I don't know what Comfort Food means to you. Come to think of it, I don't think I really know what Comfort food really means. But after meeting this lady in 2005, I would like to think that Comfort food means this.
Read her story, retold by yours truly:
Innocent plate of rice cooked in a delicious creamy soup, top with chicken, broccoli, mushrooms and mozzeralla cheese and baked till the cheese melts. To many, this is fast food, junk food, food we eat when we are too lazy to cook a full meal. But to someone, this was comfort food. Something he loved to have, wants to have, but could never afford to have.
The story was told to me by a single mother raising her son all by herself. She told me that for years, her son would come back and tells her that his friends wanted to go Swenson's (a restaurant in Singapore that serves ice cream and western cuisine) for baked rice. But he could not afford to go. Because all he has in his pocket was enough coins for a bus ride home and a simple meal in the school's canteen.
So this loving mother would save every coin she had, put it into a piggy bank she has set aside for rainy days. And every month, she will pour it out on the bed and counted. She would then walk past Swenson's to find out how much does a plate of Baked Rice would cost. And prayed that the restaurant won't raise their prices.
After a year of saving, she took out the coins and exchanged it in a bank into dollar notes and one day, on his 8th birthday, she said to him :
"Boy, today is your birthday. Mommy wants to give you a present. Let's change now, and I will show you what it is"
The young boy was delighted, of course. Then when they reach the restaurant, he was in disbelief that mommy meant that the present was to eat at the restaurant.
When they sat down, the waiter gave them each a menu to look at. There are so many good food to eat, so many choices. But the boy only chose Baked Rice. That's what he wants, he says to the waiter. And the waiter turn to his mom, and she said
"I'll just have water please. Thank you"
The boy knew that straightaway that mommy had saved all her pennies for this meal. In his heart, he was so touched, he cried.
And mommy said to him
"Boy, don't cry. Today is your birthday. Be happy and enjoy your meal. Mommy has already eaten a big meal at home"
After the meal, the bill was paid. They went home.
And the boy said to his mommy:
"Mommy, THANK YOU for this present. I loved it very much. And I will always remember this day. And I will tell all my friends that I had Baked Rice from Swenson's and everyone would envy me. Not because I ate there, but because my mommy brought me there."
Everytime when she passes by any cafe that sells Baked Rice, she is reminded of what her son told her. And she swears to want to learn how to cook baked rice for him again.
And so this was how I ended up teaching her Baked Rice. Well, not Swenson's style. My style and a fusion of her cooking skills. But most of all, her love and endurance is baked into every grain of this humble comfort food.
**names of the lady and her son are left out. Because they prefer to remain anonymous if I should ever retell this story again.**