What are comfort foods? Generally, the first foods to come to mind are: fried chicken, ice cream, pie, mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, and French fries. Some of America’s favorite comfort foods were brought here to re-create flavors of home, bringing comfort and familiar taste for immigrants. The momentum for craving comforting food has grown nationwide as the desire for nostalgia and connection are on the rise. Flavors, textures, and aromas make an imprint in our memories. Their impact is usually powered by fresh herbs and spices. The release of the endorphins in our brains after the first bite into an old favorite family recipe can make it feel like miles and years have been erased, creating feelings of pleasure and bringing one closer to places and people of long ago. Sharing these favorite flavors can be equally rewarding!
Comfort foods are usually thought to be choices that are not so friendly on the waistline and for that reason can be shunned. The Oxford English Dictionary made “comfort food” an official term in 1997, describing it as: “food that comforts or allows solace; hence any food (frequently with a high sugar or carbohydrate content) that is associated with childhood or with home cooking.” Whether comfort foods contain large amounts of calories or not, focusing on food’s ability to bring joy, share love and bring people together is reason enough to ride the trend.
As a culinary destination and desirable place to live, the Wood River Valley is its own spectacular melting pot of culture, family, and memories from abroad. Many local restaurants have been created out of a desire to share love of childhood memories and favorite foods that have brought comfort to the owners and chefs for many years. Specific dishes keep memories alive and make home feel closer. (And, of course, provide tasty meals that rival many big-city restaurants!) The food is made with love, and it brings people together through the plate, despite their varied backgrounds and childhoods.
On the menu at Cookbook Restaurant in Ketchum is a cake that co-owner Vita Smith grew up with in Ukraine. Vita explains, “It’s a family recipe that my mother and grandmother used to make, primarily on special occasions. It is a labor of love. Each layer is rolled out and baked individually and then assembled with organic sour cherries and a special white frosting. It is very different from most cakes you are used to tasting in this country or in this part of the world; it’s not too sweet and very light. I love everything about it!” Vita finds joy in the process of making this cake even though it takes two hours to make just one cake. Offering the popular cake on Cookbook’s menu is a way for her and her husband/co-owner Burke Smith to show guests how important and special they really are to them.
SANU (TANADEEP CHAKRABORTY)
Missing his mother’s food since arriving in the United States in May 2016 from Kolkata, India, Ratnadeep Chakraborty (aka Sanu) recently opened Saffron Indian Cuisine in Ketchum. Thinking of his restaurant as his home, he uses all the same Indian spices that his mother used in her cooking. Some of his favorites are mustard oil, mustard seeds, turmeric, fenugreek, fennel, and coriander. Guests are elated by the inviting aroma of the whole spices being heated in mustard oil when they enter the restaurant. His wife, Rosmery Serva, grew up in Peru and has transitioned her taste buds. One of her favorite dishes now is Sanu’s Kosha Mangsho. Pistachio Matka Kulfi, an Indian ice cream made of saffron and pistachios, has made its permanent place on Saffron’s menu because of Sanu’s joyful memory of Sunday evenings when he would anxiously wait with the other children for the ice cream vendor that would come to his home every week.
DANG (RAVEESAK CHANTHASUTHISOMBU)
Curry and Papaya Salad are just two of many favorite recipes Taveesak Chanthasuthisombu (aka Dang) has put on the menu of his Hailey restaurant, Dang’s Thai Cuisine & Sushi Bar. His recipes are based on kitchen experiences with his mother growing up in the countryside of Thailand. He proudly cooks from his heart every time he creates in the kitchen. Certain smells are what bring him the most joy. Every time he cooks with Thai chilis, red onions, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal, the scents remind him of childhood. When he smells Thai tea (a favorite of his!), he’s transported to a special time in his life when he was a monk. Since monks can’t have any food after 12 p.m. (only water, milk, or tea), he ended up drinking a lot of Thai tea. Knowing that people enjoy his food brings equal comfort to him.
Food is powerful. Taking the time to make dishes that create comfort and sharing that bliss brings people together, celebrates diversity and makes the world a smaller and better place.