What to Eat When Life is Not Going As Expected
A gentle, healthful solution for the emotional eater in me
There were many things I missed about home when I lived alone: the lively conversation with my family, someone to rotate cooking responsibilities with, and a structured time to unwind and be mindful in the moment. It’s hard to do that when you’re cooking for one.
While I couldn’t replace what my family brought to the table, on chilly rainy days when I had no one to feed but myself, I frequently found peace in a dish that rivaled instant ramen in terms of ease, but a hearty bowl of chicken noodle soup when it came to nourishment: a bowl of Japanese ochazuke.
If instant cup noodles had a TLC makeover
The beauty of ochazuke lay not just in its health benefits, but at a time when I was chilly, tired, and otherwise couldn’t really be bothered to take care of myself, the absolute ease and intrinsic nurturing quality of the dish helped me find comfort. Ochazuke is essentially what you’d get if instant cup noodles were remade with a bit of tender loving care.
I would set my electric kettle and brew a bag of green tea, and in the meantime top a bowl of rice with canned salmon, shredded nori, and snap peas. Then I’d pour the green tea over the rice, and voilà, the meal was done — it was like a hug in a bowl.
What is ochazuke?
Ochazuke (お茶漬け) is a Japanese dish, where rice, sea vegetables, and fish or pickled plums are partially steeped in a bit of hot tea. It’s widely considered a health food in Japan as the tea provides inflammation-reducing polyphenols, the sea vegetables a healthy source of essential minerals, the pickled plums a boost in antioxidants, and the fish adds an extra bit of protein and heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids. The dish has a bit more bite to it than porridge, but is gentle enough on the stomach for easy digestion, making it a popular comfort dish.
Ochazuke is an ancient dish that established its roots in Japan around 800 AD. Standard ochazuke is made with nori seaweed, chopped leeks, and salmon or pickled plums with green tea poured over, but today there are over a hundred variations — some using red snapper and shiso leaves, others using shirasu small fish and salted kombu. More modern variations use shredded chicken or thin slices of pork, and some even add a dab of wasabi, miso paste, or kimchi for an extra kick.
Easy on the soul as it is on our bodies
I seek comfort in my meals. When it’s cold, and I’m going through something hard, sad, or difficult, there is nothing I’d rather do than to just eat something in bed that brings me comfort. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of, but I’ve come to discover that I shouldn’t hate myself for coping — it’s my body trying to protect itself. How could I get mad at myself for trying to do just that?
Instead of shaming and berating myself for emotional eating, I’ve now taken an honest and practical approach. It’s not the self-sabotage I once engaged in, but a form of comfort eating that is healthy, consoling, and easy on the soul as it is on our bodies.
Ochazuke is the beginner’s fool-proof dish for the soul, and for when we only have the energy to make a bowl of instant cup noodles, you’re in luck when I say that ochazuke is almost as easy. For let us practice empathy on ourselves, as we would our loved ones.