What is comfort food? Everyone has their own definition, although some of you may not be familiar with the term. You know you’ve eaten comfort food when your brain says: “Oh man! That brings back memories.” For me, comfort food makes me relax, and it brings my guard down. It could be the food your mom makes, or that you remember eating at your grandma’s house. Its the food you serve yourself seconds of, or thirds. Its the “must have” food when you have returned home from a long trip.
For me, its Puerto Rican food. I was born in the U.S. and was raised as an Air Force brat, moving every three years or so to a different region of the States, or to a different country altogether. Both of my parents are Puerto Rican and they have lived in the U.S. ever since my dad joined the military. I’ve experienced different foods and different cultures, but nothing says “home” to me more than a plate of mom’s cooking. That never changed, regardless of the location. Although I’ve never lived in PR, the food is a part of my upbringing.
What I’m talking about here is rice and beans – yellow or white, with pinto beans or black beans; pork shoulder marinated with hefty amounts of garlic and oregano and slow-cooked until the meat falls off the bone (make sure to leave me a big piece of the crunchy skin); plantains – either fried, mashed, or sweet baked; pasteles – a Caribbean type of tamale made with plantain dough and filled with pork, pimentos, and green olives, then wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled (yum); ropa vieja – shredded beef stewed in a tomato, onion, and green pepper sauce; empanadas – pastry dough filled with ground beef, or cheese, or whatever, and deep fried; tembleque – creamy coconut custard. There’s more – a lot more.
I just can’t get enough of this stuff, and when I do, I am in a place where I forget the worries of the world and the stresses of life. I’m momentarily taken back to my childhood when things were carefree, when mom and dad knew everything, when everything was right. This Christmas day, I prepared some of these things for my family and invited my parents over to share. I hope they are proud that I embrace the food of my heritage. I hope my cooking takes them back just like it does for me.
Do you have a food like that? What is it? I’d love to hear about your comfort food and the memories it evokes.