With most of the planet hunkering down and staying home, there's no better time to look at food that truly lifts the soul.
Perhaps surprisingly, the phrase "comfort food" is said to date back only to 1966, when the first record of it was in an article in The Palm Beach Post, a newspaper in the US state of Florida: "Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called 'comfort food' - food associated with the security of childhood, like mother's poached egg or famous chicken soup."
No matter what it was called, though, comfort food in some form or other has been around since time immemorial and knows no geographical boundaries.
Six of Hong Kong's top chefs, from six different countries, have revealed the comfort foods they turn to when they are looking for a taste of home.
Gisela Alesbrook of Hotal Colombo: kothu
Gisela Alesbrook is head chef at Sri Lankan restaurant Hotal Colombo in SoHo, part of the Black Sheep Restaurants group, and has worked at other restaurants in the group including Chom Chom and Maison Libanaise.
When asked for her definitive comfort food, she chose a hearty Sri Lankan dish commonly eaten for breakfast.
"In Sri Lanka, the most comforting and versatile comfort dish has to be kothu. Everyone grew up eating some version of it. For me, it's nostalgic and reminds me of nights spent with friends on the streets of Colombo, drinking cold beers and catching up over warm plates of food, but it is probably most commonly eaten as a hearty breakfast dish using up whatever leftovers you have from dinner.
"In some ways a Sri Lankan stir-fry, kothu can be made using vegetables, meat or seafood - the only real essential is the paratha or roti. Sri Lankan cuisine is spicy; my version always has a bit of a kick to it.
"In Hong Kong, there are not many places to find kothu outside Hotal Colombo. I used to eat it at Serendib in Sheung Wan, but I haven't tried it there since they changed their name to Sigiri."
Ashley Salmon of Roganic: bangers and mash
Born and raised in England, Ashley Salmon has worked under renowned chefs such as Marcus Wareing and, for the last five years, with the Simon Rogan team in their award-winning restaurants. He has been head chef at Roganic and Aulis in Hong Kong since early 2019.
"I've chosen sausage and mash because, to be honest, I absolutely love it and where I come from, we make the best in the country. It means a lot to British families from all backgrounds, it's just a tradition like fish and chips and roast dinners.
"It's a national dish because we make some of the best sausages in the world, and our way of making them is fairly unique. To me, the experience of having it just reminds me of home, or maybe at the local pub with a good pint of ale with friends or family.
"You shouldn't mess with classics too much - maybe add a little mustard to the mash, but that's about it. I haven't really had the chance to eat too much sausage and mash in Hong Kong but you can get a good one at The Globe in SoHo."
Yoshiharu Kakinuma of Sushi Shikon: takikomi gohan
Chef Yoshiharu Kakinuma is a third-generation sushi chef from Kyoto, Japan, who spent a decade working in the US before moving to Hong Kong in 2012 to launch Sushi Shikon, the first sushi-ya to hold three Michelin stars outside Japan.
"Takikomi gohan is a Japanese rice dish where short grain rice is cooked with vegetables, mushrooms, seafood or meat, usually seasoned with dashi and soy sauce. This dish is often cooked at home by mums, so everyone grows up eating it. It changes with every season and has an umami flavour from the dashi and lots of different textures from vegetables, herbs, and meat or seafood. It is typically served alongside miso soup - which can be mixed into the rice - and Japanese pickles.
"I have warm memories of my mum serving this dish when I was growing up. In Hong Kong, my favourite place to eat this is at Kappo Rin on the seventh floor of the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Like all of the dishes at Kappo Rin, it's a hearty, homey dish that anyone from Japan will be comforted by. Currently, they are mixing seasonal bamboo shoots with baby snapper into the rice."
Guillaume Galliot of Caprice: moules frites
Chef de cuisine at Caprice at The Four Seasons, Guillaume Galliot is one of only a handful of chefs outside France to oversee a French restaurant holding three Michelin stars. He chooses a dish beloved in France that reflects his family's links to Belgium.
"One dish I love making is moules frites. I often make it at home, a quick and simple crowd pleaser, especially when bouchot mussels are in season. I always add diced tomatoes as the acidity balances the cream base and mixes with the rich flavours of the mussel juice, a rich iodine note that enhances the sauce.
"Although this isn't native to Touraine, the region where I'm from, my grandmother is Belgian and this dish reminds me of my childhood. I remember her showing us the correct way to eat mussels: use the mussel shells to 'clip' the flesh out. No utensils needed, it's communal and I have fond childhood memories of our noisy, convivial dinners where we all got together at the dinner table - the human connection we're sorely missing these days.
"In Hong Kong, my wife and I like going to Frites. They have versions including laksa and the classic moules mariniere served with warm toast, fries and a big ramekin of mayo."
Ricardo Chaneton of Mono: arepas
Co-founder and executive chef of Mono, Ricardo Chaneton grew up in Venezuela with a mixture of European and South American influences in both cuisine and culture. He worked at three-Michelin-star restaurants such as Quique Dacosta in Denia, Spain, and Mirazur, in Menton, France, the current No 1 on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, where he spent seven years. In Hong Kong, he was chef at Petrus at the Island Shangri-La, before he opened his contemporary French concept which serves a seasonal tasting menu.
"Arepas are seen as the national 'bread' of Venezuela - a traditional and ancient delicacy, the ultimate comfort food made with ground maize dough, appropriate from breakfast to dinner. It's also the best street food snack after partying.
"In Venezuela, everyone grows up with arepas and, for many, it's the first solid food they consume as a baby. The recipe is simple, using minimal ingredients, a very 'grandmotherly' dish that is made with love and care, rather than focused on technique. The basic flavour is mild, but it is usually cooked till burnt, giving it an intense smoky flavour that lingers.
"In Venezuela, there are probably 360 ways to stuff an arepa. You can now order mine at Stereo by Mono - our takeaway or delivery-only virtual restaurant - where they're served with confit carabinero prawns and avocado."
Lam Yuk-ming of Spring Moon: traditional tea dumpling
Finally, to The Peninsula's Chinese cuisine executive chef, Lam Yuk-ming. Born in Fujian, his encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese cooking techniques and ingredients has made the one-Michelin-starred Spring Moon a popular draw for Cantonese cuisine, but his comfort food takes him back to his roots.
"The traditional Fujian tea dumpling, also known as cha guo, is my strongest childhood food memory. The dumplings are made from glutinous rice and herbal teas, while the filling can be sweet or savoury.
"My grandma was a talented cook and made a variety of tea dumplings at home which were served at every gathering through my childhood. Her dumpling recipes include (fillings of) home-made green bean paste, pickles, lentils and many more.
"In fact, her culinary expertise remains a vivid memory today and was one of the reasons that inspired me to become a chef. Every time I savour a tea dumpling, I reminisce, as it brings back an endearing memory of grandma's love.
"As this traditional comfort food is gradually disappearing, the tea dumpling is only available in some villages located in Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island."
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