This article was originally published on The Soup
On low days, do you eat a particular dish to feel better? Soup interviewed nine people about comfort food and what makes it so comforting.
Someone I know once told me, that when he moved to Mumbai, he took a taxi from Lower Parel every day, for three months, to a dingy, little-known Kerala cuisine restaurant in Mahim. And every day, for those three months, he would order a plate of their beef fry. According to him, that beef fry made him feel just a little more at home, in a city full of strangers.
While one man’s beef fry might be another man’s Maggi noodles, it’s quite beautiful that comfort food is in that twilight zone which evades judgement from even the most exacting food critic. It is a hedonistic, self-involved ritual and its primary purpose is to provide you a sense of well-being, in dollops and globs and generous second helpings. Rich food to drown yourself in, simple food to prepare you for the worst.
Each person’s choice of comfort food is also an interesting glimpse into themselves. Some find peace in nostalgia; mushy childhood food and the fragrance of flavours from a less complicated time. Others find pleasure in method, the immersive rituals of making food they love to eat.
In a country like ours, comfort food takes on a social context. As a South Indian, a hot plate of ‘milagu rasam’ and rice, fragrant with freshly chopped coriander and peppery enough to make my ears burn a little, is exactly what soothes me. But what does a chef from Kolkata like? Would his food be dictated by geography or economic background? For instance, what would someone who grew up rich seek in their food as opposed to someone else for whom food isn’t a luxury?
To get a deeper perspective on the subject, Soup interviewed a few people to understand how we depend on food to dispel the blues.
I. Kani Kusruti
“When I’m not completely OK, I eat a typical Kerala meal with ayla curry. The meal includes rice, pulisseri, thenga chammanthi (coconut chutney), payaru thoran, meen varuthatu. I don’t know else to say this, but this entire meal is my first preference.”
II. Meredith Starkman, Actress
“When I’m at home, I eat noodle kugel, a traditional Jewish dish or tuna noodle casserole. My mom never cooked much, but she would make these two dishes for me and she would make them well.”
III. Anish Sarai, Photographer
“So the thing is when I’m sad and lonely, what I really like to do is cook. And the best thing I make is pasta. I like to do everything on my own, cut the vegetables, boil the pasta and make the sauce from scratch. Doing all of this makes me feel a little better about life.”
IV. Carmeline Fernandes, Cook
“I like eating a ‘khatta-meetha’ (sweet and sour) combination that my mother use to make. She always made me rice congee and served it with coconut chutney and one piece of onion. When I am sad or tired, the rice congee reminds me of her and the smells of my childhood. ”
V. Auroni Mookerjee, Chef
“Comfort food to me has always been Mangsho. Being Bengali, mutton was always the preferred meat at our dining table, even over maach or fish, and the person who made it the best was my dad’s mom, fondly known as Manni. Unlike most, Manni, wasn’t too elaborate about her Mangsho. Neither was she too unorthodox like my parents who liked to experiment with different cuisines, cuts and offal. Manni made her Mangsho like it’s made in most Bengali households every Sunday - as a jhol - a flavour packed curry that’s soupy and usually has potatoes. And, her only secret ingredient would be a a few extra pieces of bone marrow, so that the jhol had that extra meaty punch and also so that my dad, sister and I never had to fight over who got the marrow bone.
Till date and over all these years, it’s the one dish I keep going back to for inspiration whenever I want to eat well. It’s what I make after a hard week at work, what I rustle up when there’s an impromptu gang of house guests and what even went on to become one the of signature dishes on our menu. It’s also what I’d request as my last supper.”
VI. Ayesha Kapadia, Artist
“Peanut butter. But only the crunchy sort.”
VII. Gautam Thanki, Exporter
“I like to have Lindt dark chocolate, the one with 80% cocoa. It’s not good for me and it tends to give me ulcers the next day but I still have it because I need it. ”
VIII. Barbie Rajput, Singer/Actress
“Normally I indulge in a Maharaja Mac burger. You know I’m very tiny and the burger is huge, so tackling the burger and making my way through eating it usually takes my mind off my troubles, which helps. But as a little girl, I preferred something tangy. Sometimes ‘imli’ (tamarind) but mostly this drink called ‘khatta’. It’s a Himachali recipe and made out of this particular tangy melon. You have to grind and blend mint leaves into it along with sugar and green chilli. My naani would make it for me. But now that there’s no access to it, I eat the Maharaja Mac.”
IX. Garima Sharma, writer and poet
“I’m living in a tiny and dilapidated but sort of charming house with beautiful light in Versova. I have no gas for 11 months now and I’ve been staying here on and off. There is an induction cooker though. And the thing I make most of the time here is batches of green tea. I don’t know how to cook actually. But the green tea bit is serious business because it’s the kind of stuff that keeps me alive on bad days with a cigarette to lighten the weight of the world. Side note - I eat the tea bags. Please don’t judge me. ”