We have all heard of the term “comfort food,” —we in fact have all craved it, smelled the aromas from it in anticipation, and of course eaten it. What is “comfort food” though? Is it only big bowls of stew-ish type foods on a cold winter day that one eats while wearing pants with a stretchy waistband? Does it exist in climates where it is warm year round? Comfort food can be, and is, whatever you want it to be by what it means to you. That’s the beauty of it; if by eating it, it gives you a level of comfort, be it physical or emotional, then it can be considered comfort food. The physical contentment from eating comfort foods would be the warmth felt by the temperature of the dish, or the spiciness of it, and/or even the mouth feel of the richness about it.
However pairing these physical sensations with the psychological satisfaction from eating something considered to be a comfort food, is where I think the true definition lies within people and where the pleasure really comes from.
Comfort food can be a dish that stirs up sentimental feelings for example. Maybe a certain aroma and corresponding flavour is linked to a memory of a place once visited, a special time or celebration in one’s life, or of a beloved person. For example, when I smell turkey and stuffing cooking my mind always takes me back in times to when I was a boy and would come in the house from playing outside on a crisp autumn Thanksgiving day. The warm aromas of sage and turkey blanketing every nook and cranny of our old house revealed to me my mom’s selfless efforts made by her that morning. Smell is a huge part of the enjoyment of eating and tasting and it has been scientifically proven that our sense of smell is directly linked to memory. This is also the reason we are turned off by some foods or dishes, because the aromas and related tastes are linked to times of unhappiness or ill feelings.
Recipes of a nostalgic nature may also contribute to be classified as comfort foods. Foods from a certain time period or specific culture that trigger emotions may be enough to sanction it into this classification. For instance, on the 17th of March when our table is filled with classic Irish dishes, it not only feels more fitting, but also fulfilling… or comforting. This is just one example of many celebrations that could include, but not limited to, Asian delights on Chinese New Year, incredible Indian food on Dwali, or haggis on Robbie Burns Day… yes, there are people that consider even haggis to be comfort food. For those of you not in the Scottish culinary loop, haggis can be defined as a savoury pudding containing a sheep’s organs (heart, liver, and lungs for example) and combined with onion, oatmeal, and spices traditionally encased in the sheep’s stomach and simmered for hours. I am actually quite fond of it myself on occasion as long as it is served warm; once it gets cold I find the texture loses its appeal.
The feel good sensation of comfort food can also be obtained by simply just loving the taste of something, maybe by that of your favorite type of food or favorite recipe; which literally could translate into almost anything for any one individual. Basically foods that make you feel good because you are consuming something you love to eat. The act of doing so would bring on positive emotions and help to suppress negative feelings, and that alone could be enough to be considered comfort food. Now if this was a column on dietary pros and cons and examining how food addictions can alter lifestyles in a negative way, we would then discuss moderation, balanced diets, and portion control.
» Chef Dez is a chef, writer and host. Visit him at www.chefdez.com or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Bx 2674, Abbotsford, BC, V2T 6R4