Comfort food. I wasn’t sure the term existed when I was a kid. So I looked it up. The Oxford English Dictionary officially added it to our vocabulary in 1997. Long after I was a kid. Long after my kids were kids.
Yet when I think of comfort food I think of dishes I ate long before those words were official. Two dishes especially.
The first one brings memories of sitting at a chrome and turquoise formica table in the kitchen. My mother yanking the tea towel from where she tucked it into her apron string. Opening the Moffat and using the towel to pull out a beat-up bread pan that never once saw bread dough, but once a week was stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, ground beef and onions that was bathed in a tomato sauce spiced with parsley, thyme and sage.
“One inch or a half”, my mother would ask. But she knew the answer.
“One”, I’d reply, “but please, please save a half for my lunch tomorrow.”
The spatula would pierce the caramelly, crusty top and on to our turquoise Melmac plates would be placed a juicy bubbling rectangle of comfort. Meat loaf is still today one of my favorite dishes.
My second comfort food memory was the one we went to downtown Hamilton, Ontario, Canada for. To the bright lights, big city. Our special nights out were always at the same place. It was called the Black Forest Inn. We would line up on icy cold King Street just to get in the giant-hinged double doors. People still do it today. At the top of their “Specialties of the House” then (and still today) was Hungarian Beef Goulash. It came then (and still today) in two sizes, small and large. I would always order the…well you know what size I ordered…and it would always come with the same warning from my mother, “Be careful, you’re going to burn your mouth.”
I can still remember the heat from the smoky paprika and the explosion of taste when a caraway seed would get between my molars. I didn’t know what those exotic tastes in the goulash even were until I was in my twenties. And the comfort? That came mostly from the beef brisket and these tiny noodles that the Black Forest Inn called spaetzle.
There’s only one place in San Miguel de Allende that I know that serves goulash and it’s a very good goulash. Not only that but, once a week, they’ve always served a traditional meatloaf a lot like my mom used to make.
The place is Berlin Bar & Bistro, a place where I’ve spent many a comfortable evening perched on a bar stool. These days, those stools may sit upside down on the bar but that goulash is still available. And that meat loaf is no longer a weekly special, it’s an everyday delight.
Berlin’s very affable owner Carlos Ordonez closed Berlin down during the first days of the Covid-19 crisis. He then tried opening up earlier, just for lunch. These days, every day but Saturday, from 1:30 to 7:30 pm, he’s taking telephone orders for delivery or pick-up, with deliveries starting at 3:00 pm.
When I was researching the origin of the term “comfort food”, I also found an article in The Atlantic written by Cari Romm. Romm had found the earliest use of the words was long before the Oxford Dictionary added them. Back in 1966, a story in the Palm Beach Post states, “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called comfort food.” I think perhaps we all could use a little comfort now.
To order pick-up or delivery from Berlin Bar and Bistro, telephone 415 154 9432 or WhatsApp 415 151 9262. Delivery is free but please tip the person who delivers as if they’re your waiter.