Identity and The Comfort of Food

I can haz Cheezburger? At Burger Joint.

As a 12 –year-old living in America, amid a tempestuous sea of change, the one thing I missed most was the food from Singapore, my home. I was in a new environment, a different culture with unfamiliar people. I would crave, yearn for a simply plate of chicken rice; the familiar taste of the subtle ginger scented rice cooked in the chicken stock and the lovely mouthfeel of the fatty gelatinous chicken skin. I longed for a plate of Chai Tow Kueh, the smooth white radish and rice flour cake cubes, fried with sweet black sauce and eggs, from the stall near my grandparents’ home on Upper Thompson Road. My family had been going to that stall since I could remember. The husband and wife team always prepared my Chai Tow Kueh specially for me, with extra sweet black sauce and would always smile when I ordered.

Yet the years abroad slowly weaned me off my pining for Singaporean comfort food. I realize that when I want to eat something reassuring, I turn to the simple and hearty food of my adopted home. In college, my favorite comfort food was a greasy and heart attack inducing Wendy’s Triple or Buffalo wings from Wingz, a delivery place near campus.

I thought that the lack of Singaporean food in Syracuse caused my defection. But even when I moved to New York City after college, and I could find authentic Singaporean food in Flushing, Queens where I spent my first three months living at the Y, I still preferred simple western food. In fact, after Flushing, when I moved to the financial district with my college buddies and all my money seemed to go to rent and bills, my favorite dish to cook was a hearty bowl of spaghetti. The sauce was from a jar (whichever brand was on sale) and it was mixed with minced beef and doused in Kraft parmesan, Reggiano, being a luxury I wasn’t willing to spurge on then, especially when I had other priorities like beer.

As I sit here in Singapore typing this, having been back for a year, I find myself drawn more and more to the burger for comfort. There is nothing I find more satisfying than a burger with a thick patty, one made with a lot of fat, some lettuce, a tomato slice, a little mayo for extra body and ketchup for a tart saucy counterpoint, all on a lightly toasted and buttered bun. I find it strange that I no longer seek my chicken rice or Chai Tow Kueh when I’m looking for comfort food. Perhaps its like when someone has mastered a new language and the language of their dreams change.

If comfort food is about something reassuringly familiar, then I wonder just where home is. 

Le Parker Meridian Hotel on West 57th St. Can you find Burger Joint?

This is what it looks like behind those brown curtains.

And I Haz. But only if you follow their strict ordering procedure.

8 responses to “Identity and The Comfort of Food

  1. Hey David,

    Tell me about it. Sometimes, I just crave the greasy goodness of a thick and juicy burger.

    And when I do I always head to Relish. Best burger in town if you ask me. Satisfies my burger fix everytime.

  2. Hi Sharon:

    Yeah I love Relish too! What’s your favorite burger there? I’m always on the prowl for a great burger. Any other recommendations?

    BTW loved Sheryl post on Udders. The pictures and write up were so funny. Been going there a lot after I read about it a couple of weeks ago from another blog. It’s right next to my gym and I can’t resist ice cream. Unfortunately it negates all my gym time…

  3. Hey,

    hmmm, my fav? Its really a toss up between the wild rocket burger and the char-siew burger. I really can’t pick one over the other. I guess it just depends on my mood when I’m there. What usually happens when we’re there is that Sheryl would order one and I would order the other… that way we get the best of both worlds! :) I’ve tried the blue cheese burger, the mexicana, ram-lee burger and the seafood burger but they just don’t do it for me. I do wanna try the curry chicken one the next time I’m there though. (Yes, we go to relish THAT often. haha) yourself? What’s your fav?

    Haha. I’m sure Sheryl had a blast writing that post too! I’ll be sure to pass on that msg to her.

    Do you like the ice cream there tho? I must say I wasn’t wowed by it… But maybe its coz we don’t like liquor in our ice cream… haato and island creamery serve much better ice cream in my opinion..

  4. hey david,

    thanks for your compliment, but the pictures turned out great because we had a sexy subject. I say all our photographs should feature her eating in future. What’s food porn without an overt sensory dimension? ;)

    Some people think that Relish is overpriced but I think these people cannot appreciate Relish’s food and do not understand its culinary genius. We have heard people saying that it tastes like a BigMac!

    For a good oleaginous cardiacally-dangerous burger, I recommend Wham! burger. It used to be at China Sq Food Centre but it has since moved and I don’t know where it is located anymore.

