Episode 30: Of comfort food, happy hormones, and Angry Birds

Eating is fun. Dining on different kinds of food is fun, and so is savoring the flavor and scent of each dish. Going to different kinds of restaurants is fun too because that’s part of the experience of dining.
But it’s a different matter if I’m being fed chicken tinola and beef nilaga (stew). I love chicken tinola; that hot, gingery broth warmed my days and nights in Baguio. The beef nilaga’s rich chunks of beef and thick broth invigorate me when I’m sick after drinking lots of beer. Leche flan? Yeah, leche flan is my drug, and so is that sweet, pink salmon, be it grilled or sushi.
Each of us has dishes that we consider our “comfort food.” Be it a home-cooked meal or something from your favorite store, it’s a dish that not only makes you feel good, but also relieves feelings that make you feel physically, mentally, or emotionally bad.

Doctors tell us there’s more to comfort food than making us feel good. Our body produces hormones that affect functions such as muscle growth, healing, mental activity, etc. What we eat affect the production of those hormones. This holds more meaning to people living with mood disorders. Aside from medication and exercise, a patient’s diet is also important in managing his moods.

Travel photographer Jetro Rafael, for example, is bipolar; or someone who feels very happy at one moment and then suddenly becomes depressed. Aside from his photography and other art ventures, he indulges in cooking as part of his therapy. Making his personal meal guide developed into an idea for a restaurant; hence, the birth of “Van Gogh Is Bipolar.”
Van Gogh Is Bipolar is named in honor of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, who also suffers from severe mood swings. It’s popular yet elusive – it opens and closes unexpectedly, has a very limited seating capacity (12 diners at most), and reservations are hard to come by.
I was lucky to have dinner at Van Gogh Is Bipolar before Jetro left for vacation.  My visit there was timely since for some time now I feel sick, tired, sluggish, and uninspired to think of or do anything. 
To show my displeasure, I brought along two Angry Birds plushies, both with their frowning faces and sour mood, but strangely a source of “squees” all around. I looked as angry as they are. Maybe what I needed was a good meal after all.
Upon entering, patrons are urged to remove their shoes, and with it (symbolically), their inhibitions and worries. Inside, the place (Jetro’s home, actually) contains a living art space filled with tea pots, photographs, books, old furniture, and artifacts from Jetro’s travels. There’s also an area where you can carve or write down (and let out) your thoughts.
Self-service is the norm here. You write down your orders, ring the kitchen bell and inform the cook (sometimes Jetro is in the kitchen), pick up your orders, and bring your soiled plates to the kitchen. Also, you settle your bill via the honor system – you pay and get your own change from a box on one corner of the restaurant. (There’s a note on top of the box that says “1 million blessings and 1 million curses.”)

Van Gogh Is Bipolar’s dishes are named in honor of bipolar personalities. The ingredients in Jetro’s food produce “happy hormones” such as serotonin and dopamine that activate neurotransmitters in the brain, which in turn calm you down or lift you up. It helps that Jetro explains all the stuff about “happy hormones,” which dish has what effect and even recommends what to eat.

While waiting for my meal, I helped myself to two pots of “extra calming” guyabano tea. First you choose what teapot to use, after which you make your own tea, let it sit for a few minutes, add a few drops of wild honey, and then start sipping.

The first course is a bowl of thick, warm, wild turkey broth soup. 
Along with it is a fruit drink called Courtney Love’s Potion of the Day. The concoction is made from fruit pulps and extracts, fresh mint leaves and pure wild honey.
For appetizer, there’s Axl Rose’s Egg Shot, an organic egg submerged in hot water, and with honey mustard or Jetro’s special black sauce.  You crack your own egg, carefully pour the yolk and whites inside, and stir the mixture. 
The main course is President Lincoln’s Organic Turkey, served with black mountain rice pilaf, cabbage, and garnishings of guava, mango, black olives, and other herbs.

For dessert, there’s a plate of water buffalo milk ice cream – soft to the palate, semi-sweet, creamy, and relaxing.

While each dish is delicious on its own, it helps to know that how these improve one’s mood. For example, wild honey can eliminate anxiety, while the tea leaves have their own functions aside from releasing “happy hormones.” Protein gives one’s body that extra kick. Black mountain rice is rich in vitamin B and folic acid. Turkey meat, which is rich with tryptophan, elevates your mood, inhibits anger and compulsive behavior, regulates appetite, and helps you sleep better. Cabbage activates serotonin in your brain, while mango can lower cortisol.

It just goes to show that comfort food isn’t just about tasty food that makes us feel good; the science behind it shows how beneficial such foods can be for our physical and mental health. Add that looking around the whole restaurant, listening to the music, and just lounging on your chair (while waiting for your meal) is food for the senses, enriching, invigorating, and relaxing at the same time. 

The idea behind Van Gogh Is Bipolar is to give each diner a wonderful and therapeutic dining experience. It’s not enough to say that such is what I experienced as well. People keep coming back to Van Gogh Is Bipolar because of the food, the surroundings, Jetro’s hospitality, the positive vibes that comes along with the meal. It’s the stuff that makes happy, light, glowing beings out of even the angriest of birds.

Speaking of the Angry Birds, well, they’re still angry, but at least they have new fans; not to mention their owner is leaving the place a sated, happy, and very satisfied being. Thank, Jetro; and thanks to everyone for welcoming us.


Van Gogh Is Bipolar

154 Maginhawa,
Quezon City
(02) 394-0188

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