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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Comfort food: best served in a bowl

There is a lot of comfort and satisfaction to be found in a bowl: the creamy, soothing bowl of oatmeal bathing in a pool of maple syrup, dried fruits, salty, crunchy nuts and cream; the hot, nourishing bowl of clear chicken broth to nurse the sniffles and banish away the rain and dreary clouds; the filling bowl of pasta coated in a rich tomato sauce with juicy meatballs and salty, cheesy parmesan. This is a bowl that at once restores and energizes, soothes and satiates.

A bowl allows us to experience the meal. Unlike a plate, a bowl allows us to hold it, cradle it and feel the warmth of chili or the chill of ice cream. A bowl holds promises of pleasing bites. Food is ready for the spoon to scoop up or the chopstick to tangle it. One does not cut food in a bowl.  

A bowl can be as ornate or unpretentious as one wishes. The fine-boned china bowl for the special dinner of significant guests serve as a receptacle for braised short ribs. There’s the daily, white bowl for morning cereal, the family heirloom of carved wood for decoration and the workday salad dish.

A bowl is a vessel to serve foods, from a simple steaming bowl of white rice to a Persian-style pilau — a triple-layered rice dish with vegetables, nuts, curd cheese and fruit, each layer flavored with different spices and ingredients. A bowl that matches the food in level of decoration is most satisfying and suitable.

As Nigel Slater, a British cookbook author, describes in his 2014 book “Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food,” a bowl fulfills the same purpose: “To hold our food and enable us, should we wish, to cradle it. Comfort food at its most satisfying.”

[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 3/26/2015 under the headline “Comfort food: best served in a bowl”]

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