We have all heard of “comfort food.” We all, in fact, have craved it, smelled its aromas, and of course, eaten it. What is “comfort food,” though, exactly?
Is it big bowls of stew-ish type foods on a cold winter day that one eats while wearing pants with a stretchy waistband?
Comfort food is whatever you want it to be, determined by what it means to you.
That’s the beauty of it. If eating it gives you a level of comfort, be it physical or emotional, then it is comfort food.
The physical contentment from eating comfort foods could be the warm temperature of the dish, its spiciness, or even the mouth feel of the richness about it.
However, pairing those physical sensations with the psychological satisfaction of 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 are 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 time 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; it has been scientifically proven that our sense of smell is directly linked to memory.
We can also be turned off by some foods or dishes because the aromas and related tastes are linked to times of unhappiness or ill feelings.
Foods from a certain time period or specific culture – that trigger emotions – may be enough for comfort classification.
For instance, on March 17, when our table is filled with classic Irish dishes, it not only feels more fitting, but also fulfilling… or comforting.
Others include, but are not limited to: Asian delights on Chinese New Year; incredible Indian food on Diwali; haggis on Robbie Burns Day… yes, there are people who consider haggis 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 (such as heart, liver, and lungs) 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, as long as the haggis is served warm. Once it gets cold, the texture loses its appeal.
Basically, comfort food makes you feel good because it’s something you love to eat. The act of eating it brings on positive emotions and helps to suppress negative feelings, and that alone could be enough to be considered comfort food.
Now if this was about dietary pros and cons and about how food addictions can negatively alter lifestyles, we could discuss moderation, balanced diets, and portion control.
However, for the sake of the love of the culinary arts, we will end it here on a positive note, instead.
So, in conclusion, comfort food can be and is anything you want it to be, as long as it makes you happy for one reason or another… even if only temporarily.
Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley.
Visit him at www.chefdez.com.
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