Sometimes, the simplest kinds of food are enough to hit the right spot.
Your comfort food might come in the form of a warm bowl of soup after a hectic workday. It may also come in the form of street food that stirs nostalgia from your childhood and growing up years. For some, their comfort food might be associated with good memories shared with friends and family, enjoying a good pot of stew during the winter. It may even be a simple noodle dish that only our moms could perfect.
There really is no fixed definition for comfort food. What we do know is that Asian cuisine is home to several gastronomic delights that embody exactly what comfort food is.
Let’s go on a little food adventure to see some of Asia’s best comfort food picks and what ingredients you’ll need to make them from your homes:
Ramen might be the first noodle dish you associate with Japanese cuisine but while its richness satisfies your umami cravings, udon offers comfort beyond taste. Its bouncy noodles, the lightly flavored broth made only with dashi, soy sauce, and mirin, plus the warm and aromatic steam that comes from every bowl offer a refreshing sensory experience that feels like a warm and gentle hug.
China: Wonton Soup
In Cantonese, wonton roughly translates to clouds, as wontons resemble clouds floating in soup. Its taste can very much be likened to fluffy clouds; light, warm, and incredibly relaxing for the senses. You can buy some dumplings in your local grocery or prepare them by hand as one way of meditating or bonding with friends and family, but you’ll want to use a light yet healthy-tasting soup base that can bring out the flavors of your wonton and choice of green vegetables.
Korea: Budae Jigae
Korea is home to a wide variety of spicy hot pot dishes that anyone from all walks of life can enjoy. One of Korea’s most popular hot pot dishes is Budae Jigae or Army Stew, a Korean fusion stew that incorporates American food products, such as spam, sausages, baked beans, and sliced cheese, with Korean staple ingredients from kimchi, gochujang, gochugaru, and instant noodles.
When food was scarce during the Korean War, processed and canned food from the military bases provided great sustenance for Koreans. Due to its ease in preparation, it continues to enjoy popularity among the younger generation who want to enjoy a satisfying meal without exerting too much effort.
Philippines: Fish balls dipped in special sauce
No childhood in the Philippines is spent without street food in the picture. Street vendors will have fishball, squid balls, and kikiam ready to be deep-fried straight from burners mounted on pushcarts for kids and adults to skewer or “tusok” with barbeque sticks and enjoy as an afternoon snack. However, the experience is not complete with the dipping sauces.
As colorful and varied Philippine culture is, so are the dipping sauces for their street food. There’s the iconic thick sweet sauce made with brown sugar, a white vinegar sauce, a hybrid vinegar and soy sauce mix, and a spiced variant of all the mentioned sauces with chopped chili peppers, red onions, garlic, and more. Whichever your pick is, it’s the communal “tusok-tusok” experience that makes it extra special.
Malaysia: Penang Char Kway Teow
Can anyone say no to good stir-fried noodles? Maybe those who can have never tasted Penang’s Char Kway Teow. Its bold flavors, contrasting textures, and signature charred taste make this Southeast Asian street food an irresistible dish that’s worthy of its popular status. The smokiness is achieved through the harmonious blend of stir-fry sauce ingredients, namely dark and light soy sauce, oyster sauce, sambal, and sugar. Simply toss and gently fold your prawns, eggs, bean sprouts, Chinese sausages, and chives, with your rice noodles and Char Kway Teow sauce and you’re good to go!
Pho is probably one of the healthiest comfort foods in the world. Its broth is naturally flavored by fresh herbs and vegetable ingredients, while the noodles are lightweight enough to fill but not overwhelm the stomach. Add in some sriracha or hoisin sauce for extra flavor and you’ll conclude your meal feeling refreshed as ever.