In Which a Swiss Roll Strikes Up a Memory…

Chocolate Tiger Swiss Roll from BreadTalk

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post wherein I mentioned that Swiss rolls are something that trigger memories of my childhood.  Specifically, those involving my maternal grandparents on a long-ago tour ’round the world that kicked off in Singapore and Malaysia – two countries that, despite years of not having gone to either, I still consider my homes away from home.

My grandparents were never really big on packaged chips and biscuits as mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks.  They believed that hearty things like sandwiches, noodle soups, and cakes were a better choice for growing young bodies.  As a result, jaunts to our local supermarket in Kuala Lumpur brought things like whole wheat bread, fully-cooked ham, and a jar of Miracle Whip (which, at the time, wasn’t the vile, overly sweet stuff flogged these days) for proper sandwiches, packets of Maggi Mee to be prepared in our hotel room over a small propane stove – stuff which opened my young tastebuds to spicier, more robust flavors, and Swiss rolls in a variety of flavors.

I remember pale green rolls flavored with pandan, light brown ones flavored with coffee (the most likely precursor to the modern Malay kopi bun), multicolored ones reminiscent of the multilayered kueh lapis only with cream between the layers and rolled up, and even those odd-smelling yet nice tasting ones filled with durian cream.  Swiss rolls were what I snacked on whenever my aunt and I were left alone in the hotel room; I still have memories of opening the packet and munching through a vanilla roll whilst poring over the latest issue of my aunt’s Seventeen, MAD, and Cracked magazines.

Swiss rolls were what we brought along to eat on the long drive from KL to the Genting Highlands and what we packed for the trip to Singapore where we would board the connecting flight to London.  As we made our way to and through Europe, the Swiss rolls would be replaced by grilled bacon sandwiches en route from London to Dover and on to Calais, chocolates in Belgium, pandoro in Italy, and pain au chocolat in France.

Years have passed and I’ve not done much traveling though I’ve done my fair share of cooking and baking – skills that, alas, neither my grandfather nor grandmother lived to see and relish – and I’ve not had Swiss rolls for quite some time now.

Then, for the annual All Saints’ Day visit to my grandparents’ graves, my mother bought a selection of buns and cakes from BreadTalk – and her selection included those memory-triggering Swiss rolls.

And, as I munched through a fluffy, cream-filled roll, each bite was punctuated by so many happy memories and a few heartbreaking regrets.  Those Swiss rolls are my key to so many memories of my grandparents; it is something I do not share with either of my siblings as my brother had been too young to go on such a long trip and my sister hadn’t even been born yet.

It is our shared memory – my grandparents’ and mine – and, despite the long years, I find that I still miss them both dearly.