Cultural echoes bring complexity to a universal interpretation of ‘comfort food’ | Radio-Canada News

Comfort food is often thought of as a simple dish, but it’s much more complex when you consider its universal meaning.

The term has been around since the 1970s, when credit for coining the phrase is sometimes given to actress Liza Minelli. She apparently said that burgers and baked potatoes were her favorite comfort foods.

Canadian comfort foods — and that should include poutine — have made their way onto many high-end casual restaurant menus in Canada: think meatloaf with gravy and macaroni and cheese. A few years ago there was a notable revival of grilled cheese, the gooey sandwich accompanied by a bowl of tomato soup.

Comfort food is ultimately very personal, it can be decadent and indulgent; they are often nostalgic and recreate memories of a grandmother’s home cooking

But as a food genre, they’re not just North American, even though the phrase itself isn’t used in other countries and cultures.

It’s all in the kitchen

Referring to it as “comida casera,” Mynor Garcia, owner of Kitchener’s America Latina Eatery and Grocery, said he grew up in Guatemala and that comfort food isn’t just what you eat, but who eats it. cooked.

For America Latina Eatery and Grocery owner Mynor Garcia, comfort food or “comida casera” isn’t necessarily what you eat but who cooked it. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

“If you work downtown, you’ll eat your lunch at a place that serves comida casera. That means it’s like grandma’s recipes, homemade. More than where you get the food , it’s the feeling of who’s serving that dish and how hot it makes you feel,” Garcia said.

It could be a pupusa or sopa de res that makes it look like you’re eating in your grandma’s kitchen, he adds.

“It’s the feeling.”

If you go to Vietnam, you won’t find pho as a comfort food, even though it’s popular here, according to Thompson Tran of Wooden Boat Food Company in Kitchener. Foods prepared by his mother and grandmother are instead comfort foods for him and others.

“For me it would be caramel fish sauce in coconut broth with cooked pork belly, eggs and pickled mustard greens – that kho. It’s a staple dish that you don’t you can’t find in restaurants, but you can find in every home,” Trad said.

Chef Tran of Wooden Boat Food Company in Kitchener says one of his favorite comfort foods is thit kho, a traditional Vietnamese dish. (Andrew Coppolino/Radio Canada)

Growing up in British Columbia, Tran remembers working in the berry fields and the delicious, soothing lunches packed in a thermos of thit kho with steamed rice he ate. They were nutritious but also a respite from hard work.

“The food has never tasted so good and I never got tired of this deserved meal,” he said. “I always finished the last tablespoon of rice in my bowl with some broth. I always do now.”

Tran points out that dishes in Vietnam carry with them meaningful names; for example, he translates the name of a comforting bitter melon soup, canh kho qua, as “all sorrows shall pass”.

Food related to memories

Comfort food isn’t just a warming meal in cold weather – all of the cooks I’ve spoken to are from warm countries. Jamaica is a hot country, but soup is a regular food, according to chef Teneile Warren.

Warren tells the story of their father sharing a photo of a beef and pumpkin soup he made. It brought back memories and Warren made a lot of it and shared this photo with a friend.

Comfort food can also come from a culture outside his own, for chef Teneile Warren it’s Cantonese chow mein. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

“So there were three different people eating pumpkin beef soup in three different countries,” Warren said.

However, comfort food can also come from a culture outside of one’s own, Warren points out.

“Comfort food is sentimental. It’s nostalgic and emotional. It’s food that we connect to particular times, or to a person. When I’m not feeling well, I crave Cantonese chow mein, something I know from Jamaica.”

The aspect of nostalgia extends to culinary techniques, according to local chef Arielle Neils. She said the food she calls comfort food just looks better when an older generation, using traditional techniques, cooks it. It’s a feeling that coconut ground by hand, rather than in a blender, tastes better.

Food columnist Andrew Coppolino, left, visited the kitchen of Kitchener chef Arielle Neils for a lesson in making pastels. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

“It’s Trini soul food or it’s traditional food,” Neils said of how comfort food could be described. “It’s traditional, old-fashioned cooking methods. And the food just tastes different. We like to say, ‘It tastes sweeter.’ It tastes like sweet food,’” she said.

As autumn arrives and with it the end of summer, the children are back in school and routines resume their usual pace as winter approaches. I think comfort food can often evoke a melancholy that goes beyond nostalgia.

“Comfort food means the feeling of being cared for, the feeling of being at home, and the feeling that brings back memories” Maria de Sousa. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

It’s a feeling that the Portuguese call “soudade”, a word that cannot be translated into English but which mimics a feeling of “loss” or a “sweet sadness” for what happened at the same time as you. you feel satisfied, according to Maria de Sousa who operates a Portuguesa bakery at St. Jacobs Market.

“Comfort food means the feeling of being cared for, the feeling of being at home, and the feeling that brings back memories for you,” de Sousa said.

“Soudade, these are the times when you were really happy.”

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