Comfort foods are usually defined as dishes that “provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to someone.” However, everyone’s nostalgic connotations are unique. My comfort foods look different from my mother’s. My comfort foods also look different from someone who lives on the other side of the world.
No matter the generation gap or geographical location, there are some ingredients and dishes that make it into all of our comfort foods. One thing that’s for sure is most of these foods are usually high in calories and carbs, but are easy to make!
Between a multicultural and ethnic background, diverse group of friends, and research; I’ve recognized similarities among popular comfort foods around the world:
Soups and Stews
Whether illness or weather has you down, soup is the cure for all ailments. No matter if it’s brought to you by a loved one or your favorite microwavable mug, it soothes your aches.
Perhaps the go-to for those seeking healing while sick is chicken soup.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from, there is probably some sort of chicken broth-based soup that many believe to be a cure for whatever ails you. While the most commonly known is probably chicken noodle soup, particularly in the US and Canada, China has several soups with this base and there are so many other chicken soups around the world. To name just a few: Danish hønsekødssuppe, Hungarian Újházi chicken soup, Caribbean chicken souse, Japanese torijiru, Korean dak gomtang, and Latin-American caldo de pollo. The Jewish serve chicken soup with kneidlach (matzah balls), kreplach (dumplings), lokshen (flat egg noodles), or mandlen (Shkedei Marak in Israel).
Beef stews, such as beef noodle stew found throughout East and Southeast Asia, are another especially common and comforting dish. Additionally, there’s the Latin carne guisada, Korean ttukbaegi-bulgogi, and French pot-au-feu. Some prefer lamb to beef such as in Irish stew and Afghan chainaki.
A comfort food found throughout the Caribbean, Iran, Australia, the UK, Canada, Germany, the US, Poland, and even Indonesia, is pea soup. Though they all may or may not vary quite a bit, most are a thick stew of green or yellow split peas. In the Caribbean, it might be made with red peas while filled with meat, vegetables, and even dough.
Another popular Caribbean comfort food is chowder, especially made from seafood like the famous Bahamian conch chowder and Bermudian fish chowder. Similarly, you’ll find the well-known clam chowder in both New England and Canada.
Growing up, I was always encouraged to eat oatmeal due to its health benefits; and can remember forcing myself to eat it while recovering from a month-long sickness. Around the world, people seek comfort and healing through porridges, including oatmeal; which is especially popular in North America. However, in Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, and Japan, congee is the healing food of choice.
Several of these countries have a different name for it although it’s essentially the same thing. As an example, in Korea, the porridge is called juk and is considered to be especially good for digestion. In the Philippines, a savory gruel called arroz caldo is preferred. Porridge, topped with brown sugar or honey, yogurt, nuts, and fruit is popular in Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand; and while a similar style of oatmeal is common in the U.S., grits is a favorite among Southerners.
Likewise, grits — particularly yellow grits with tuna — is all the rage for breakfast in The Bahamas.
So many beautiful things come from dough. One of these is noodles. You can find many variations of shapes and sizes throughout international cuisines as it’s a staple ingredient in many cultures; especially throughout Italy and Asia. Its origin is up for debate. Nonetheless, we can agree that it makes up many delicious comfort foods!
In Asian countries, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Japan, and South Korea, instant noodles, especially ramen and even udon, are a must. Similarly, jjajangmyeon, the Chinese-Korean fusion food of black bean-sauced noodles, is on the list of hugely popular comfort foods in South Korea. It’s a great fast delivery food, particularly on moving days; and is usually eaten on special occasions, such as birthdays, graduation days, and Black Day, which is basically a holiday for singles.
Outside of Asia, spaghetti is especially popular, not only in Italy but in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. However, the ultimate comfort food of many is macaroni and cheese. People usually think of Kraft mac ‘n cheese, especially in Canada and the U.S., but some countries have taken it to the next level. In the Southern United States, particularly found in soul food, is baked mac ‘n cheese. Throughout the Caribbean, there are variations of “macaroni pie”. Lots of West Indian moms have become known for their baked mac ‘n cheese usually containing lots of cheese and spices.
Potatoes are one of the most versatile foods, making it a common ingredient found in comfort foods all over the world.
The first thing that may come to your mind is french fries. That in itself is popular in lots of countries, especially the U.S. and the UK (where it is referred to as chips). As the perfect tool for dipping, they can be shoestring, match cut, curly, waffled, or made from sweet potato — just to name a few! They’re also a base for chili and cheese or curds and gravy made famous by Canada’s poutine.
Some countries have innovated potatoes. In France, truffle butter pommes Anna is a comfort food made of potatoes that’s similar to scalloped potatoes. In India, aloo paratha is basically a potato stuffed pancake served with butter and chutney. Polish comfort food is literal potato pancakes!
Additionally, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. agree that mashed potatoes are comforting, and there’s always unlimited options for baked potatoes.
