As a young expatriate girl in the Middle East, I waited for the weekends with inexplicable anticipation. I’d spend the whole of the week conjuring up images of brick ovens with blazing flames passionately dancing around the food I could never resist, and of men in white aprons smilingly handing me a package of what I considered a culinary masterpiece.

The eatable of my affection was fatayer, a Lebanese dish. The fatayer is artfully kneaded by the baker, after which it is garnished with an assortment of toppings, including cheese, olives, labneh, meat and many more. The half an hour that it spent in the oven consisted of the longest moments of my life: the ones I spent with my nose pressed against the glass door of the Arabic bakery, wondering whether the burning hunger in my stomach and the insatiable desire in my young mind were enough to will the fire to work its magic faster on the dish that I couldn’t wait to tear into. When I received my fatayer, I’d spend a whole minute inhaling the aroma of freshly baked bread, hoping to somehow imprint it in my mind, to sustain me through an entire week. The fatayer was a portal to heaven for me; it transported me to a world where everything was perfect. Half of the pleasure in eating the much-awaited dish was the risk involved in the very action. My father always warned me against spilling the olive oil or the cheese onto the car seat as he drove me back home. It was a Herculean task to cage my heightened emotions and allow my sense of control and reason to raise its voice over the din created by what was, at that point of time, the only dominating force in mybody: my aroused, insuppressible gustatory sense.

As I grew up, my love for the fatayer survived the ravages of time. However, its role in my life changed. The fatayer shop became a regular stop as I drove back home from my swimming lessons. Such was my regularity at the shop that the attendant would merely glance at my face and instruct the chef to begin preparing my favourite fatayer, even before I placed my order. The agony of waiting for my order to get ready never dimmed; I’d still stare at the fire, wondering whether time really did travel slower when you waited. The pleasure I gained from sensing the soft white residual powder on my fingers as I unwrapped my gift, my marvel at the tangy taste of the Arabian cheese, and the satisfaction I gained from eating fatayer was unblemished. The fatayer was still my savior; once upon a time, it salvaged me from the monotony of the meals I ate over the week; now, it satiated my athlete’s appetite and saved me from the pangs of hunger and tiredness.

A year ago, I shifted to my native country, India, to attend boarding school. 2,500 miles away from the remotest sign of Middle Eastern cuisine, I now long for the food that filled me with warmth and gave me happiness. I miss the anticipation of waiting for something you love. I miss the excitement of the wait finally being over. I miss the sheer pleasure that a mere food item was capable of invoking in me. But most of all, I miss the feeling of home. Home to me is not a place; it is a feeling, where I played my favourite character among the innumerable roles I donned in the drama of my life. Fatayer was a simple prop, albeit one that enabled me to grow and experience joys like never before.

Over the years, the fatayer was a constant in my life. On the rare occasions that my palate is blessed with the sensation that was once a regular experience, I continue to cherish the feeling, just like I did thirteen years ago. It serves as a reminder that some things never change, and that one never truly leaves anything behind: that there will always be a home waiting for me. Maybe, twenty years down the line, I will sink my teeth into a mouthwatering fatayer and find myself drowning in a flood of fond memories and emotions. That day, the fatayer will save me once more from the fear that perpetually throbs in my heart: the fear of losing out on the feelings I feared I left behind along with my yester years. In a torrent of change, the fatayer will always remain at the eye of the storm, untarnished and unscathed, patiently waiting to envelope me in its sweet fragrance and everything it implies.