May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month! Welcome to our compilation series featuring all of our 8A bloggers celebrating, sharing and even complaining about our collective APA backgrounds. What better way to kick this off than talking about food?
Comfort food is a staple in any country, ethnicity or culture, but growing up in a Japanese American household meant that my definition of “food I like to eat when my feelings are sad” were quite different than the macaroni & cheese, potatoes and apple pies that I’d see on greasy diner menus or family sitcoms. The food that would evoke happy memories of my childhood were treats from my mother, whether it was toasted mochi slathered in butter and soy sauce or a dome of ketchup fried rice, covered in an egg omelete.
My ultimate comfort food was soboro donburi from my grandmother, who would top a bowl of rice exactly in half with sweet egg scramble and seasoned ground beef. I could never decide which side of the bowl was my favorite, so I’d carefully eat equal portions of egg and beef to make sure I could enjoy the dish at best as possible. I could never properly recreate my Obaachan’s flair with the donburi, where the eggs were a perfectly fluffy yellow while the ground beef was a perfect balance between savory and sweet. To this day, the flavor reminds me of my weekends with my grandparents in Downtown Los Angeles, where they spoiled me rotten.
I know I’m not the only one with these Asian versions of comfort food. The rest of the 8Asians writers also generously shared their take on dishes that evoked similar feelings and memories. You can read them, after the jump.
BRAISED TAIWANESE PORK BELLY. One, because this is what my mom would make for me. Two, because it’s pork belly. Fuck the hipsters and their fascination with bacon – that shit is cured, and any truly hardcore comfort food eater loves their pork belly slabs thick and with hella fat and stewed with soy sauce and star anise garlic for a couple of hours. Seriouseats makes fucking burgers out of these using Chinese rolls.
CHICKEN ADOBO. This was the first recipe I ever knew how to cook in college, not any of the Chinese stuff because my mom would be all, “You should leave cooking to your future wife!” That will show her. Foodwise, for the same reason as the pork belly, minus pork fat, plus the skin on those chicken thighs. Mmm, chicken thighs.
My Mom’s Kimchi Stew with Pork Belly is probably my absolute favorite comfort food. It always hits the spot. When we were still living in Korea, my mom would walk me to the butcher in our neighborhood and order the pork belly, and that meant Kimchi Stew (soup) with Pork Belly time! I loved the whole experience, walking hand in hand with my mom alone to the butcher’s (which was rare having had a sister and brother who took all her attention) and her making it because it was my favorite dish. I won’t order it at restaurants because it’s never the way my mom made it.
One of my comfort foods is scrambled egg with tomatoes over rice. It’s something I’ve only ever seen from Taiwan, although I would assume it has Chinese origins. My mom used to make this when I was small, and the only other person I know that still makes this today is my aunt. It definitely reminds me of my childhood.
The other thing I really like (although it’s not something you prepare) is Haw Flakes. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid.
Arroz caldo: Filipino moms make this for their kids when they are sick, and when I am sick and the wife wants to pamper me, she makes this so I feel better. And I usually do, and not just because of the chicken soup part of it. Rice, chicken, ginger, and garlic. Warm, mushy, and comforting! I have never made this – probably another reason that it is comfort food!
Mom’s lumpia: I always love this, because it reminds me of all of the celebrations we have had as family over the years. It is said that taste and smell are extremely effective at bringing back memories, and her lumpia certainly does that for me. She still makes it at our family parties, and her recipe is distinctive from other people’s lumpia. I love it with a sauce of vinegar, garlic, and soy sauce. Since her lumpia has vegetables in it, I also comfort myself by convincing myself that it is actually good for me! This is one dish that I can and have made, using my Mom’s recipe.
Oyster omelette: Definitely not the sort of dish we had very often, but always a huge treat if Mom made it for us. When we went to Taiwan as a family, everyone knew what I’d go looking for at every night market. This makes me think of my parents and our trips to Taiwan together.
Green-onion “pancake” (with egg!): This was one of our “standby” Sunday breakfast dishes, except my Mom created a variation of green onion pancakes by adding green onions to what might be known as an egg pancake (蛋餅) and substituted flour tortilla (instead of hand-making green onion pancakes) to make something that I’ve never seen anywhere else. My brother and I learned how to make these on our own and when I went off to college, I made this a lot because one of my roommates was Mexican and there were also flour tortillas in the fridge.
Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) – I’m not sure why this of all dishes was one of the first that my Mom taught us how to make (maybe it was a favorite of Dad’s?) but I have lots of memories of making this for the family with my brother helping out by making our own tonkatsu sauce and thinly slicing cabbage as a side. Placed upon a plate with a dome of rice, it still makes me think of home.
Noodle Soup: it’s quite the broad range of items, but if I had to list the kinds of noodle soup it would have to be as follows:
Ramen: the good kind served mostly by folks of either Japanese or Korean descent … not the fusion stuff bastardized by those folks from Hong Kong (no offense Asijen).
Shredded Pork and Pickled Greens with Shanghai Noodles in Soup: I’m desperate to find a place that serves this now that my fav Northern Chinese cuisine restaurant has switched owners and the chef makes it weirdly.
Korean Cut noodles soup w/ dumplings:- I have to roll myself out of the restaurant after a bowl. When I have to make it myself, using fresh noodles and soup base bought from the Korean grocery store.
My comfort food is tinolang manok: a chicken soup made with chayote/green papaya, lots of ginger and fish sauce.
Another is arroz caldo, which is a Filipino rice porridge made with chicken, fried garlic, garlic and fish sauce. Vietnamese aren’t the only ones who eat fish sauce! Other comfort foods are chicken pho* and bibingka (rice cake with coconut milk).
Garlic fried rice with a fried egg, pescatarian-friendly palabok, anything deep-fried (including butter).
Da Chang Mian Xian, which is thin rice noodles with a thick broth and pig intestines and usually some bamboo.
Hai Nan Chicken Rice Dumplings. OH LAWD HAVE MERCY. I miss dumplings.
Congee with Preserved Eggs and Lean Pork.
Korean style instant ramen with my mommy’s Kimchi!
So, what are your favorite comfort foods?