What comes to mind when you think of comfort food? Is it a particular food that somehow makes everything seem better when you are feeling down? Something crunchy? Salty? Sweet? Fried? Bready? All of the above?
In the past, my comfort food would definitely have been a cookie. Cookies were my favorite dessert/snack for a long time, and if I was having a particularly rough day, I turned to them to ease the emotional strain. Homemade or store-bought, they were my comforting friend.
More recently, I turn to a cup of tea for comfort, usually with some milk (and let’s be realistic, maybe still a cookie). A warm, creamy beverage like tea with milk or even some hot chocolate does something for my soul: the aroma lifts my spirits, the warmth relaxes my body, and the act of sitting quietly and savoring each sip provides a few minutes of peace.
When I met and married B, I was introduced to masala chai, a mixture of black tea and warming spices such as cinnamon, cloves and cardamom that is then boiled with whole milk and sweetened with sugar or gur (also called jaggery). My mother-in-law makes ginger chai, which is so wonderfully delicious and soothing that I drink it whenever offered, and I look forward to it every Sunday when we go to her house for dinner. For me, chai combines that warm, creamy beverage that I find so comforting with the spices I have grown to love from my husband’s family culture.
Many times I crave something sweet to take the edge off of an emotionally charged day, but other times I want something savory that will satisfy that part of me that wants to feel comforted. Indian dishes, with their complex flavors and warming spices have become a comfort food for me as I have embraced the culture of my husband’s family. Their rich food culture ties family to food to tradition, and I love the tastes and the ideas behind that union.
So when I had a particularly stressful day this week, I turned to some chai for a minute of escape. I was too drained to make it myself, so I bought some from a coffee shop (which, though not bad, wasn’t quite like homemade, but you can go online to find great coffee makers and espresso machines for any needs.). And while it did provide me with some comfort in a cup, it reminded me that the true comfort comes in knowing that everything will turn out all right in the end, that there are those in my life who love and support me unconditionally, and that turning to food for some comfort is a powerful, but still temporary, solution to stress and emotionally difficult situations.
The reality is that food holds memories and traditions, it evokes the communion of families and friends, and it connects us to the earth and each other, but it is only a momentary substitute for facing life’s challenges. Whether we want to admit it or not, food is comforting, and understanding how food makes us feel is a powerful piece of wisdom. Sometimes we just need a little chai to get by.
B knew that I was having a rough day, so he brought me an Almond Joy (something I used to consume regularly, especially when I wanted a little food comfort); he also said that he would dispose of it if I didn’t want to eat it (since I hadn’t eaten one in a long time). I did eat it–hey, I’m human–and it was tasty. He knew that a little treat would likely cheer me up, and the gesture did much more than the candy itself. And maybe that is the point. A cup of chai is much more comforting when made for me by someone I love and that loves me, just as most comfort food is best when it is specially made for you when you are feeling down. It is a hug and a word of encouragement, it is food for your soul as well as your body.
I enjoyed a little comfort in a cup this week, and it helped me wade through a temporary patch of trouble, but it did not solve my problems, nor did it make them go away. Instead, it gave me a moment to reflect and focus so that I could appreciate the love and comfort I get from those around me. That’s some pretty powerful comfort food!
This post is linked to Monday Mania.