Hey, it’s February, the month where you develop an unprecedented desire for flowers, can’t have a wank the two weeks either side of the 14th without feeling sad, and decide that your happiness may be solely dependent on a hastily written “You’re the gin to my tonic” card from Oliver Bonas. Thanks, capitalism!
But beyond lonely wanks and supermarket flowers, Valentine’s Day is so often about food. Research conducted by relationship app Happy Couple found that 45 percent of couples would choose to do mark V Day with a “dinner, movie, or stroll,” meaning that at least a few of your pointless V-Day arguments will have been over a PizzaExpress Fiorentina. The language we use to talk about sex is often laden with illusions to, ahem, eating, and at the end of the day, if you’ve managed to sustain a “relationship” with someone but haven’t shared one single meal together, then you’ve kind of fucked it, haven’t you?
As a result, our relationships are contextualised around food. We imbue meaning into every shared fried chicken box and each forkful of pasta yanked from another's starchy plate.
For me, love and food are especially tied. When I broke up with my last long-term boyfriend, making scrambled eggs would send me bawling—a simple dish that had accrued meaning through the ritualistic breakfasts we shared, and him teaching me how to make them posh and creamy, rather than rubbery and shit.
This marker of affection, this culinary connection, often evades snobbery. The expensive Nobu dinner I went to recently with my boyfriend was nice, but sitting on his bed drunk, eating a pizza from the corner shop at 1 AM on a Thursday, meant more. What's more, these connections aren’t exclusive to romantic love. Probably the most in love with a person I’ve been was my best friend from university, who turned up to visit me on my year abroad with a suitcase full of cheese. She proceeded to make tartiflette with the Reblochon, and the day after suggested we deep-fry the remains. It was so amazingly terrible. That meal is maybe only beaten by the time I put hash browns on a frozen pizza because I have never been more in love with myself than I was in that moment.
This Valentine’s Day, MUNCHIES asked people about the foods that made them fall in love, from pre-bang dumplings to “I love you” over a £3 meal deal.
The first time I properly hung out with my now-wife was during an afternoon at Greenwich Market, where I ate a cheese-and-onion crepe and she ate nothing.
I hadn't known her long, but I did already know she hated cheese in all its forms, so probably should have figured that trying to make her like me through mouthfuls of oily melted gruyere was a bad idea. I didn't consider this at the time, though, because I was smoking way too much skunk and largely incapable of retaining or processing any information. But luckily, and improbably, the whole episode worked in my favour: she later told me that she knew she liked me when the sight of my greasy, cheesy mouth didn't make her feel physically ill, as it might have with anyone else. And now we're married. So thank you, comically French crepe seller, for everything.
A green-coloured sponge cake for a parent; a frozen pizza for a wasted housemate, split in half and eaten atop the box it came in; a meal loving constructed for a partner using ridiculous ingredients that are impossible to find in most supermarkets. Preparing and then sharing a meal with someone is a pure act, a blessing that has been a part of human nature long before the invention of the wheel.
But fuck all of that. If I had to think of the first time I loved food, or a real memory of loving it, it's gotta be McDonald's. I'm sorry. I need to be a better person, they're a terrible company. Even typing this I ask myself: have I really never received or cooked a dish that has made me feel as loved as taking myself to McDonald's on a weekday afternoon in lieu of eating a healthy lunch, just because I'm an adult now and I can do what I want? I don't think so. I love a double cheeseburger. I love the salted fries. I love the cup drinks. It is love, a dangerous form of self-love, and probably also an addiction (like all love?!); but love all the same. I guess that's why it's their slogan. I am eternally whipped in Ronald McDonald's gravitational pull. Please, Mr. big, red-haired man, be my Valentine and clog up my arteries.
Boned my boyfriend for the first time after going to My Neighbours the Dumplings. Dumplings are so great!!!!!!!!
Anon, New York
When I was like 23, the food magazine I worked at had my hands very infrequently featured in some of their shots (I was the only person of colour there, etc). I mentioned it to an ex at the time, and a few months later, he texted me about their “How to Prep a Christmas Goose” photo series, which featured anonymous hands on a pallid, naked, raw goose. He said, “I gotta say, I saw your hands all over that chicken and I never thought I'd be jealous of a chicken.” I didn't have the heart to tell him it was a) not a chicken and b) not my hands, but the hands of the magazine’s 60-plus-year-old kitchen assistant.
I was an exchange student for a year in Oslo, and had just broke up with my long distance boyfriend back in the US. I had met this new guy, and we’d been texting a bit, but hadn’t invited him to hang out again. Despite this, I had fallen hard already.
One Monday night—around 10 PM—I was sitting in bed, in my pajamas, about to go to sleep, when out of the blue, he texts me, saying he was making some late-night pasta and would I want to come over. I said yes, threw on some clothes, and power-walked through the Norwegian winter night to his apartment. Even though I had already eaten just a couple hours before, I ate that pasta. He had made a homemade tomato sauce, topped with a ton of Parmesan. That pretty much won me over, because I never knew anyone who bothered to make their own tomato sauce (especially not in Norway, where readymade food is horrendously popular).
Four years later, we’re still together, and he still makes that pasta sauce.
After my first weekend on-call ever as a doctor, I went back to my boyfriend’s house and he fed me crumpets with butter and a bottle of Prosecco, and then fingered me and I fell asleep. It was the best night of my life.
I was living in Phnom Penh, and it was my birthday. Me and this guy had only been dating for a few weeks, but dating for a few weeks and then having a birthday is terrible timing. I now know this and avoid all contact with love interests from January to March, which is when my birthday is.
He asked me out for dinner, but because he's French, he “invited” me. The French don't fuck about, they have a rigid social code about paying for dinner. If you're invited by someone, they are paying for you. It's like saying “my treat” but 1,000 times clearer and sexier. I was 19. I did not know this.
I happily agreed to dinner. Not knowing it was fancy and not knowing this fancy meal was basically a birthday present, I asked my friend along. I just thought we were going out for dinner. Clearly, that was not what he had in mind, but he rolled with it, and somehow me, my friend, and this guy all had very fancy steaks at the fanciest restaurant downtown Phnom Penh had to offer.
I don't give much of a shit about men buying me dinner, but men embracing change when things don't go their way, and buying you AND your mate dinner, is lovely. The steak was fucking tasty, and we were together two years.
It was a £3 meal deal he bought me from Crunchy’s in Leeds when I was coming down hard. I think that was the day I said “I love you” and, five years down the line, we’re still together so must have worked.