If I mention comfort food, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?
For me, it’s sticky toffee pudding with a rich caramel sauce, or if I want something savoury, then a full roast or a spicy chilli!
Whether I’m feeling a little down or even a little homesick, these will do the trick every time.
For Phil, it’s pizza and plenty of it, with ALL the sides and delivered straight to our door.
So what makes food fall into the “comfort” category? Does it have to be a little unhealthy? Not something you’d have on a day-to-day basis? Something stodgy and filling? Or maybe something you’ve grown up with, like a family speciality?
When I travel, I love trying different foods, and it’s always interesting to me to see what the most popular dishes in a country are and why.
So I decided why not take a trip around the world’s favourite comfort foods?
This list isn’t definitive by any means, it’s just some of the best food I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy around the world at a time when a little comfort was required… which doesn’t necessarily mean hungover!
So here are some of my favourite comfort foods I’ve tried around the world, plus tips on how to make them. If your favourite’s not on this list, then I’d love to know what it is!
New Zealand – A Bakery/Garage Pie
This one was so tough to decide on!
There are lots of delicious sweets and puddings, but I decided to go with the humble pie in the end. But specifically, pies you get from a bakery or a garage, and ideally a BP garage.
If you’ve had one, you’ll know what I’m talking about! They’re far from healthy, but the combination of pastry with warm fillings of plenty of variations including, mince and cheese, steak, bacon and egg, and even butter chicken, is definitely a welcome addition to any Kiwi road trip and great comfort food when you want it too.
And let’s not forget the potato top! Which is basically a mini cottage pie. Writing this is making me really miss home right now! Or specifically. Pies.
Yes, there are pies in other countries, and they do exist in the UK, of course, but the range here doesn’t even touch what’s on offer in New Zealand.
Phil thought I was crazy until he got to try them for himself, so just trust me!
Special mention does go to the Scotch pie filled with macaroni and cheese, however. That’s one they definitely need to consider adding to the NZ repertoire…
Poland – Pierogies
I first tried Pierogies in a hole-in-the-wall 24/7 Pierogi shop in Krakow, and they’re still some of the best I’ve ever had.
These delicious little parcels are basically like dumplings, made of unleavened pastry and filled with all sorts of different combinations.
The most traditional is probably potato and cheese, but there’s also a sweet version, and I love the plum topped with cream.
You can buy pierogies in the supermarket or Polish shops in the UK and cook them for yourself, although I never could quite get them to taste as good as those first ones!
Scotland – Stovies
Imagine if you could combine all the leftovers of a beef roast into one delicious, comforting dish… well, Scotland has nailed this one!
There are plenty of different regional and family recipes, but Stovies are generally a one-pot dish cooked on the stove (hence the name).
Everybody has their own way of making it, and everyone in Scotland will swear to you that their mothers/grannies/aunties make the best recipe!
Usually, the recipe calls for potatoes, onions and a bit of seasoning to begin with. After that, the world’s your oyster!
You can add leftover meat from a Sunday roast, sausage meat or mince and some other vegetables to complete the recipe. Steam all the ingredients in the pan with a little water to create this homely and filling meal that, for many Scots is the perfect comfort food.
Serve it with a rich gravy to really make the most of it, yum!
It’s hard to describe how nice these are as leftovers and veg don’t always sound that tasty, but trust me, I’ve been won over since moving to Scotland. If you pay a visit, you have to give them a try!
Ireland – Irish Stew with Soda Bread
There’s something about an Irish stew that makes it one of the ultimate comfort foods in our house. Like stories, recipes have been passed down from family to family, and each family always has the best, of course.
A traditional Irish stew is made with lamb, potatoes, onions and water, served with homemade soda bread to keep you warm on cold days.
You may have had an Irish beef stew, but this would be known as a brown stew for the obvious reason that it’s a darker colour. This is also delicious, especially with a little beer or red wine added. But if you’re a stickler for tradition, then lamb is the way to go.
The perfect addition to either is soda bread. Make sure you have plenty, and you can’t go far wrong. Mopping up stew with a doorstop of buttered bread is Phil’s idea of heaven!
Canada – Poutine
French fries in warm gravy and topped with cheese curds. Not something I thought I would ever be keen to eat, to be honest. Who has gravy on their chips?!*
But then I moved to Canada to study abroad for a semester, and I was introduced to the world of Poutine. And I’ve been chasing it ever since! It’s another thing I just have to order if I see it on a menu or food truck stall.
Traditional Poutine emerged from Quebec and is always made with cheese curds, so if anyone tries to give you a version with grated or cubed cheese then that’s definitely not the way you want it!
*Turns out lots of people, and in the UK too…
England – Sticky Toffee Pudding
Now, before people start writing in the comments, I understand that the origin of Sticky Toffee Pudding is still, and always will be, up for debate. For the sake of this post, it’s from England, as there is a claim the original recipe was from the Lake District in the 1970s, and then we don’t have a double entry. (I mean, come on over to our Scotland food website, and we’re happy to tell you it’s from Scotland…)
In New Zealand, we actually call this Sticky Date Pudding, and it’s always been one of my favourites. Whenever I see it on a menu, I just have to order it!
