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Comfort Food Diaries: A Maui Girl at Heart

Comfort Food Diaries: A Maui Girl at Heart

I was never the terribly creative type, but when it comes to food I see it as a form of self-expression. Whether you are the one eating the food or the one making the food, your meal is ultimately a reflection of you. I find comfort food to be particularly revealing. With all the memories and stories attached to a certain comfort food, you can get to know someone quite well. So before we get cozy, let’s get to know each other, shall we?

My comfort food is chicken and papaya soup. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this dish, you may think papaya is an unlikely candidate for a savory meal. In the Philippines it’s known as Tinola, a chicken broth layered with light flavors of ginger and garlic. Then unripened green papaya is added to create the perfect balance of sweet and savory.

My memory of this heart warming soup comes from my Grandma Lina, short for Adelina. Grandma Lina lived the little plantation town of Haili’imalie on the island of Maui. Grandma Lina’s entire house smelled like her kitchen…a Filipino kitchen to be exact. The smell is quite difficult to describe but immediately recognizable – the pungent smell of adobo, vinegar, garlic, fish sauce, and boiled chicken. In fact it is so distinct that every time I come across this smell, I can close my eyes and see my grandma standing over the stove, one hand on hip, the other holding a giant ladle stirring a giant pot of chicken and papaya soup.

The ingredients in this soup are minimal and so are the techniques. But the deep flavor of boiled chicken necks and mellow sweetness of tender green papaya are deceivingly satisfying.

Grandma Lina | Maui, Hawaii, USA

This soup was always a special treat from Grandma Lina, as was all the food she cooked for us. But this dish can only be made when papayas are picked green before they ripen. Among a family of five, supply was limited and demand was high. The only bad thing I remember about this soup is…eventually, we ran out.

What does this comfort food and memory say about me?

This is my comfort food because it keeps me grounded – reminding me of my home, my upbringing, and my family.

My home on Maui, where I could pick tropical fruit off the tree sitting in my backyard. My upbringing in Hawaii that constantly exposed me to so many ethnicities and culture through food. And my family, where my love for food and cozy meals started around the dinner table. Every meal was prepped together, eaten together, and cleaned up together.  I was raised to have a profound appreciation for food which then graciously matured into a passion.

Drawing upon this memory of a simple soup will always conjure the ultimate comfort of food and family.

Of course, this is my personal take on what comfort is. I encourage you to reminisce about your favorite meal and explore what it says about you.

Feel free to comment here to share your story. I’m looking forward to it!

 For those of you who are curious to try making Chicken and Papaya Soup check out the recipe here.

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