Upon completion of my middle-grade novel, I struggled with a title. The few friends that I let preview the book said that I had to name it something relating to food. It was, after all, the protagonist’s love of food that carried the story. Why would 13-year-old care so much about food? Because food is comfort.
When you travel to strange places, don’t you seek that one food that will bring you comfort? I remember my husband telling me about this time he was in Korea. After a week of spicy, pickled things, all he wanted for breakfast was something familiar. He found a Dunkin Donuts and ordered the first donut in the display case. Unfortunately for him, it was a kimchi donut, but I’m sure the one next to it was chocolate.
When I was a kid in Tokyo, we used to walk to Wendys on the weekend, so my mother could have an American style hamburger. When we would travel to Vancouver to visit family, the first thing we would have is Canadian Chinese Food because it was the ultimate comfort food for my parents.
When we visit Zurich, my half-Swiss husband wants to head to the Migros grocery store for what he calls “Real Swiss Chocolate”. He buys tons of it to bring home to his sisters because it’s the true comfort food of Swiss citizens abroad. London style cheesecake is comfort food so deeply rooted in my family tree that you can determine if someone is related to me based on which shape they bake it and how they top it.
We all have stories of seeking out our favourite foods in foreign places, but I think the incredible growth is when your comfort food becomes the local food. My comfort foods are katsudon, ramen and a Japanese-style teriyaki burger. They remind me of a loving childhood, of pungent garlic and salty wafts seeping into tiny side streets, of late nights with friends and a sense of belonging.
In Trading Pizza for Ramen, our lead character, Jacob, discovers that although pizza is excellent food, he can find comfort in ramen as he opens up to Tokyo. Jacob learns to make ramen from scratch with his new friends and even finds a way to make it his very own. Once we can make a foreign food our very own, isn’t that the ultimate comfort?