, 23: Arepas


“I was born and raised in Venezuela for a brief period of time, and one of the cultural things that always stuck with me were arepas. They are a prominent type of food served in Venezuelan and Colombian cuisine made of ground maize dough served with a variety of accompaniments, such as meats, cheese, etc. Arepas can be grilled, baked, fried, and even sweet. No matter the time of day, season, or occasion, arepas have always been present at my mother’s house. There’s a sense of nostalgia and adaptability arepas convey, which I think are key parts of my personality. I live for the small moments of times past and, just like arepas, I can adapt to the times, too.”


Kristina, 28: Mac And Cheese

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“The food that defines me is macaroni and cheese. It doesn’t matter what kind; as long as it’s meatless, I will eat it! It’s been my favorite food since childhood and it’s my go-to comfort food. Sick? I want some mac. Burned out? I want some mac. Happy? I want some mac. It’s good for all of my life situations.”


Lindsay, 35: Rainbow-Colored Sprinkles

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“I work in the food industry as a marketing director. The food that defines me is rainbow-colored sprinkles. I’ve always loved them, they make me smile, cheer me up when I’m feeling down, are a different color pattern depending on the day, and are fun and nostalgic!”

As you can see, there are some similarities — and many differences — as far as the food that defines the women above. Whether you can relate (chocolate, anyone?) or not, you probably have a food that best defines you, too.