I was reading this article on Monday. It was all about comfort food. As I sat in the comfort of my lounge room, sipping a large cup of (comforting) tea and absently smoothing the discarded foil wrap of my (comforting) Easter egg, I got to thinking about what comfort food means to me. The article said that comfort food was more about attachments or connections than calories, that we are comforted by the links various foods have to people and places, rather than simply the taste or carb-laden #faileo ranking. I’m inclined to agree.
For me, comfort food is ninety percent about people and places gone-by. And ten percent about delicious.
Jaffles (or toasties as some people call them) for instance, are a reminder of days at the shack when I was little. Sitting in the little booth dining area, trying not to scorch my chin on the hot spaghetti that was seeping out the edges. Grinning with slightly charcoaled teeth thanks to the delicious-yet-slightly burnt crust.
Cheese on toast (or our family recipe ‘cheese spread’) is all about the other shack (our family had two, side-by-side), watching Sesame Street in front of the fire, looking out over the bay to Bruny Island or Snug’s little boathouses, tucked into the distance like gappy teeth,
Macaroni Cheese with Tomato or Corn Chowder are reminders of the years we spent in Canberra, before I moved to Melbourne. My brother and sister and I were growing up – teenagers – forming a little sibling gang and working stuff out. There was always sewing being cleared away from the dining table, the wood burning stove was blasting and the football was probably droning on the TV.
Laksa is all about going to Ong Food Court with Rin when she was little – and Mee Goreng from the Penang Coffee House around the same time. We ate a lot of Malaysian food and it still tastes to me like those early days of mothering, when everything was new and intense and overwhelming and joy packed.
Promite on toasted herb bread (from Potts Bakery, back in the day) is a hard to replicated one. That’s from the cosy time when Rin was a baby too. It Was the first time I’d ever had Promite and the first time I’d ever had sourdough with herbs baked into it. We ate A LOT of it in my mother-in-law Dure’s kitchen, toasting slice after slice, trying to find the line between being appreciative and being greedy.
Later, there was Promite on crumpets. That was all about when Cam and I first met and fell in love. He would make me breakfast in bed and even though Promite on crumpets doesn’t sound like much, it was really delicious and I still love it now. It takes me straight back to a tray on foot of the bed, tea in pretty cups. Same for Bubble and Squeak made from the night before’s roast. It has to have lots of salt and crispy bits (and not too many brussel sprouts, because I don’t like them). The longer we are together, the more brussel sprouts seem to find their way in…. Sheesh.
Later still, there was Richmond Hill Café And Larder’s Cheesy Toast. Some days, when we had our shop in Richmond, Cam and I would go there for breakfast before we opened, after the kids had gone to school, and I’d have that delicious cheesy toast. It was rich and melty and super delicious. Sometimes I had it with the pickle and sometimes with the tomato, but I always felt special and spoilt (and slightly removed from the stress of the shop). I still get cravings for the meltly, special, spoiltness, even now.
There are other things too : Aloo gobi, potato curry on toast, honeyed eggplant on toast, Kouigan Amann from Regal De France, fresh-baked bread or scones with jam and cream, curry and roti, tomato and cheese crackers, lamb and aioli and tomato/rocket rolls, pikelets, poached eggs on Promite toast, brandade on rye, hot chips with lots of salt, mussels in vinegar, tomatoey sardines on toast… I could go on and on. All linked to different, special times and different stages of being grown up.
I guess what I’m saying is that, for me, the comfort/connection research is right. The connections and era that these foods mark is where the appeal, the comfort lies. It’s not just about having something from the past, it’s also about what that something represents – the snapshotted feeling, attitude or memory that is associated with the snack.
Ten percent of the enjoyment is in the flavour. The bulk of the comfort is in the crumbs that trail back home, to the feeling of belonging. To our own foodie history. To cosy/sweet days gone by.
What are your comfy foods? Is the comfort = connection thing true for you?