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BEST BITES: The simple, warm embrace of comfort food

Naruemon Verspagen of Na Ha Thai's Kitchen goes back to her childhood with sticky rice and mango
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Sticky rice and mango

“In the uncertain ebb and flow of time and emotions much of one's life history is etched in the senses.”

― Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen

I’ve been reflecting on the comforting nature of food during these curious COVID months that we’re living through; how the act of making food and eating can be deeply embedded in our memories of childhood and our connections with the past.

This is particularly evident during troubled times — moments of fear and loneliness, even periods of grief.  Certain flavours are intrinsically tied to nostalgia for many and can serve as a catalyst to relieve distress by offering solace. 

We could certainly use something as sentimental as that right now, couldn’t we? A little consolation, maybe even just a smidge of satisfaction.

Comfort food really is all about simplicity. Uncomplicated recipes have the potential to evoke a sense of security and well being, instill calm, and may just have the capacity to generate a sense of belonging in these isolating times.

Naruemon Verspagen of Na Ha Thai’s Kitchen is well acquainted with instincts of comfort, nostalgia and belonging.

Arriving in Canada from Thailand over a decade ago, she is proud to declare that her Thai food is made from scratch by Thai people and is infused with an organic touch. Slow food at its best, flavoured by tradition.

Familiar tastes can certainly travel far.

Sticky rice and mango— or Khao Neow Ma Muang, a popular street food in Thailand — is what Naruemon craves these days. A recipe that is easy to make, and just a bit sweet, but not too.

Truly her idea of comfort food, this dessert evokes total happiness and recalls the best memories because it’s a dish her mother used to make when she was a child.

Using only four ingredients — five if you want to get really fancy — this dish gets right to the core of that delight, and to the heart of this self-professed sweet tooth. 

Herein lies the simplicity of the recipe: look for glutinous or Thai sweet rice when shopping. The secret is soaking this sticky rice overnight to give it more flavour and consistency of bite.

Steaming it is the next step. As the rice steams, the sauce is made by adding salt and palm sugar to the coconut milk, and stirring to dissolve. Combining the two is where the magic happens. Bit by bit, the sauce is added to the steaming rice until it’s been soaked up ensuring the perfect coconut sticky rice that is mildly sweet with just a hint of saltiness to bring out the full flavours.

Next comes the mango. The steps here are the least complicated, other than finding a mango of perfect ripeness perhaps. Slice the mango, place on the plate next to the perfectly creamy coconut sticky rice and eat. Just eat. Eat it all in fact because it won’t sit for too long.

But if you’re feeling particularly feisty, sprinkle a few black sesame seeds on top and call it a day.

A very good day. 

It does appear to be an obvious truth, then: the power of comfort food lies in the associations it brings to mind, like memories of childhood and our connections with the past, those familiar experiences of time and place.

As we shift into winter, let’s have a slice of that simplicity and welcome the comfort it brings.

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Lynn Broughton

About the Author: Lynn Broughton

Lynn is a devotee of all things flavoured local, loves a good story, has a hunger for urbanism and an appetite that just won’t quit. Lynn lives in Guelph and operates the operates Taste Detours food tours
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