Food for the soul
When one is ask of what is their comfort food, immediately they will be transported back to a place of warmth with loved ones while enjoying a meal. It could range from a full fledge course meal to just a simple dish even. Somehow, this ‘comfort food’ will bring reminiscence, usually conjuring happy and contented feelings. Base on most people response to comfort food, it is mostly unpretentious and simple fare, from everyday food to home cooked food to just a simple dessert to sweeten the soul. Comfort food is something that we can relate to, something familiar and something that when we have it, it would satiate not just the tummy, but the heart too. I was always curious of what comfort food is to people in Malaysia, as we do not have many of them that so eloquently discuss this in oppose to so many other places that I always read of with comfort foods like peanut butter, macaroni and cheese, potato chips, stew, puddings, apple pies, bangers and mash and pasta.
After asking around my friends, I found that one of the most common answer is home cooked food. No specific to which dish or what food but just plain ol’ home cooked food that everyone had such fond memories of. Every dish churned out by mothers or fathers or grandparents alike are what everyone so yearn for. These are unpretentious food, of simple yet fulfilling to the tummy. Who would not love home cooked food, I for one loved those made laboriously lovingly by my Ah Ma (paternal grandmother) daily when I was young. I always come back from school, with stomach growling and with the only thing that filled my mind was “what did Ah Ma cooked today?”, and then rushed to the dining table to find a spread of dishes that never fail to put a smile on my face!
One of my friend though answered a dish, which surprisingly can be found just about anywhere in Malaysia, noodle soup! Yes, just this simple fare of noodle and clear soup will make this girl happy. It is not surprising as Malaysia boasts many good noodle soup that satisfy but does not leave one feeling as if they have eaten an entire cow! Just like how I had featured the simple yet addictive kai si min (sliced chicken noodles) that so many Taiping-ites hanker for, I believe this is what my friend meant when she answered noodle soup as her comfort food. She wanted something light, hearty and warming for the stomach and also the heart, just like chicken soup for the soul.
Another friend had an unique answer to comfort food, specifically creamy mushroom soup. My interest was picked immediately and I berated him for the reason. Turn out, last time when he was young, after taekwondo practice every time, he and his dad would head to the club house’s restaurant for dinner and he would definitely order the creamy mushroom soup there which he proclaimed to be the best and he have yet to really find a substitute for it. In Malaysia, especially during our parent’s generations, going to a club with families for sports is the ‘in’ thing to do. Most of us have the memories of childhood spending time for some kind of sport, from swimming to badminton to tennis, while our parents took these time to mingle around. Also the club is the place for them to play some sports themselves. So for this particular friend of mine, he always reminisces the time he get to enjoy a bowl of creamy mushroom soup on an empty stomach of a feverish growing boy.
Next in line to most of people’s answer to comfort food is surely something sweet and indulging. I had a particular friend who replied Kit Kat, and with no reason. Not surprising as Kit Kat is actually one of the Malaysian chocolate confection, that is successfully known as the preferred snack for kids, thanks to heavy advertising during my time as a kid, and of course because it was indulgingly good – crunchy and chocolatey. Which kid can resist that? The Kit Kat in Malaysia is the original version of plain chocolate wafers. As for another friend who took sweetness as the answer to comfort food, it was actually vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate rice (chocolates shaped like mini rice) which was the toppings for us Gen-Ys of Malaysia. This also reminds me how we kids used to love the rainbow colored Paddlepop ice cream, that is also the stick ice cream of our time, with the ice cream man cycling pass each time playing the song or more often the tune of “Paddlepop, wow! Paddlepop, yay! Super Duper yummy!”. I am sure every kid of those times can relate to that. Ah, such wonders of comfort food and sweet memories.
Photo by Rokh
As for me, what is then my ultimate comfort food? One that once a while pops up in my mind, makes my mouth water, reminds me of the exact time that I sat there enjoying it when I was a kid grinning happily, one that I can always imagine the taste of in my mouth and one that I always had the urged to make it when I can’t get it elsewhere. This one ultimate comfort food dish is, simply, ho lan shu chu yok (stir fried potato and pork slices in soy sauce). Yes, simply that. This simple dish that never fails to have me craving for it once in a while whenever I was searching for comfort. This was the one dish that I always hoped for when I was a kid who rushed back to see a spread of home cooked food. This was the one dish that this kid always pester her Ah Ma to make again and again and again. This is one dish, I had to pried myself away from finishing it every time in order to allows others some privilege to try. This is one dish, that definitely can satisfy my cravings and will definitely comfort my soul.
These are the varied so-called comfort foods of us, various Malaysians. Although not your usual Mac and Cheese, but definitely similarly something simple, warm or sweet, and mostly home made that have these dishes craved by so many. So now I pass the ultimate question to you, what is it that you crave for, what is it that makes your lips smile, what is it that your heart yearns for and just specifically, what is your comfort food?
Rokh is a food columnist on Malaysia Travel Guide, she’s an epicurean and a cook who loves to eat, also writes in her own Malaysia Food Guide – Thamjiak.com . In this column, she will bring you along while she explore various Malaysia foods, like what is good, what makes them so special and how or where to best well enjoy them. More [+]