I stared at my window, and then to our thermostat that displays the outside temperature. It has gotten colder than – 20 degrees, my goodness! It certainly is the season of warm foods, comfort foods, and being cozy and relaxed.
Food is certainly a great source of comfort. It can be because the dish fills your belly with warmth like a soup or stew, or because the ingredients and flavors bring up memories and positive associations.
As a child, I used to operate a sari-sari store in the Philippines while living with my grandma.She initially purchased it and gave it to my mother as inheritance. With my parents gone but us children were left behind, managing the store went back to my grandma and it became our place to live and work. Together, we performed the routine tasks to ensure that we are stocked with items to sell so we can continue to make a living.
She preferred having healthy, homemade food, but when there is just no time to do so, we would cook a few packs of instant noodles from our inventory and have that as our meal. Sometimes, this happens during a full day of shopping and restocking inventory, so we were just busy with other tasks. Or it would be during the typhoon season when it is unsafe to walk to the market to buy fresh items. As a child, I look forward to having instant noodles, because for a child’s palette, it tastes so good!
Seeking out comfort is not always as easily accessible coming to a new country. My first year in Canada involved learning to toast frozen waffles, running a grill without burning the meat, and ensuring that whatever I am reheating does not explode in the microwave. These methods of preparing and consuming food were experiences I had to get used to. In my luggage coming to Canada, a large portion was taken up by snacks and food to be given as gifts, since apparently, they are not available here and would make my relatives who were already living here very happy.
It felt incredible when I first discovered that some Filipino products can be purchased here, mostly the manufactured ones such as chips, cookies, canned food and instant noodles. I learned the existence of larger grocery stores that offer these products. And that there are also smaller ethnic grocery stores that exist as well.
My brother was just as thrilled. As he slowly embraced the responsibilities of adulthood which involved buying one’s own groceries, he started to stock up on packs of instant noodles as well. We would even have chats on which brand names of instant noodles are available in those stores. Then we would compare it to the brand names of instant noodles that we use to sell in our store.
You see, cooking and eating instant noodles were not just a means to reconnect to what was familiar it terms of diet. It was also a bittersweet remnant of our childhood years, with all its challenges. There were times when instant noodles were all I can afford to buy and cook. Then I would attempt to make it more filling by eating it with rice, and make a feeble attempt to make it healthier by adding an egg or two.
In recent years, there is an increasing range of opportunities to experience Filipino cuisine. Multiple locally run restaurants have emerged, as well as popular franchises setting up shop. In some grocery stores, there is a noticeable amount of space taken up by baked goods from local companies. It was awesome where I first heard of a food truck that served our cuisine. I would still argue though that the most popular way to enjoy these types of food is during special occasions or in someone’s home.
My guilty pleasure junk food is instant noodles, and will likely continue to do so. I know of many others who would associate simple foods that make them feel the same, whether it is dried or smoked fish, shrimp paste, or certain snacks. Feeling nostalgia and warm fuzzies is certainly something we seek out and deserve to experience every once in a while.