A friend of mine who loves cooking and feeding people decided to compile recipes comprising what is known as comfort food. Comfort food provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to a person and may be specific to an individual or culture.
I remember accompanying her on her visits to diverse groups and her taping what they said as they recalled what they considered comfort food, often a dish that was simple yet filling. As they recalled the dish, one could see them retreating to a happy place as their eyes shone with the recollection.
During my first trip to Europe way back in the 1980s, I was introduced to food that was strange to my palate but I was determined to taste dishes that I had hitherto only read or heard about. One meal at an Austrian restaurant along with my German friends saw me ordering a dish that sounded exotic.
When it appeared before me, I was taken aback as it seemed uncooked to me. But I bravely spooned it into my mouth, watched keenly by my friends. Later that night I woke up feeling nauseous and lost that meal to put it politely.
After many such tastings I reached Spain where my sister lived. I can still see the shock on her face when I told her I was longing to eat just rice and dal or lentils. She couldn’t believe her ears as I was the fussy eater in the family and she had planned this elaborate menu for dinner to tempt my taste buds. That’s when I realised that my comfort food was the simplest and most basic of all dishes
This pandemic has seen many discovering culinary skills they never knew they possessed. WhatsApp is full of people showcasing their culinary masterpieces. They readily share recipes and are genuinely proud of their efforts and rightly so.
What is even more encouraging is the number of men who have turned to whipping up delectable dishes, much to the delight of their wives who are smart enough to encourage them to keep up the good work in their own interest!
A book “Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers” shares memories associated with food. I was touched by the recollection of Diana Abu-Jaber who shares a recipe for za’atar bi zayt and her Palestinian aunt’s recollection of eating wild za’atar leaves to stay alive in 1948 as she and her family were forced out of their village.
A sensual experience
Food is a sensual experience that brings back memories of childhood, things we ate during festivals or other celebrations. We also associate certain foods with people we love such as our mother who nourished us and showed her love for us through what she put on our plates.
I know that I feel a sense of regret over my taking for granted all the effort put in by my mum to serve a variety of dishes as she knew that I was hard to please. I wish I had been more appreciative of her efforts and told her how grateful I was.
Somehow I find that memories of things I ate as a child which were considered treats then are so powerful that the mere thought of these can make me salivate. However, I am unable to replicate that same pleasure when I eat them now. Were they really so tasty or is memory playing its tricks?
There a slew of quotes on food but the one that resonated the most with me is by celebrated chef Anthony Bourdain: “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”
Simply put, food brings people together, helps them connect and create meaningful memories.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India