For these local restaurant owners, special dishes reflect comfort, safety and home
Zerka and Shahgul Mya say Pulao is at the centre of family, Miki Ferrall shares her connection with Suiton
Food is not only something we share with our families and friends around the dinner table. It also taps into our memories and can bring us comfort.
Comfort food is unique to every person and is often rooted in culture and family.
For Zerka and Shahgul Mya, of Pulao Gals, the Pulao dish is at the centre of family, meanwhile Miki Ferrall, of Crafty Ramen, shares her connection with Suiton.
There's one special meal that comes to mind for Miki Ferrall, co-owner of Crafty Ramen. It's a dish that is particular to the region of Iwate, where she grew up in Japan, called Suiton.
Ferrall said this soup is part of the Japanese cuisine Nabe, a big dish where all the ingredients and broth are cooked in one pot. Suiton normally has flour dumplings and vegetables cut in large chunks.
"When I go to Japan, my mom asks me, 'What do you wanna eat?' And I usually say, 'Suiton.' It's very comforting," she said.
Bringing Japanese comfort foods to Canada was one of the reasons Ferrall and her husband started Crafty Ramen in Guelph in 2017. Ramen is a comfort for many Japanese people, she said.
But Suiton holds a special place in Ferrall's heart. It's a family tradition passed down from her grandmother to her mother.
"I'm very close to my mom," she said. "She's a very strong woman. She's kind and funny and very warm. She's very positive I guess. Always looking forward."
When she eats Suiton, Ferrall said she feels safe and relieved.
"It really brings me back to Japan right away and that feeling of 'comfy'," she said.
Ferrall is working on perfecting her Suiton recipe at home and hopes to share her tradition with her daughter.
"Hopefully, she'll cook it for me one day" she giggled.
A few blocks down, Zerka Mya and her mom Shahgul are also bringing comfort foods from home to the region. They started the Pulao Gals during the pandemic and centered their business around home-made meals and their ultimate comfort food: Pulao.
"We called ourselves the Pulao Gals because in any Pakistani celebration or event or important memory, Pulao is at the centre of the table," Zerka said.
"It's often a celebration dish, kind of like a birthday cake here, and it's usually a family affair to cook it. Everyone is involved in it and so that is the biggest sense of comfort food that we wanted to bring in."
Pulao is a rice dish cooked with spices, onion and tomato in one pot. Raisins, carrots, chickpeas and sometimes meat are placed on top, mixed with chutney.
This Pulao dish, however, has deep ties to Shahgul's tribe in Pakistan and reflects the recipe she learned from her mother growing up. She said she often thinks of her whenever she has a bowl.
"I was taught by my mother and that's how she cooked it and that's how I learned it," Shahgul said. "It's tribal Pashtun food. I grew up in the mountain and you cooked whatever is available to you."
She never thought she would be sharing her mother's recipe with the community, but her Pulao has brought comfort to many who walk into her shop. International students often come back for a taste of home.
"A lot of our regulars are students who almost see their own parent in my mom and they share that. They come and talk to her literally for hours," Zerka said.
"I feel very happy, grateful that I can do that. They remind me of myself. They are kind of quiet and shy, but they are missing family and home and I feel like they get that here," Shahgul said.
"It's just my thing to cook and feed people."