comfort food

I had a houseguest all week — an old friend from university who needed some down time before starting a cross-country move and a dissertation. We presented together at a conference, applying Aristotle’s notion of phronesis from the Nicomachean Ethics to science fiction futurism, but most of the week was spent sleeping in, visiting art galleries, and eating. There’s a lot of really great food in Toronto, and we barely scratched the surface. But what really surprised me about this week was how much comfort food I made, and how happy it made all of us. Things like:

  • fried rice with bacon and barbecue sauce
  • slow cooker channa masala with sweet potatoes
  • macaroni and cheese with cauliflower and mushrooms
  • chipotle salmon tacos with guacamole

I wish I could claim that I made fancier fare, or that I had photographed it, but this was not the case. I cheated. I opened jars. (I made my own guacamole, with organic avocados that did in fact taste better than the inorganic variety. But this was the foodiest of my foodstuffs, that week.) I felt a little guilty about this, thinking that I should have prepared something more work-intensive, but in retrospect this would have interrupted the flow of the week, which was all about staring quietly into the rain, inhaling the smell of it mingled with the steam rising from our coffee. You don’t spend the morning that way and then turn around and make a multi-course meal. You do your homework instead, or you read a novel, and then you come home and take out your knife and see what needs slicing.

You might wind up with something like this:

Soondubu jjigae from Maangchi on Vimeo.

This is soondubu jjigae, which I have yet to make but which I enjoy on a regular basis. My friend’s first night in town, we ushered him into a Korean restaurant where the rice is purple and this soup is served with a raw egg. It’s simple. It’s delicious. It’s also one of the first foods I discovered in Toronto, on the advice of a new friend. I’m still so glad that she shared it with me, because it inaugurated my appreciation of Korean food in general, and opened my cultural palate as well as my culinary one. Soon is comfort food for me, now. It always makes me feel better. I like how messy it is, and how I always leave feeling full.

Relationships are like this, too. Messy, but nourishing. Things may boil over. You can cut yourself if you don’t watch out. You may stand there for hours, waiting for it all to come together. But eventually, it does. Eventually, there’s just the full silence, when you know you did it right, it’s enough, you’re done, no further preparation is necessary.

Then, dessert.

2 thoughts on “comfort food”

  1. Hey,

    Came here via Peter Watts’ blog and your Tor posting — not sure which, actually. Anyway, yeah, sundubu jjigae… except usually over here (in Korea) it’s got less stuff in it that Maangchi seems to put in. The best sundubu I ever had was in this little one horse town I lived in, and it was mostly just the tofu and some mussels and this amazing, unearthly broth… I kind of miss it. (And now I remember there’s a great little sundubu place not far from campus… just over at the “We’ve The State” apartment complex.)

    But I’ve never made it at home — too easy to get good stuff outside, so I cook the Western food that is less-well-done in Seoul. But this chunky sundubu that Maangchi recommends… it’s got me thinking of trying my hand at it.

    Lots of things about Korea can be difficult or just frustrating — for example, how unavailable the ingredients for non-Korean food sometimes can be — but there are all kinds of things that are pretty good here too, and the local food, once you’ve gotten used to it (some people seem to need to adjust more than I did), is one of them.

    1. Gord,

      Thanks for this perspective! I’ve been really curious about Korea, lately, because I’ve been eating a lot more Korean food and watching Korean dramas. From the outside, it looks like a really vibrant place that’s going through a lot of interesting changes. It also seems like one of the few countries where product placement is done right. Seriously, I’m way more likely to watch a five-minute Lee Hyo-Ri video advertising a mobile phone than I am to watch an actual mobile phone commercial.

      If you do try Maangchi’s sundubu, let me know how it goes! My husband seriously dislikes tofu, so I doubt I’ll be making it at home anytime soon. (This gives me an excuse to get out, though, to the purple rice and raw egg place.) One thing I have been considering, though, is some variety of gochujang mayonnaise.

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