comfort foods

that take you back home

by rachel lee

When I first came to Berkeley as a freshman, I often turned to Asian food to remind myself of home and ease my homesickness. I soon found myself frequenting Durant Food Court, popularly known as the “Asian Ghetto,” for my fix of Asian Cuisine. Perusing each restaurant one by one, I discovered that Thai Basil’s Basil Combination Fried Rice really did melt in your mouth, that Bear Ramen House had some tasty Spam Kimchi fried rice, and the list goes on. But you can only eat food out of clear containers and plastic bags for so long. There was something about the steaming bowls of hot rice cake stew, broiled just the way they’re supposed to, and the side dishes that have always accompanied my entrees at home that never failed to soothe me. I missed it; and after a while, I found it.

As it turned out, familiar foods were just around the corner. I didn’t have to go too far to discover Espresso Experience. Located on Bancroft directly across from Bear’s Lair, I was immediately attracted to the words “bulgogi sandwich.” I’ve had bulgogi, and I’ve had sandwiches but why would you put the two together? I was soon shown that you could in fact put them together, and the Korean couple that owns this quaint restaurant café proves that you can do it well. Their personable attitudes and impeccable memory make you feel remembered each time you walk in. The extra conversation that went on the other day even after I ordered my bulgogi sandwich and side of shaved ice was refreshing and reminded me of my own mother, who’d ask about my day as I ate an after school snack at the dining table.

But when I want Korean food served the way my own mother does at home, I go to Toust in Sather Lane. The past few stores that occupied this space in the lane all had a rather short running track, but Toust has managed to stay open for over a year now. I attribute their success to the Korean grandmother chef who cooks food like she’s still in Korea. Served in traditional Korean stone pots with metal silverware and complete with traditional Korean side dishes, Toust offers quality food at low prices that make you forget you’re a broke college student looking for a good deal.

Located on Telegraph and Dwight, Racha Café is tucked a little further way from the typical Telegraph restaurants we see on our walk to campus and back, making it an easy place to get away and forget that you still are in Berkeley while enjoying an authentic Thai dish. The traditional Thai décor and wall art definitely helps with that too. The restaurant is pretty spacious and usually not crowded, unlike the other Thai restaurants in the area where you’re usually pushed up against the wall and can hear the conversations at all the tables surrounding you. This is the place I go to when I want to get away from campus and still enjoy an authentic bowl of pad see ew at college student prices.

As winter draws near and the cold Berkeley weather settles in, what could be better and more comforting than a warm bowl of pho? PhoHoa on Shattuck and Kittredge was the first restaurant I tried in Berkeley and since then I’ve gone back at least once a month for a good, cheap bowl of pho that never changes each time I go. In fact, you can even build your own pho at this place! But the best part is that there are so many more entrees beyond the regular #2 that I was surprised when a friend ordered a salmon dish over pho. And here I thought pho was their forte. The salmon dish is well prepared and served with extra side dishes. Their menu also includes the Thai iced teas I love.

Sometimes you’re not in such a quick rush to grab a good meal, and you want to splurge on something nice. Either that, or your parents are in town to visit and you can actually get them to pay for a good meal that’s authentic enough to feel like home-cooked food. Great China, located on Kittredge and Oxford, is definitely one of my favorites in the Berkeley area. The two-story restaurant is always busy and I’ve always had to wait in line for at least ten minutes. Yet the wait is definitely worth it because the food is tasty and it’s an easy place to feel as if you’re surrounded by family. The large circular tables and circular tray centered in the middle reminds me of all my favorite Chinese restaurants. Great China offers a wide array of food for not-so-expensive prices. This is the next place I’m taking my family when they come to visit.

Since I’ve discovered these restaurants, I know where to go when I get the itch for something homemade. While none of these restaurants can actually be exactly what you’re missing from home, they definitely can help. Sometimes when you’re sick and in need of that little something from home to comfort you, a bowl of comfort food is just the right pick-me-up to get you going again.