Today is World Nutella Day! It's a silly day, in the way that Ice Cream Day is a day and Chocolate Chip Cookie Day is a day. There are more foods than there are days in a year, so a food rarely gets to claim a day as its own, which feels a tad less special and shiny. Of course, humans share birthdays and even their own names with thousands of others, although many of us (aka me) like to selfishly believe that those days and names are for us alone. In any case, we don't choose our birthdays nor (often) our names, so we can't really help when and what they are. We can though, choose how to celebrate them. If we apply the same initiative we take to make ourselves feel unique, these food-themed days can also be more than a mere Instagram hashtag. To me, World Nutella Day means a lot more than that.
World Nutella day was officially invented in 2007, but I'd been celebrating this sweet condiment long before. As a child, I never liked candy or chocolate. A friend tried to convince me this was due to a "sugar trauma" I must have experienced, but the truth was that I found them too sweet and alienating. Candy was always marketed as a food for kids; an analysis showed that 77% of candy ads in the 2000s were geared towards children. By eating candy, I was automatically placed in this category whether I liked it or not; and I did not. It wasn't that I wanted to be an adult. In a home where my parents fought bitterly and constantly, being an adult looked horrifying. What I did want was to have the agency and ability to leave that situation, and as long as I remained a child or was thought of as a child (by my parents, by society, by these wretched candy makers), I would never be able to do that.
My parents had a recurring argument about food—what to eat, which cereal to buy, how much should the kids eat, how much should they not eat, what to order on the rare occasion we ate out, and countless other issues that I have since forgotten or repressed. Many of these arguments happened over breakfast, which I've never really understood, but over the years have come to believe this was because breakfast was a time boxed meal. No matter how severely they fought, at some point, we all had to part ways for work or school. Unlike an evening argument, a morning argument couldn't last for hours. Normally, they lasted about two and half Eggo waffles.
I had to be careful about how I talked about food as to not trigger a fight. Without being told, I knew that I could never ask for cereals we didn't have a coupon for, or that if I was hungry for half an egg instead of a full egg, I would stay hungry so I didn't get in trouble for wasting food. Food was a Byzantine labyrinth filled with unwritten rules that the enjoyment out of eating.
Except when it came to eating Nutella.
Strangely, Nutella was never an argument in our household, a loophole I caught onto quickly but could not quite understand why. Maybe it was because Nutella didn’t fit into a clear food category, as it’s not a candy nor a dessert. It could be eaten at breakfast (their ads certainly wanted you to), but it could also be an afternoon snack. It could be served with toast, fruit, cake, ice cream, or all on its own. It was luxurious yet accessible, and a spoonful went such a long way that you could feel satisfied without devouring the entire jar in one go.
Or maybe my parents couldn't argue about Nutella because there simply were no preconceived notions of it. Nutella arrived in India in 2004, but my parents left in 1988. When they discovered it in suburban California (likely through me asking for a jar, although I'm not exactly sure), it was new but innocuous. If anything, it was versatile, and if there's one thing that Indian immigrant parents love, it's a multi-purpose thing. (Ask any Indian parent how many old t-shirts they have turned into dish rags, or how many cookie tins have become sewing kits.)
When there was Nutella, there was calm. So for a few moments, whether for breakfast or an after-school snack or a simple dessert, I could savor this tranquility with a warm toast slathered with this wonderful condiment. Nutella became a sweet, luscious haven to assuage my anxiety and assure me that while everything may not be okay, it is indeed okay right now.
As I grew older, Nutella continued to follow me, evolving just as I did, sometimes devolving. In high school, I baked Nutella cookies for my teachers because yes, I was a nerd and you best believe I got those letters of recommendation. In college, I'd come home drunk and eat Nutella straight from the jar. Once, I invited a guy over to make Nutella tarts for our third date and married him four years later. And when that guy and I decided to leave my home state of California and move to London, I packed two Costco-sized jars of Nutella to take with me; they made it to London just fine.
Throughout my life, Nutella has proven to be adaptable, resilient, and of course, freaking delicious. It’s helped me develop into the cook and writer I am today. While it didn’t stop my parents from divorcing or prevent all the many other hardships that come from simply living, it taught me to be adaptable and resilient too. And even though it's been over twenty years since those childhood tensions, whenever I need a moment of peace and clarity, I still turn to Nutella.
So each year when World Nutella Day comes around, I eat Nutella in whatever form I'm craving and celebrate where I was and how far I’ve come. And my hope today is that you find a small way to celebrate how you've grown too.
Nutella Ganache Tarts
As I celebrate four months of marriage to the man I made these Nutella tarts for all those years ago, it's only right that I share the recipe here! Some recipe notes below:
Nutella is very sweet on its own, so when you’re using it as a component in desserts, you don’t need to add any extra sugar. In fact, adding a bit of sea salt over the top balances the sweetness and makes your mouth pucker ever so slightly in the most delightful way.
The chocolate tart crust resembles Oreos and indeed—if you want to make this more cheesecake style, I'm sure you could make the crust from crushed Oreos and melted butter, although I didn't try with this recipe. I like the crust this way because it isn't overly sweet and heavy. And hey, these tarts got me a fourth date so I'd call them a resounding success.