We often hear that “everything is better fried”. Obviously, french fries are a favorite among everyone; however, there’s a lot more you can fry than just potatoes.
Frying food usually results in crispy and salty greasiness. What isn’t there to love about that?! It doesn’t matter where you are, fried food is the way to go when you need quick comfort.
Whether you’re in the Deep South or the Caribbean, fried chicken is a must. It’s also especially popular in Asia as well. You might be familiar with KFC — Korean Fried Chicken! Japan is also known for tempura, which is lighter as it’s made from iced water and soft wheat flour. Tempura can be anything from meat to vegetables!
The southern United States is also famous for its many delicious fried dishes, such as fried okra, fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, chicken fried steak, fried pickles, and even sandwiches. Sometimes, they even fry candy bars and Oreos, too!
Rice is a common ingredient found in the diets of many people around the world.
In Japan, rice with green tea is a comfort food. Many Caribbean islanders consume variations of rice and beans. Puerto Rico’s national dish is arroz con gandules (rice cooked with pigeon peas and pork); and The Bahamas eat “peas ‘n rice” made with the same ingredients while Jamaica usually uses red kidney beans. Many associate it with home cooking, and thus, consider it a comfort food.
Similar dishes found throughout the Caribbean include Cuban platillo moros y cristianos and Dominican moro de guandules. In the American South, there is Cajun red beans and rice and South Carolina’s Hoppin’ John, which is a dish made with black-eyed or red cowpeas and is usually eaten on New Year’s for good luck. Even Korea has patbap.
Rice is especially versatile because it makes or completes so many more dishes, such as the various savory and sweet rice cakes found throughout Asia.
You can never go wrong with bread. You can grab it on-the-go in the form of a sandwich, pastry, or fritter. It’s easy. Also, it is soup’s trusty sidekick for the supreme comfort meal.
Several countries are known for flatbreads such as Lebanon’s man’oushe (herbed flatbread), Afghanistan’s bolani (filled flatbread), Mediteranian and Middle Eastern pita; and naan and roti, which are found throughout Asia and the Caribbean.
Across the Caribbean countries are variations of johnnycake, especially found in Jamaica and The Bahamas; although it originates from the Indigenous people of North America. Johnnycake is amazingly multi-purpose, in that it can also be eaten alone, with butter, cheese, jams or jellies; however, it’s common to eat this staple alongside stews and soups. Other comforting Caribbean breads include Belize’s fry jacks and pholourie from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
If that’s not enough, add some fillings to your bread and you get a variety of sandwiches, including the iconic American cheeseburger; Spanish classics like bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich) and pepito (beef, pork, or chicken sandwich), empanadas, Jamaican hot patties, and the South African Gatsby (submarine). Not to mention pizza, which is almost in a category of its own, and is eaten in not just Italy and the U.S.; but in countries around the world.
Bread also makes the perfect dessert as seen from the African fried dough snack, puff-puff, to French beignets to donuts. There is an endless array of bread choices for everyone from meals to sides and desserts. Bread is always there for you.
Fried dough is not the only comforting dessert to choose from. Dessert is a comfort food period.
There’s nothing like sugar to lift your spirit when you’re feeling down, and ice cream might be the most popular “comfort dessert” of all. Not only is it the go-to after a breakup, but it’s also one all of us can agree on around the world. Whether it’s Italian gelato, Japanese ice cream mochi, Indian kulfi (mixture of milk, cardamom, pistachio, and honey usually served as a popsicle); Mexican paletas, Thai rolled ice cream, or a Midwestern American frozen custard — ice cream is a global favorite treat.
Nonetheless, some countries prefer pudding.
The United Kingdom has many puddings that its citizens enjoy. Specifically, there is sticky toffee pudding, treacle pudding, rice pudding, and bread and butter pudding, just to name a few. Hong Kong has put chai ko and pudding cake; while South Africa has malva pudding, and interestingly enough, it is often served with custard or ice cream.
Last but not least is chocolate. It can be eaten alone or put in (or on) any dessert, such as candies, ice cream, cake, cookies, and drinks. Chocolate just might even be the “king of happiness,” because it can be mixed with anything, frozen, baked, liquid, powdered, or sprinkled; and is a favorite for people everywhere when they are upset or stressed.
Most of us today are facing an increase in demands and stress, resulting in us seeking comfort in the familiar or something that at least reminds us of better or less stressful times, such as food that our parents cooked us. It might even be that fast food restaurant we’d beg to go to and would occasionally get rewarded with for some accomplishment. Due to this, these foods trigger fond memories and just makes us feel good even if it is just momentary.
Technically, we know that many of these foods are not that good for us physically in the long run. Nonetheless, they ultimately give us emotional pleasure as we psychologically associate these high calorie, fatty, or sugary foods as rewards. At least until we enter a food coma or can’t fit into our favorite jeans anymore. Leggings and sweatpants exist for a reason, right?
What are your go-to comfort foods? Let us know in the comments below!