Now that it’s November, it’s fair to say that we’re officially in the season of fuzzy sweaters, novelty candy canes, and people coughing and sneezing in your general direction anytime you step into a public space. The holiday season brings people together! That’s wonderful. But hey, it brings their germs together, too.
At least one Takeout contributor (hint: it is this Takeout contributor) has already been laid low by a stuffy nose, sore throat, achy head, and really gnarly cough. It got us thinking: Nearly everyone’s got a go-to sick food, and many others have a go-to sick beverage. How do the people who work in a kitchen or behind a bar fight the common (or not-so-common) cold? We asked some chefs, mixologists, and our staff their favorite means of eating and drinking their way back to wellness.
And please, Takeout commenteriat, share with us your remedies in the comment section below.
Yak-a Mein and Water
If I’m under the weather or getting over a cold, I love spicy food—and what I crave is Asian! Give me a big bowl of steaming ramen, or actually here in New Orleans, we have Yak-a Mein—a Chinese-Creole beef soup. That with a bottle of sriracha is a cure-all. The spice breaks up the congestion and the warm broth almost replaces mom’s chicken soup. I stick to water when I’m fighting a cold, plus it helps neutralize the spice in the soup.—Mike Brewer, Copper Vine, New Orleans, Louisiana
Cuban and Peruvian Food
I follow a very strict diet when I’m sick, and it works every time. As soon as I feel a cold coming on I’ll have a Cuban caldo de pollo—a traditional Cuban chicken soup made with potato, veggies, corn, seasoning and noodles. I like to have it with a side of saltines and a lot of lime. Day two I like to eat a Cuban sandwich for strength. It really brings you back to life after all the soup! Then on day three I’ll have aguadito de pollo, a Peruvian green soup with lots of lime. This dish is actually referred to as levanta-muertos, which means it awakens the dead. On day four, I feel brand new!—Michael Beltran, Ariete, Miami, Florida
Pho and Bourbon
When I’m feeling under the weather, my go to is Pho. New Orleans has an amazing selection of Vietnamese restaurants and they serve up some great Pho. The ginger, star anise and other ingredients are powerful at kicking a cold to the curb. When I feel lousy, I like to stick to clear liquids. I drink tons of water, but if I’m too congested or feel a cough coming on, then I opt for bourbon. It makes me feel better in no time.—Levi Raines, Bywater American Bistro, New Orleans, Louisiana
Ramen seasoning and frozen veggies
I keep a few packets of ramen-soup seasoning around as a “break in case of emergency” pantry staple. When I can barely peel myself off the couch, I boil some pasta (bonus points if I actually have Asian noodles around), add seasoning packets to the pasta water, and throw in some frozen veggies. It’s not gourmet, but when I’m so achy that I can barely walk, it’s warming and restorative. Plus, I just ate a serving of veggies.—Kate Bernot, associate editor, The Takeout
Broth with hot sauce, sorbet, and “foul brewe”
To be clear, I do not consume those things simultaneously. Sorbet is my go-to, oh-poor-you treat for a sore throat; when my sinuses are acting up, I head straight for chicken soup (and sometimes just chicken broth) with plenty of hot sauce and garlic added. But if whatever ails me is especially pernicious, I make my own version of what my friend Julie calls “foul brewe”: an unholy marriage of apple cider vinegar (and sometimes apple cider liqueur), honey, cayenne pepper, and hot water. Initially I tried to make her exact recipe, but I’ve since adopted a kind of vaguely witchy, DIY-approach to this sometimes off-putting beverage and have turned it into a kind of catch-all, very extra hot toddy. Lemon? Absolutely. Ginger? Sure! Allspice? Why not. Tea? Gimme all the tea. Cinnamon sticks? Delightful. Whiskey? Naturally. As long as it’s dairy-free (that’s vital), might be good in a mug, and sounds like it could make me feel better, it’s fair game. Hasn’t failed me yet.—Allison Shoemaker, contributor, The Takeout
Growing up in New York while every other kid was eating Kraft macaroni and cheese from the box, my mom made us pastina; tiny star-shaped pasta tossed with butter, cheese and served warm. To this day I make pastina when I’m not feeling well; it’s a totally nostalgic dish I grew up eating both in sickness and in health!
As many Italian-Americans would agree, pastina is the quintessential comfort food. Traditionally when sick, Italians choose to eat “in bianco,” or bland food to settle the stomach and pastina does just that. It’s a little different than the traditional comfort foods you normally think of – not quite as decadent as maybe a bowl of mac-n-cheese, but it’s just as creamy, carb-y and amazing when you’re in recovery mode. Pastina can be served as simply as with a few tablespoons of butter, or it can be spruced up with cheese (my mom’s secret ingredient is the Lombardy-style Galbani Bel Paese soft cheese) and cracked pepper, or it can be cooked in vegetable or chicken broth. Pastina is basic dish, but that’s why it’s so perfect when you’re not feeling too hot; it reliably gets the job done every time. I just ran into a high school friend the other day and the first thing she asked me was if my mom still made pastina. What better way to feel better when you’re sick then to make a dish your mom always made for you as a kid?!—Jacqueline Pirolo, Macchialina, Miami Beach, Florida
Cream Of Wheat
When I’m sick, I go retro, back to the nostalgia-steeped breakfasts of my childhood. My mom was in favor of hot breakfast as a cure-all, so whatever sickness I had was soothed by a cooked pan of Cream Of Wheat (never instant), doused with butter and brown sugar, perhaps with a splash of cream. the warmth of the cereal and the sweet savoriness of my adds transcend me to a grade-school sick day, so that I’m ready to watch soaps and game shows and read some comic books until I”m feeling well enough to face the world again.—Gwen Ihnat, deputy managing editor, The Takeout
Hot toddys and bitters
For a sore throat, a cough, stuff like that, I’ll always make myself a hot toddy using fresh lemon juice, local honey (the local part’s important), a little ginger if I have it, hot water, and a brown spirit of some kind—bourbon, rye, rum, you get the idea. Always makes me feel better. But don’t underestimate the power of bitters when you’re under the weather, or even just feeling low. Drinking a little Fernet, or Underberg, or whatever bitters I’ve got on my bar cart always brightens me (and it can help settle an upset stomach, too).—Wally Anderson, Rogers Park Social, Chicago
Disclosure: The owners of Rogers Park Social also own the store at which Takeout contributor Allison Shoemaker moonlights as a fancy shopgirl.