Dine & Unwind is a series dedicated to your indulgence, whether that be through dining, sipping or simply having a good time.
What’s your favorite comfort food? That very dish you look for and eat every time you feel overwhelmed by circumstances or feel exhausted after a long day at work? Some crave chocolate during their down moments, some prefer cheesy french fries. Whatever it is that we crave, there’s no denying how our favorite food can easily lift our spirits, make us forget about our worries even for a few minutes, and just melt our stress away.
According to research, comfort foods provide a temporary sense of wellbeing as people use it to self-medicate. Foods high in sugar, fat, or salt tend to elevate mood by stimulating the brain’s reward system. The smell of comfort food can draw one in to take a bite, as there is such a strong connection between scent and emotional memory.
Now that the world seems a little bleak because of the pandemic, the presence of our favorite dishes in our pantry or refrigerator just make things a little more bearable.
But just in case you’re trying to discover new dishes that are equally delicious and comforting, we’ve listed five of the most popular and easy to do Asian comfort foods. Think of these foods as a stress reliever, and a “safe” way to travel around the region (because we know you miss traveling, too!). We included some links to easy-to-follow recipes so you can try them right away.
Korean Fried Chicken
The glazed, sweet and spicy fried chicken is second to none! Korean fried chicken has easily become everyone’s favorite, thanks to the advent of K-wave. But unknown to most, this unique fried chicken style actually first popped in Korean markets in the 1970s, and are eaten in platters by Koreans after work, paired with a bottle of ice-cold beer or soju.
So, what sets Korean fried chicken apart from other fried chicken dishes around the world? It's double fried to achieve the ultimate, crispy, crunchy crust that doesn't get soggy once covered in sauce.
The first fry is at a lower temperature to render out the fat from the skin and partially cook the chicken. The second fry is at a higher temperature that completely cooks the chicken, makes the skin crispy, and makes the batter crunchy. This ensures that any sauce that's added to the chicken doesn't make the batter soggy.
Check out this recipe from Drive Me Hungry.
Char Kway Teow
This flavorful noodle dish is something you should not miss when visiting Singapore or Malaysia. Char kway teow is a Chinese-inspired rice noodle dish - Char means stir-friend and kway teow refers to flat rice noodles. It’s traditionally stir-fried in pork fat, which makes it a bit unhealthy (but then again...it tastes like heaven!). Each country has a different version of the dish, but they all commonly consist of shrimps, Chinese sausage, bean sprouts, eggs and chives.
In Penang, Malaysia, char kway teow is commonly served on a piece of banana leaf on a plate, which is intended to enhance the aroma of the dish.
In Singapore, with its vibrant hawker culture, one can easily find char kway teow. A traditional plate of char kway teow could not be done without lard, which delights the dish with special flavors. These days, in the healthier version of this delicious fried noodle dish, lard is replaced by oil, and more vegetables are added in.
Check out this recipe from School of Wok.
Thai-Style Hot And Sour Prawn Soup
Also commonly known as Tom Yum Goong, this Thai prawn soup dish explodes with flavors: uniquely spicy and sour. Warning, there’s nothing mild about this recipe. But for those who are brave enough to risk their tongues, well, you’re in for a treat.
In Thai, “Tom” means to boil “Yum” is salad as it has some of the same aromatics as a salad. “Goong” means prawns. Sometimes, there will be the addition of coconut milk for a creamier flavor. Besides that, the dish also has fresh lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, galangal (Thai ginger), chili, and chicken stock. All these strong ingredients make up the complex flavor of the Thai hot and sour prawn soup, but it’s something your taste buds will enjoy.
What’s more amazing is this soup is lean, low fat and gluten free - perfect for those who are on strict healthy diets.
Check out this recipe from A Spicy Perspective.
Literally translated to “fried rice”, Nasi goreng is a popular Indonesian rice dish traditionally served with a sunny side up egg. It’s unique dark brown, caramelized color makes it truly appealing, and worth devouring into.
The dish is mainly rice, with some meat and onions. The thing that distinguishes it from other fried rice versions is the sauce poured into it. “Kecap manis” is a sweet, thick soy sauce that stains the rice dark brown and gives it an authentic Indonesian taste.
And like any other dish, nasi goreng comes in different variations, depending on where it’s prepared and how one wants to eat it. Some add dried shrimp, some use omelette, some add more spices.
It’s perfect to make nasi goreng from day-old cold cooked rice so the dish won’t get all soft and sticky. Day-old rice also allows the special soy sauce to penetrate more, so the tastier it gets.
Check out this recipe from BBC Good Food.
Che Hoa Cau Xoi Vo
Most Vietnamese would agree - the sweet and light flavor of che is refreshing not just to the taste buds, but to the soul. Have you checked out our traditional Hanoian che recipes?
Che is a Vietnamese sweet soup made with a generous amount of ingredients, like beans, grains, jellies and fruits. The dessert is enjoyed across Vietnam, and is made in different ways using ingredients available in each town.
One variety is called che hoa cau xoi vo. This chè with xôi (glutinous rice) fusion dish is representative of Hanoi cuisine — modest and refined. While you might be thinking the star of the dish must be a part of its name, it’s actually mung bean. Surprisingly, the fancy name hoa cau, or areca flowers, comes from the fact that cooked mung beans share the pastel gold shade of these flowers.
Check out this recipe from Vietcetera.