There are a handful of comfort foods that I turn to depending on the situation. And comfort food can be different for anyone; some may prefer savory, some people sweet, some a combination of both. Personally, I get cravings for red meat, particularly cheeseburgers (my diet is voluntarily 90 percent poultry, fish and quinoa), or anything involving chocolate because, let’s face it, I’m a girl. Girls love chocolate. Fact.
Okay, so not every girl loves chocolate – however my own love of it makes up for a large portion of those who do not consume it. Comfort food is great. It can be a safety blanket, in a sense. For example, when my mom passed away, I turned to chicken noodle soup and lasagna. Neither were particularly nostalgic of her cooking, but they were hearty, and made me feel better. Or, comfort food can be an accentuation to a good time like say, ice cream on a summer night with friends. Hot chocolate after shoveling your driveway, pop corn at the movies, all amazing snacks and treats tied to events that bring people together, or bring a happier feeling to that person indulging. Food is universal, and Chinese food, in particular, and in my humble opinion, is the most universal.
Sure, you have your chain restaurants that find their ways into the nooks and crannies of the globe, providing people with low-cost and “safe” choices. It’s why they’re so successful. What I like most about Chinese food, however, is that each dish in each restaurant, regardless of whether or not it has the same name, never tastes exactly like each other. Each restaurant kind of adapts its flavors to the surrounding environment but still manages to maintain a homely, familiar tone that comes with ordering Chinese food. It’s the whole, “I got full and in five minutes I know I’ll be hungry again,” feeling, and it can be found anywhere.
We knew when we booked our trip to Portugal that we were going to spend Thanksgiving there.
“I can’t believe you won’t be home for Thanksgiving.”
“Dad, I’ve been home for twenty-one Thanksgiving’s.”
“You’re going to miss out. Who’s going to make the fruit salad? Just your brother? There’s tradition.”
“Well, maybe it’s time for some new tradition.”
My dad rolled his eyes at me, but I really thought he was searching the banks of his brain, pulling as many excuses as he could for me to not go to Portugal and miss Thanksgiving. It’s too much money. It’s dangerous. I heard Portugal is cold in November. Their economy…the people…haven’t you seen the movie Taken?
Nothing deterred me. The trip was booked and paid for before it even passed my lips to him that I wasn’t going to be home for the holiday. I was determined and hell-bent and going and that was it.
And it was so worth it.
One of the most dysfunctional, yet memorable trips I ever went on, Portugal was top five. I learned so much about the people, their kindness, the natural beauty, history, and amazing Portuguese cuisine. Sure, I was almost poisoned by exterminators and almost drowned in a sea cave on the first day, but the next six were amazing. We took all of the public transportation, not once were kidnapped, were never bothered by anyone, and even made a couple of friends at a local pub. Portugal, particularly Portimao, was a dream. It was where we were tourists treated like locals – how I try to make every vacation go. These touristy-locals, however, had a holiday coming up, and needed to find a place to eat.
We almost did. Almost. Dear baby Jesus, if I could just have a quarter pounder with cheese…
“Guys, we can’t. We’re in Portugal. Americans. Getting McDonald’s. On Thanksgiving.” The three of us agreed that fast food was not the best course of action, but we still had nostalgic yearning for the tastes of home: turkey, stuffing, gravy, other miscellaneous items to make up a 4,000 calorie plate. They didn’t celebrate the overtaking of American in Portugal, though, so where could we turn?
A small, welcoming Chinese restaurant sat along a line of stores, strip clubs, empty off-season hotels, and vendors. It was surprisingly busy, but we were seated right away, and the staff was friendly. Our menu was in English, and we picked out our favorite tid-bits from home, sipped green tea, and spoiled ourselves with a little dessert. I knew what I was thankful for. Even though we sat across the world, across from each other, we felt a little more at home that evening.
Not only was I thankful for Chinese food among Candice and Vicky but, it saved my life in Dublin.
Candice and I woke up hungover and possibly dying in an overcrowded bed at the University of Limerick, Christina already awake and at work, instructing us to use her toothpaste and whatever else we needed to freshen up before our bus ride back to Temple Bar.
Fresh underwear, a toothbrush, a hair brush, some leftover dignity, I thought.
We got ourselves put together the best we could. I lost my favorite owl necklace that I bought the year before from a street gypsy in Portugal, and my shirt was covered in coffee from lunch the previous day and we both felt equally disgusting. Doing the smart thing, and utilizing the magic plastic rectangles we had, Candice and I wandered the university in search of the gift shop, where we purchased men’s sweatshirts in sizes XL and XXL, grabbed coffee, and slumped into our seats on our bus back, as far away from each other as possible as to not nauseate one another.
Spice Girls was blaring, and I couldn’t see straight without seeing stars, double-digit Jameson and Cokes and two pizzas and Chicken Hut knocking on my uvula. Candice looked pensively out the window, contemplating what I assume was her own mortality and dipping in and out of a possibly still-drunken stupor. The bus stopped to allow more passengers, and a woman boarded loud, Irish, already drunk, and openly attending to the flask of vodka that lived in her breast pocket. Naturally, she plopped herself in the seat between Candice and I, and we made eyes at each other while this woman opened and closed her flask, the smell of alcohol reminding us of our horrible decisions and the fact that we were in the same clothes as the day before.
This went on for nearly three hours until the bus finally stopped near Trinity College and we leaped off out of the time warp of 90s pop icons and poor life choices and stereotypical Irish people.
“Oh my God I think I’m dying. How many buses till we get back to the hotel?”
“We need to get there as soon as possible. I feel awful.”
At the risk of projectile vomiting through our words, Candice and I spoke very little as we walked our way through Temple Bar, over the foot bridge, and towards the bus stop to Clontarf.
Suddenly, a rumbling.
Not of our agitated tummies, rather, of voices. Chanting together, we learned quickly that these individuals were protesting the injustices of the wealth. They were sitting down in the middle of a busy intersection. They were getting rowdy. They began shoving.
I’m way too hungover for this shit.
We walked along the sidewalk as the crowd came closer and closer like a wave, only threatening to pull us back into it with a rip tide of oppression. And that’s when we saw it. Unfamiliar characters, universal only to our appetites: Chinese. Buffet. We ducked into the building, now only concerned for our safety and completely forgetting that we were both terminal about twenty minutes earlier.
Well, when in Rome. Or China or….Dublin?
A lovely young woman seated us and gave us a pitcher of tap water with two shoddy glasses. We didn’t care. Our tongues were thankful. She gave us plates, and a fixed price, and said it was all we could eat. Well damn! We sat in that palace of MSG, that neutral zone of General Tso, that haven of noodles, and stuffed our hungover faces as if we never saw food before. Soon we forgot about the protests, the angry people, the two-day old clothes, the coffee stains, the Jameson permeating through our pores, and we reveled in the safety of our bottomless plates. Nothing could hurt us now.