What exactly is comfort food? According to Wikipedia, it is food that offers sentimental value and evokes feelings of nostalgia. For me, it’s the homemade chicken curry my mom used to make every time I’d come home from college. We crave these comfort foods when we feel vulnerable or alone.
I’ve been away from home for a month so far, and the homesickness is kicking in full gear. I find myself craving the flavors of home: the Sriracha sauce that I put on everything, the juicy cheeseburger from In-n-out covered in secret sauce, the late-night California burrito after a night on the town, and most of all, Hot Cheetos, my guilty pleasure.
Of course, these are not foods that I can find easily here in Europe. However, I’ve recently experienced a phenomenon at a restaurant in Lyon, France. Casseroles et Vieilles Gamelles is a place that offers traditional home-style French fare, recipes that, if you had one, your French grandmother would make.
Walking in, you feel as if you’ve just been transported to grandma’s humble cottage in the French countryside. The “casseroles,” copper pots and pans, that the place is named after, hang from the ceiling. Handcrafted wooden shelves line the walls, decorated with various vintage kitchen gadgets and tools. Rustic wooden chairs and tables fill the dining room, each table topped with small jar filled with fresh flowers picked from the garden.
The place feels quite intimate and very unassuming. The snobby atmosphere of the Parisian bistros and cafés do not exist here. After the first sip of wine, I feel warm, and my insecurities of being in a foreign country simply fade away.
Of course, the menu was completely in French. However, our server was kind enough to translate everything for us. The ingredients and combinations sounded so foreign. Rouget and tapenade tartine? Fish mousse? Boeuf…I know that means beef…with champignons? Uh oh, what was I getting myself into?
To start, I had the tartine topped with olive tapenade and salted red snapper. The buttery flaky crust served to mellow the saltiness of the snapper and tapenade. Crunchy. Creamy. Flaky. Buttery. Salty. Sweet. Need I say more?
Julia had a seafood mousse, made with lobster and salted cod, floating in a creamy tomato-lobster bisque. Velvety smooth.
Beef was the main course. Calling it a tenderloin would be an understatement, it was the most tender cut of beef I’ve ever tasted. Smothered in a creamy sauce made from mushrooms that I’d never seen before, the flavors melted together in my mouth seamlessly. The potatoes au gratin were so creamy and rich. The mini roasted tomato, so intensely sweet, was perfect in tying the whole dish together. If this isn’t comfort food, I don’t know what is.
Julia had the restaurant’s most famous dish: cassoulet. This season, they showcased asparagus with a Lyonnaise favorite, mini ravioli, roasted together in a creamy sauce.
For dessert, I had the French classic: apple tatin. Julia had the fresh berry panna cotta. Our desserts were even paired with two little jelly beans on the plate. A fun little touch, reminding you that this is grandma’s house, and that she can’t send you home without some candy for the road.
So where am I going with this? No matter where you are in the world, good food has the power to bring you right back home by emulating the feelings you experience when you eat your favorite comfort foods. Although I do not have the chance to eat my mom’s curry, the meal I had at Casserolles brought me the same comfort. There is an automatic sense of trust established with the chef that has cooked you a great meal, which is the same trust you have for the person that feeds you your favorite comfort food. Leaving the restaurant that night, I made sure to thank the chef for making a homesick backpacker, feel at home again.