Fermented Fish and Thousand Year Old Eggs: What Are Your Most "Disgusting" Comfort Foods?

For so many of us, comfort foods harken back to our childhood, and pungent Asian foods are where it's at for me.
Publish date:
September 12, 2013
food, comfort food

There is a direct correlation between the level of self-soothing I require and how stinky the food is that I eat.

If I've had a bad day at work or am just feeling down, I am most likely to be found in my local Japanese or Chinese market. Gooey mac 'n' cheese is good, but when I want comfort, nothing beats a tray of salted and preserved (bonus if they are fermented!) sardines with sesame seeds and seaweed.

For so many of us, comfort food harkens back to our childhood, and pungent Asian foods are where it's at for me.

Aaaah, the acrid aroma of walking into the Oahu Market in Chinatown, where the smell of fresh fish and not-so-fresh fish fills the air. I'm primarily a vegetarian, but fish is something I've incorporated into my diet occasionally, and the joy it brings me in it's saltiest, "fishiest" forms makes me giddy in anticipation.

Stinky tofu and "thousand year old eggs" (eggs preserved in ash that have turned a delightful green-gray-black color and have a jelly-like consistency) have also made their way into the comfort food rotation, especially when incorporated into a scrumptious Jook, or rice porridge.

My husband, a born and raised meat-and-potatoes New Yorker, who originally reared back in disgust at my comfort foods, has become such a good sport that after particularly trying days, he's taken to asking me, "Do we need to go to Shirokiya?", the local multi-level Asian super store. There, I happily skip around the various displays and kiosks picking up pretty little packages with teeny tiny salted fish (chirimen) and fried tofu doused in fermented bean sauce.

And for dessert, a chewy Jin Dui, glutinous rice ball with red bean paste in the middle, can do wonders for my outlook on life.

I've been told a lot that I "like disgusting foods," but I can't help but take a little bit of issue with that statement. Some of the foods I crave are "unusual" to the American palate, or "strong," but there are Asian countries that think that the idea of cheese, or "rotten, curdled milk," is gross. To each their own.

The idea of how a person's palate is formed really interests me. My family is of Chinese, Persian and European descent. My parents came from Hong Kong, so I grew up with a lot of not only traditional Asian foods, but also some amazing English foods.

The queen of these delectable English foods is Lyle's Golden Syrup.

Up until I was 12 or 13, the only syrup I ever put on my waffles or pancakes was a thick, super-sweet treacle called Lyle's Golden Syrup. We were able to easily obtain a tin (it originally came in a metal tin that you had to pop the top off of with a knife) of Lyle's when my family lived in Seattle, but upon moving to Texas, Lyle's was nowhere to be found.

The few people I've forced into trying Lyle's Golden Syrup (which thanks to the Internet, you can now order online) have told me it's nauseatingly sweet, or as my husband likes to say, "tastes like motor oil." But absolutely nothing takes me back to the cold, snowy Seattle mornings of my childhood like a plate of waffles (now gluten-free) smothered in this gooey, yellow treat. Unlike maple syrup, I can eat the stuff with a spoon.

As I mentioned before, another favorite comfort food of mine is Jook. Basically, you cook some rice with too much water and some soup stock (I use veggie stock), and wait for it to cook down to mush.

On the spectrum of "gross" foods I eat, it's definitely more tolerable, but I have to admit the sight of it -- white, slightly gelatinous, and gruel-like -- reminds me of something Oliver Twist might have eaten when begging for more food. Add in those little dried, whole fish with heads intact, and the effect is a little disconcerting.

Food is so wrapped up in memory, it all comes down to what made you happy at some point. This is no big revelation.

For example, I never ate Jell-O pudding growing up. I have no emotional attachment to it, I actually think it might be an acquired taste. When I finally did eat it at the ripe old age of 15, it tasted plasticky and cloying to me. So many people can't grasp the fact that I HATE Jell-O Pudding. Weirdly enough I love Jell-O Pudding Pops. Sometimes our taste buds are fickle. I'm sure there's science behind it, but I'll leave that to Claire Lower.

So even though I understand why my Los Angeleno, New Yorker and Texan pals find my comfort foods anything but comforting, I make no apologies. This is the stuff I grew up with, and it shaped how I define delicious. One person's pudding is another person's warm tofu, soupy with syrup.

What tickles your tastebuds that tends to turn everyone else around you off? Any foods from your childhood, cultural or otherwise, that people find "unusual"? Any comfort foods you reserve for just you, your couch, and your cat?

Tell me! I'm always looking for the next "aromatic" delicacy that I can use to torture my husband.