A Remembrance of Things Past

In “Swann’s Way,” the first of the seven books that made up Marcel Proust’s famous À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), it happened this way:

The narrator, upon a taste of a madeleine dipped in tea, is suddenly flooded with a long-forgotten memory from his childhood.

Wandering North Hollywood

Here’s how it happened to me:

I had to get the car serviced, so had a couple hours to kill in North Hollywood. On the particular stretch of Lankershim Boulevard where the dealership is located, there ain’t much to see. So I set out to wandering. I had gone in and out of the 99 Cent Store, walked under the U.S. 101 overpass, glanced at the menu of an old school French restaurant housed in a small faux chateaux, and was wishing the couple of legit dive bars in the neighborhood opened a little earlier, when I spotted it: H. Salt Fish & Chips.

H. Salt was an infrequent but cherished part of my childhood. There was one down the street, next to the 7-11. It had illuminated maps of London on the walls, and smelled of things fried long and hard. It was part of an American milieu of deep-crusted fried things that also included the equally lost-and-forgotten Pioneer Chicken, which featured indistinguishable chicken parts encased in a nearly fiberglass orange shell.

Inside the H. Salt

Upon retrieving my freshly serviced car, I returned to the H. Salt, parked and went it. It was just like I remembered — the illuminated London maps, the glass drip case spotlighting items recently retrieved from the oil, even the Chinese people running the joint. The stale grease smell alone was enough to transport me instantly to some amber moment of my youth: 8th grade, perhaps — the same age as my son! — skateboarding home from school, stopping at the 7-11 for a few games of Asteroids, then counting up my money to see if I had enough for a 2-piece fish & chips, a 1-piece, or just a couple fried scallops.

I’m a relatively affluent middle-aged man now, I could afford the 3-piece. But that seemed like a lot of oil to be ingesting in one sitting. I opted for two and got them to go. Back in the car, I slathered the golden fillets in malt vinegar and a good solid shake of salt. It tasted exactly like I remembered — not the best fish and chips in the world, but tasty still and comforting like the smell of cookies baking or an old song whose words you still remember.

I was glad to have found the H. Salt. I won’t go back — it’s too far from my home, and probably not great for my blood pressure. But I did feel like it gave me a certain closure, like running into an old girlfriend who you never really said a proper goodbye to. H. Salts can’t be long for this world. I didn’t realize way back when that one time I went to that H. Salt next to 7-11 that it would likely be the last. (There is a bank now where the 7-11 and H. Salt stood.) This time, I could say goodbye.

Now I just need to find a Pioneer Chicken.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Priscilla Johnston (@pojohnston1)
    Apr 12, 2018 @ 22:41:16

    There’s a pioneer chicken in Boyle Heights! 904 S. Soto Street, LA 90023

    Reply

  2. Kathy Rautureau
    Apr 13, 2018 @ 07:05:23

    I remember that H. Salt nextdoor to the 7-11! I had a similiar food memory many years ago while visiting L.A. and my old neighborhood at My Brother’s BBQ. Not a chain “restaurant”, but probably one of my first “fast food” meals. I know what you mean about closure. Funny how strong food memories can be.
    Thanks for sharing, always enjoy your writings!

    Reply

  3. Michelle
    Apr 15, 2018 @ 13:14:04

    Ha! We had Arthur Treacher’s for fish and chips back in the day.

    Reply

  4. Amanda
    Apr 16, 2018 @ 20:00:03

    Loved that kind of fish when I was a kid – swimming in a pool of malt vinegar of course : )

    Reply

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