University is the first tiptoe in many people’s journeys into independent living, which comes with a whole host of unfamiliar challenges. For many, a big step is cooking for themselves every day. We arrive at uni with piles of pots and pans, armed with an IKEA set of plates and a razor-sharp knife. We are given the absolute freedom to eat whatever we want, at whatever time of day. The initial excitement for our new found freedom is somewhat fleeting. Leftover Dominoes pizza and beans on toast become less attractive as the realisation that we need to make semi-nutritious food everyday sets in. I quickly began to miss the convenience of someone else cooking for me, the taste of dishes I could never quite recreate no matter how carefully I followed the instructions. I missed the taste of my Mum’s soup, the taste of steaming hot bolognese or rice that was not stuck irreversibly to the pan. Simply put, I missed home cooking.
Cooking in my little kitchen alongside three flatmates, I knew I wasn’t alone in my longing for a home cooked meal. Simmi, like me, immediately said yes. “My mum cooks at home and I miss the taste of her food”, whilst Meg had always been used to cooking for herself and treasured the occasions she ate with the whole family. As for Elise, who cooked for both herself and her Mum at home, university’s cooking provided very little change other than the lack of an extra pair of hands for the dishes.
To me, home cooking is the ultimate comfort food, it is nostalgic and reminds me of childhood and family. However, I grew up in a home with parents who loved to cook and a family who ate together each night, so the perceptions of others may differ. Did comfort food have to be nostalgic or could it just be a treat food? The common consensus seems to be that comfort food is warming, filling and heavy, not necessarily unhealthy, just something which reminds you of home. However for some it’s anything sweet, definitely unhealthy, perhaps a takeaway or a mound of sugary snacks.
But, what is it that makes something a comfort food instead of just a favourite meal? So I posed the question “What is your ultimate comfort food and why? “Any of my Mum’s curries,” said Simmi “I have never been able to recreate them, they just taste special, only my Mum can make them taste like that”. Celery soup was Meg’s ultimate comfort food: “My Mum only made it on her days off work, it is a time-consuming recipe, the whole house smelled amazing.” Elise thought for a moment. “Probably macaroni cheese, it is just about the only thing my Mum could cook and so it reminds me of being a kid”. Whereas Ainhoa, who had previously bucked the trend by suggesting that comfort food was sugary sweet and a real guilty pleasure, had the immediate response of chocolate. Why was it comforting? She explained that chocolate was bought as a treat, and had become a fond memory, something simple yet nostalgic after all. So despite all being different, the common theme throughout all the answers was something that reminds you of home, of family and childhood, wherever you might be tucking in.
The Oxford Dictionary defines comfort food as “the type of food that people eat when they are sad or worried, often sweet food or food that people ate as children”, and that’s the key; something that reminds us of a time when we felt safe and, quite obviously, comforted. Comfort food is so closely linked to family and childhood memories, and whilst at university a yearning for home can be subdued by the taste of a familiar meal, a greasy takeaway or a bag of Maltesers.
The next time deadlines are looming, cook up a batch of a childhood favourite and find comfort in the taste of home.