A basket of aloo papad, a small matthi with achaar, ramdana ladoo, gur chikki is placed in front of you as you settle down at your table. No, you don’t see French fries, potato wedges or cheese sticks. You start munching and voila, your eyes twinkle. You start comparing the taste with what your grand mom prepared for you many moons ago. The chef at large shares your sentiments and he has recreated his childhood memories happily for you.
Now the good news is that these munching treats have assumed greater proportion and both the chefs and the diners are embracing dishes which remind them of home style food.
Comfort food takes you back to your roots
Indeed, in the past few years, comfort food trend has been going strong and it is increasingly bringing diners to restaurants for relishing dishes lovingly prepared by the chefs with the familiar flavours.
So what is comfort food? Generally it's the food linked with good memories, the food which is closest to our home-made style and that reminds us of our joyful simple times.
Sudip Misra, Executive Chef, Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield says, “Comfort food isn’t something that has a comfortable style of cooking, instead comfort food is a food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to oneself. We all have some fond memories of our past and by eating foods that remind us of those times, we symbolically cherish that past happiness. These foods are fairly unique to an individual or can also be linked to specific people in our lives.”
What is Chef Misra’s favourite comfort food, we ask? “No guesses there,” he says with a smile, adding, “My all-time favourite comfort food has been Maacher Jhol which is a traditional spicy fish stew in Bengali cuisine served with rice. This is my “go to dish” of all times—something that says a little about where I grew up and a food that can be associated with the security of my childhood.”
For Chef Raj Kamal Chopra, Corporate Chef, Fortune Park Hotels, pancakes have a special place. “This no fuss dish was something my mother used to make with ease and treat me to every time she decided to pamper me—which was often. I continue to recreate it for my guests till date, blending it with different fruit based flavours and syrups, yet my mother’s simple creation stands out each time.”
Chef Chopra has an impressive list of comfort foods that he likes to prepare according to the season, times of day and his mood swings. “I take to them because they are simple, no fuss and are ready to eat in a jiffy,” he adds with a smile.
Praveen Shetty, Executive Chef, Conrad Bengaluru, concurs, “My all time comfort food has been the traditional neer dosa. To suit the palate of the well-travelled guest, I have innovated the roll of neer dosa and chicken ghee roast roll as an appetizer for special occasions and celebrations.”
Chef Shetty doesn’t stop there. He likes to showcase his childhood dishes beyond Neer Dosa as he says, “I have a variety of comfort foods in our menu, to name a few popular ones, idli, dosa and sambhar from Karnataka belt, Varan Bhat and Vada Pao from Maharashtra and Kandha Poha as a Pune speciality. For me, these fit into the comfort food category as they raise a sense of nostalgia of my journey from my childhood where my mother used to cook all of these dishes. My aim is to recreate these memories and share the secret ingredient with the diners in Bengaluru,” he quips.
Comfort food is not restricted to Indian cuisine. Every region has its own share of this genre. Nitin Bhardwaj, Head Chef at authentic Japanese restaurant, Kampai, New Delhi avers, “Japan has its own share of comfort food like thick slippery udon noodles in a simple dashi-based soup. We make two of the most popular everyday hot udon soups named after animals that have a special place in Japanese folklore and the Shinto region; the Kitsune (fox) and the Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog). Kitsune Udon is udon soup topped with a plump square of fried tofu that’s been simmered in a salty-sweet broth. Tanuki Udon uses the same soup, but is instead topped with tempura batter crumbs which adds flavour and richness to the soup at little cost.”
Preparing Japanese Bento box, Chef Bhardwaj often thinks of the Indian food Bento his mother used to make for him. He shares, “I remember it well, she always gave me the same with little things on the side, there was always omelet, small tomatoes, vegetable, rice, curd, some pickle. The lunch box wasn’t big, but my mother stuffed it with these things, and the pickle was always on top of the rice. I realise now, with a sense of nostalgia that my mom was considering the balance of the food—egg, vegetable, rice, pickle curd.”
Interestingly, Gujiya made around Holi festival, also has a connect. As Chef Bhardwaj adds, “For me Gujiya creates a sense of nostalgia which I always compare here in Japanese kitchen as Gyozas, both are dumplings one is sweet and another is savoury.”
Call it an emotional gesture from the chef, a display of his childhood memories or an indication of where the diners’ preferences are heading, these home style simple preparations are firmly in the spotlight now.