These gingery soba may just defy definition – The Denver Post

By Yotam Ottolenghi, The New York Times

LONDON — Comfort food is hard to pin down.

It’s as slippery as noodles, with any attempt to characterize it often countered by an exception.

Christopher Simpson, The New York Times

Soba noodles with ginger broth and crunchy ginger in New York on May 18, 2021. For Yotam Ottolenghi, all food is comfort food but this quick-to-prepare dish is especially sustaining. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the type of food that people eat when they are sad or worried, often sweet food or food that people ate as children.”

I connect with the nostalgia part and love sweet things, but I tend to reject the idea that comfort food must fill a sad- or worried-shaped hole.

To me, all food is comfort food: Do we ever set out to make food that discomforts? It’s true that the past year has seen a focus on food’s particular ability to provide solace amid so much uncertainty. Slippery though noodles can be, then, it’s interesting to ponder why noodles — so simple, so basic, so everyday — have such an ability to nurture, sustain and, indeed, comfort.

Is comfort food about ease? In Thai cooking, it’s less about how food makes people feel than about its ease: dishes that are quick to make, untaxing, gentle on the day. And you can find this in any cuisine, of course. These are the pasta and noodle dishes, the daals and soups: things that come to life with little more than boiling water, hot stock or broth.

Is it to do with texture? Is it the feeling of noodles as we eat them? Does that explain the appeal of smooth soups or hummus? Or the lure of rice — light on one hand, reassuringly starchy on the other?

Or is it defined by food group? Do carbohydrates comfort more than others? Is that what makes noodles — and pasta, potatoes and bread — so enticing? Does the same hold true of fat and dairy?

Or is it how (and where) we eat it? From a bowl, with chopsticks, by hand? Is the link between a bowl of hot soup and a tub of cold ice cream that both are eaten with a spoon, cross-legged on the sofa? Is that why some people love to eat in bed?

Or is it to do with memory? If one kid’s happy place is a baked potato with melted cheese, and the next kid’s is lentils and rice or chicken soup, does that make the whole notion of defining comfort food nonsense?

For all the ways to define comfort food, the dictionary definition is the one I’d push back on. Why is comfort food associated with sadness or some kind of lack or guilt? Why is the tub of ice cream we fall into on a Friday night seen as a substitute for the real hugs we’ve all been missing? Can’t we just love it because it’s delicious, easy and there?

I don’t like Champagne (no guilt!), but I do love this quote from Lily Bollinger, who is with Bollinger Champagnes: “I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad.”