When I first began writing this post on comfort food – this time of the Asian/Indian/Persian variety – I decided to make a list. I thought, “I’ll list all the dishes I found comforting throughout my 365 Days of Dining, especially the ones that boosted my spirits in cold/rainy weather, then work from there.”
The problem was that once I started the list, I couldn’t stop. It kept growing and growing, and just when I thought I’d exhausted my options, I’d think of one (or eight) more. So, I concluded that in its broad entirety, Asian food brings me a heck of a lot of comfort. Granted, you won’t find me curled up on the couch with a big ol’ slice of durian cake, but we already knew that.
Seriously, the number comfort foods found within Chinese/Vietnamese/Japanese/Taiwanese/Korean/Malaysian cultures is astounding, but with great difficulty, I’ve managed to whittle my long list down to something reasonable. Two notes: first, you’re going to notice a major theme here of carbs and meat, and second, though this may be wildly controversial, neither ramen nor pho made the cut. Collective gasp! I like them both, but the fact is, there are other things I love more.
So, if I had to pick just ten dishes to warm me up on a cold day in Richmond, they would be (in no particular order):
It should be no surprise that a soup is tops, right? This big ol’ bowl of comfort was ideal. It combined the warm richness of stewed tomatoes; savoury, fork-tender beef; and fresh, toothsome noodles.
I have expressed my love for these tan tan noodles (and tan tan noodles in general) on more than one occasion. And why not? They combine noodles and peanuts – two of my favourite things – in a creamy and slightly spicy broth, with braised pork and bean sprouts to add meatiness and crunch.
I take comfort in bibimbap both because it is tasty, and because it offers a lot to concentrate on. That may sound strange, but hear me out; if I’m stressed out or have too much on my mind, it’s nice to be distracted by a meal with ‘a lot going on.’ Bibimbap let’s me focus on the finely prepared toppings arranged on rice, as well as the ‘banchan’ – the many small side dishes typically served with a Korean meal. I get to add sauce and mix things and arrange every perfect, flavourful bite, meaning I give my brain a break, and turn things solely over to my stomach. It’s nice.
Looking back on my post about Mui Garden, this is how I described their curry: “The chunks of brisket were fork tender, and when all mashed together with the rice, it was pretty much my Ideal Bowl of Comfort Food.” Ha, there you have it.
Having never really tried Filipino food before my year in Richmond, I didn’t expect to come away with a new favourite dish. But as soon as I had my first spoonful of laing, I was hooked. It’s a bit sweet from the coconut, and the soul of the dish is the stewed taro leaves, which are tender and sustaining and just right. As I write this, I’m realizing I ought to learn how to make this.
I know that for people who grew up with it, congee is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and the dish that’s served up most often when someone’s sick. It was once described to me as the Asian version of chicken noodle soup, and that makes sense; both are easy on the stomach, warming, and quick to prepare. I like congee, but if you serve a plate of slightly-salty deep-fried dough alongside it, then I LOVE congee. Tsim Chai’s version of both is tops.
Sometimes, the thing that can make or break a dish for me is texture, and the stickiness of this sticky rice MAKES this dish for me. It also makes me want to go back for more. The texture is perfect, it’s so well-seasoned, and I just want to curl up with a big bowl of it.
I warned you, I’m into carbs. Soup buns are kind of like a bread-ier brother to xiao long bao, and are made with a yeasted dough that’s just a little bit sweet. They’re steamed and fried in the same pan, so you get fluffy steamed bun on top, a golden brown crispy bottom, and a pork filling that has a broth that’s seeped into the dough a little.
Like Mui Garden’s curry, I also declared this dish to be comfort food-approved in my original post: “These are wonderful, and are slowly but surely weening their way into the exclusive world of Lindsay Anderson Approved Comfort Foods.” (I’m a tough critic, apparently). There’s a kind of magic that comes from cooking rice and meat inside tightly-wrapped leaves; the flavours of the meat have nowhere to go but into the rice, and the starch from the rice glues it all together. Sea Harbour’s version of this dim sum/night market classic is great.
Hot, flaky, butter pastry + saucy, savoury/sweet bbq’d pork. That is all I have to say.
Winter is for curry. FACT. Tandoori Kona was one of the first restaurants I went to in Richmond, and I was blown away by the rich complexity of this dish.
The day I ate these, it was grey and miserable out. Pouring steadily, if I remember. But it took just one bite to bring the day back around. It was the magic combination of tender spiced beef and chicken, brightly-flavoured sumac, garlicky yogurt sauce, and rice that made me fall in love. Just thinking about this dish cheers me up.
So there they are, ten of my favourite comforting dishes in Richmond. I literally could have listed thirty, but we all have things to do, don’t we? Like seeking out a big dish of soup or curry or fried rice or dumplings or kebabs…..at least, I certainly will be!