What’s ‘comfort food’ anyway?
Quarantine has brought this term back into the limelight but what does it really mean?
May 15, 2020
As a person who writes about food often—I wouldn’t call myself a food writer since I don’t write about food exclusively—I try to avoid using the term “comfort food” when describing a dish. First, because it’s a cliché that’s lost whatever meaning it originally had when the person who coined it first put it in writing. And second, as a result of that first reason, it’s now too vague and can just be thrown casually to describe any kind of food.
When it was first published in 1966 in a daily called the Palm Beach Post, “comfort food” was used to describe a pattern of eating associated with stress. In the story titled “Sad Child May Overeat,” its author writes, “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.”
“Comfort food” as a concept seemed to have reemerged over quarantine as many people take to the kitchen to cook up something to assuage their pandemic-related anxieties. It’s become a grounding exercise, even a buffer in times of uncertainty and even lack of control.
View this post on Instagram
For the first episode of Nolisoli Comfort Kitchen, our group publisher @bealedesma, along with her sous chefs George and Tiger, shares a simple—nay, humble—dish of stir-fried tomatoes and scrambled eggs, a pantry staple recipe. It’s fast and easy to make and can be adjusted to your preference, as Bea did replacing white sugar with monkfruit, an alternative sweetener “for the diabetics in the house.” Just remember: tomato juice is crucial and so is the “mix mix” part. Nolisoli Comfort Kitchen comes out Monday and Thursday nights on our IGTV. #NSComfortKitchen #nolisoliph
In our latest Instagram TV series called “Nolisoli Comfort Kitchen” where we invite friends to share their feel-food eats, we define comfort food as not just recipes from home that make us feel warm and cozy but also food that’s easy and accessible.
As I write this, I have a pot of sinigang boiling away to tenderize the spare ribs. Sinigang in itself is comforting for a lot of Filipino people. It’s so beloved that many would vouch for its national dish status. Plus, it fits the criteria for “comfort food”—yes, there are criteria.
What makes a dish a comfort food?
The criteria I speak of are not formalized metrics. After all, comfort means different things to different people—just because it is a universal pop culture language to have a character in despair bust out a pint of ice cream, doesn’t mean everyone identifies with ice cream in the same psychological way.
In a 2005 study, medical sociologist Julie L. Locher identified four categories of comfort food based on the needs they fulfill. These include nostalgia, indulgence, convenience and physical satisfaction.
But the study on comfort food, its effects and the motivations behind it have since expanded to include its function as a social surrogate, fulfilling a need to belong.
Psychologist Shira Gabriel, one of the proponents of the comfort food as social surrogate theory told The Atlantic in an interview, “When we think about something like comfort food, we tend to think about it as providing calories or warmth or a sense of well-being. But what we don’t think about is that comfort food also provides something social to us.”
We bond over food just as the food on the table bonds us together. But in times of isolation, the idea of cooking and sharing a meal even over video calls trumps physical presence. It is our love for food that mediates and erases that boundary of the screen.
Through “Nolisoli Comfort Kitchen,” we hope that even though not all of us may personally know these people that we tapped (even if they are a TV personality like Beauty Gonzales or a celebrity stylist like Liz Uy), every one of us can still relate—if not through social connections then through a familiarity brought about by food.
View this post on Instagram
Forget #QuarantineBaking—there’s a lot of other things you can do in your kitchen while practicing social distancing. We caught up with our friends who share the same love of food to give us a few ideas on what to cook for a bit of comfort in these anxious times. And whether or not we can finally come out of our homes by the end of this week (albeit in limited capacity), there’s something to look forward to twice a week with our newest IGTV series: Nolisoli Comfort Kitchen. We promise that most recipes from these home cooks are something everyone can do in their own kitchens—no professional culinary experience required. Our first episode comes out this Thursday at 8 p.m. #NSComfortKitchen #nolisoliph
Nolisoli Comfort Kitchen comes out Monday and Thursday nights on our IGTV.
Get more stories like this by subscribing to our weekly newsletter here.
You can recreate Shake Shack desserts now, too. Here’s how
HEALTH & WELLNESS
Do portable UV wands and air purifier necklaces work against COVID-19?
After months in quarantine, we’ve learned that cocktail-making is best left to the pros. Here’s where to get them delivered
Help defend press freedom by supporting the NUJP’s Masked Media fundraiser
These new dishes from Gallery by Chele can carry you ‘across the seas’