There’s nothing like comfort food.
I’d just gone through the most stressful, taxing, depressing stretch of my life (One may point out that it will officially end on the 20th of March). The gauntlet that was finishing law school, reviewing for the bar and beginning under-bar legal work tested the limits of my patience, fortitude and even sanity. This was mentally, physically, emotionally and psychologically a war of attrition that lasted for months. And like every stressed-out individual, I often turned to comfort food binges to get through the toughest times.
Comfort food, by my definition at least, is the lip-smackingly delicious go-to meal that will lighten up one’s mood without fail. I’d say that it should be fairly common or accessible, not too expensive and relatively easy to prepare. So while I love a good seared foie gras, or confit de canard, or prime rib-eye, I wouldn’t consider those comfort food because the hoi poloi like me cannot afford the same on a regular basis.
I’d say there are two classifications for comfort food: the first would be the home-cooked meal like one’s mother or grandmother would make – rich, hearty and warming – both literally and figuratively. The other classification would be guilty pleasures – greasy, yet irresistible, bad for the heart yet good for the soul. I found the latter much more effective, because these were, again, much more easily accessible, especially when cravings and hunger pangs brought about by stress suddenly strike.
I always thought my comfort food would be a large, juicy burger that would require me to unhinge my jaw to be able to bite into. But as my review period dragged on, I found myself craving more and more for one particular dish – fried chicken. I ran the whole gamit, with typical fast food chicken like KFC and Jollibee Chickenjoy, the ridiculously-valued Uncle John’s chicken from Mini Stop, intensely hot Buffalo wings such as the Armageddon from Buffalo Wings & Things and Charlie’s Punyeta Wings, and the now-ubiquitous Korean-style Bonchon Chicken. In the end though, there was one chicken champion that I incessantly came back to: Korean-based chain BBQ Chicken.
The name stands for “Best of the Best Quality,” not “barbeque,” as attested to by the Engrish on their paper bags. Their Original Chicken is sublimely spiced and cooked perfectly, with crisp skin and juicy meat. I find that most fried chicken joints cook the heck out of their chicken – drying them out until the white meat tastes and feels like cardboard. There was never such a problem with BBQ Chicken. I think these are twice-fried, like with other Korean chicken joints, but BBQ’s method doesn’t leave the chicken shrunk because all the fat was cooked out. These were man-sized pieces.
There were countless times, after a long night of reviewing, or a day when I just could not get anything done, or when I just felt tired and hopeless, that I’d troop alone to the nearby branch, order a plate of two pieces of their Original, served with garlic fried rice, a couple tall mugs of draft San Miguel Beer and just relax.
Later on, I discovered that they delivered. All the shame of devour an entire four-piece order by oneself magically disappears when one can just hide out at home. They don’t even charge a delivery fee, although they require a minimum order amounting to at least P300. So tip the delivery guy well, and proceed to enjoy the best fried chicken in the country. The best part of getting your BBQ Chicken delivered is that you can pair it with great beer and make your comfort food experience all the more extravagant.
Pairing-wise, I’d go for a pale ale like the Rogue Juniper, but if it’s comfort we’re talking about, then my go-to drink would always, always be a good India Pale Ale. Lately it’s been Stone for me, both because it’s awesome and because stocks are dwindling at Global Beer Exchange.
For a more masochistic comfort food experience, I go for intensely, unbearably hot chicken. BBQ Chicken’s Hot & Spicy chicken is second on my list of hottest fried chicken (Tops would be the Punyeta Wings at Charlie’s, and Buffalo Wings and Things is a more distant third). These will set your tongue on fire and cause you to sweat buckets, but the chili fiend in me loves it. The higher a food is on the Scoville scale, the more likely I am to enjoy it. While BBQ Chicken’s isn’t quite as hot as Charlie’s, I found their spicy chicken much more flavorful. The sweetness of the sauce still shone through despite the immense heat. Plus, they didn’t limit themselves to just wings, which was great for me, since I’m a thigh guy. For the faint of heart, the regular “Spicy” chicken at BBQ is more sweet than hot, but if you’re hardcore, go for the Hot & Spicy. You’ll probably regret it, but there are some times that nothing else will do.
The whole Bar exam experience – before, during and after – was one huge journey of self-discovery. While I learned a lot of things about myself, the most interesting and amusing thing by far, was that if I were to have just one meal, I’d go for some good fried chicken, preferably from BBQ Chicken. So, what’s your comfort food? And what out-of-this-world stressful situation led you to make that designation?