    That burger was greasy, greasy, greasy. Full-bodied straight-up beef flavour combined with the satisfying unctous gusto. I still recall with fondness the charred morsels of fat, chopped up and mashed into a thick juicy patty, smothered in mayonaise, with the obligatory lettuce shreds and mediocre bread.

    It’s definitely not gourmet food, its unpolished and audacious and brash. A burger you should devour with your hands and end off with compulsive finger-licks.

  5. Note: For those of you watching at home, we’ve been referring to Ice Cream and Pornstars here:

    http://next-stop-ambrosia.blogspot.com/2008/10/udders.html

    Hi Sheryl:
    First of all let me just say that you are a TEASE! You describe the perfect burger (I love a greasy burger, the flavor is in the fat right,) but then you say you don’t know where it is anymore. Hahaha not cool! And my powers of google have failed me. All the references were to the old China Square location. Arrgh. Really that description was too cruel. But I loved how you said a good burger should “end with compulsive finger-licks.” Yes I always do that after a satisfying burger and unfortunately whenever I use glue sticks.

    Sharon:
    I love the wild rocket burger. But sometimes I ask them for the wild rocket burger but with the lamb patty. It’s good! (I wanted to try the lamb burger but the mint, pita and other stuff aka everything else on the burger didn’t appeal to me.) I haven’t been back there for some time though, looks like I’ll have to make a trip there soon.

    I’ll write about what I thought of the ice cream from Udders at your post. I think it’ll be more useful there. But yeah I don’t really get the whole alcohol in ice cream trend that’s hit most of the ice cream places. I think it spoils the flavor and probably messes up the texture. If I wanted alcohol I’ll go to a bar or I’d just pour it on (like kahlua or bailey’s on ice cream.)

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve been to Island Creamery but I’ve never heard of Haato. Well I’ve only been back to Singapore for a relatively short time so I’m still rediscovering it. It’s exciting whenever I get new foodie tips. Thanks!

    BTW have you or Sheryl checked out the burgers at Seah St Deli or Frogz Kitchen? Haven’t been there myself but would like to know how it rates up against Relish.

  6. We’ve been to Seah Street Deli. I remember the waiter telling us “everything is good. everything is to-die-for”. I’m always skeptical when servers say that because

    1. I’m asking for your best items; if you can’t tell me what they are, I’m guessing you don’t have a fabulous kick-ass specialty.

    2. What’s up with the hard-sell? Is your food not good enough to sell itself?

    Anyway I digress. I can’t really remember much of it, so that means Seah Street Deli was forgettable? I know that it was not too bad but it didn’t leave me in awe like when I first had the Wild Rocket burger. (I literally lit up at my first bite of the Wild Rocket burger, widened eyes, dilated pupils, the whole shit. The only thing that was lacking was perhaps some wind to create that wind-tossed-hair effect.)

    Do you mean the Smok’Inn Frogz burger? I’ve been meaning to try it every since it was featured in Lifestyle maybe last year? And I’ve been hearing all this awesome stuff about it too.

    p/s: ONE pornstar only my friend. Leave me out of it, even if I am the tease here haha. ;)

  7. Hey Sheryl:
    Yup I’m referring to the Smok’Inn Frogz burger. I’ve heard great things about it too. Some say it’s even better than Relish (uh oh!)

    Yeah totally agree with you on the recommendations thing. I hate it when they say everything. Now instead of asking for their recommendations, I’ll ask for what is popular. I usually get a more (I hope) truthful answer.

    I love the wild rocket burger too. I’m surprised about what you said about the char-siew burger on your blog. I kinda wrote it off without even trying. I’ll have that the next time I’m there.

  8. hey david,thanks for your ceilpmmont, but the pictures turned out great because we had a sexy subject. I say all our photographs should feature her eating in future. What’s food porn without an overt sensory dimension? ;)Some people think that Relish is overpriced but I think these people cannot appreciate Relish’s food and do not understand its culinary genius. We have heard people saying that it tastes like a BigMac!For a good oleaginous cardiacally-dangerous burger, I recommend Wham! burger. It used to be at China Sq Food Centre but it has since moved and I don’t know where it is located anymore. That burger was greasy, greasy, greasy. Full-bodied straight-up beef flavour combined with the satisfying unctous gusto. I still recall with fondness the charred morsels of fat, chopped up and mashed into a thick juicy patty, smothered in mayonaise, with the obligatory lettuce shreds and mediocre bread. It’s definitely not gourmet food, its unpolished and audacious and brash. A burger you should devour with your hands and end off with compulsive finger-licks.

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