If you’ve never had it, it’s basically a caramel sort of tasting sponge with a caramel/toffee sauce, all served warm. Don’t be put off if you don’t like dates because you can’t actually taste them, they just give the sponge a more caramel or butterscotch sort of flavour.
I am actually a little particular about my Sticky Toffee Pudding and prefer a heavier sponge as opposed to light, and I like a LOT of thick, toffee sauce. With some ice cream on the side! What more do you need in life? It can be heavy, but that’s what I love about it, to be honest.
Wales – Welsh Rarebit
For many people, cheese on toast would feature on their own comfort foods list, and this may well be the king of cheese on toast!
I will stop and admit when I first saw this on a menu, I thought it was something to do with rabbits…
This Welsh speciality features a mature cheese sauce that is well seasoned and includes a little beer, plus Worcestershire sauce, then is spread over thickly buttered granary bread and browned under the grill. It’s a whole new level above your bog-standard cheese on toast and deserves its place on our list.
The only downside is the effort involved to make it compared with chucking some plain cheese on bread and toasting it under the grill. But if you can wait a little for your comfort food fix, then this Welsh dish is for you!
Greece – Saganaki
Greek cuisine is one of Phil’s favourites, and I can see why after our recent holiday to Rhodes. Gyros, Moussaka, Spanakopita, and Dolmades are just a few of the amazing dishes you can experience.
However, when we went to Rhodes all Phil could talk about was Saganaki, or pan-seared greek cheese, and he was right to be so excited.
As comfort food goes, cheese often features heavily, and so this dish of basically pure cheese had to be on the list!
You can enjoy Saganaki in various forms with different cheeses and even different toppings, though often it’s simply served with a squeeze of lemon. One of the best we tried was marinated in Metaxa, a Greek brandy, which added a whole new depth of flavour.
If you ever visit Greece, keep an eye out for it on the menu and try a few different ones, as each restaurant will have its own variation of this traditional dish. Yum!
United States – Kraft Mac and Cheese
This is the only comfort food we’ve listed that comes in a box, unless you order in!
We’re not saying it’s going to win any cooking awards and certainly wouldn’t appear on Masterchef, but it deserves its place on this list. It’s been a family favourite in America for over 75 years and when I lived over there, everyone kept telling me I just had to try it.
I’ll admit the orange colour is a little off-putting, and I probably prefer a real mac n cheese, but this only requires you to add milk and butter to the cooked cheese sauce and pour over the cooked noodles and bam! Instant comfort food.
Spain – Migas
It was my Spanish students that first told me about Migas one winter day in Almeria. They said that it’s a comforting dish you eat on rainy days, and sure enough, as soon as it rained, I noticed signs outside the cafes and restaurants promoting Migas!
My first try was on a sunny day in the Alpujarras, though, and it was probably my favourite one of all.
The base of the dish is usually couscous or bread that is broken up into breadcrumbs and fried. It’s often topped with sardines, or blood sausage, and some form of green vegetable like peppers, and sometimes tomatoes.
The dish I had in the Alpujarras also included oranges, which really added to the flavour. Keep an eye out for it if you ever travel to Andalucia!
France – French Onion Soup
French Onion Soup is not just any ordinary onion soup. It’s a heavy meat stock packed with onions and topped with a huge crouton of toasted bread smothered completely in melted cheese. Cheese toastie and stew-like soup in one? Yes, please!
You’ll see this on many menus in France, and it’s definitely done in some places better than others. So make sure you try a few if you ever visit! I had my first real try in a cafe on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, and it was delicious!
Vietnam – Drip Coffee
The one and only drink to be included holds its own against all these other comfort foods. Whenever anyone says they’re visiting Vietnam, I ALWAYS tell them to make sure they try a traditional Vietnamese drip coffee.
It’s quite sweet, which sort of goes with the pattern of this list and the comfort foods being either sweet or carb-heavy.
The coffee is made by adding hot water to grounds that drip through a sieve into a glass on top of condensed milk.
Sound odd? It is a little different to your standard caffetiere but the principle is the same. The coffee is rich and flavoursome, bordering on bitter, which makes the condensed milk the perfect accompaniment.
Once it’s served, you can stir it all together and enjoy or pour it over a glass of ice for a chilled version. I can’t tell you how many of these I had while I travelled around Vietnam and how much I’ve missed them since I left!
Special mention also has to go to Cao Lau, a noodle dish you can only get in the city of Hoi An. The noodles are made from water from a special well, and the sauce is a thicker consistency than Pho. It’s topped with pork and plenty of fresh herbs. Delicious!
Germany – Currywurst
My love of European Christmas markets is no secret, so it’s also not surprising I first tried this delicious sausage dish from an outside food stall one freezing December day in Berlin.
It’s basically a German comfort fast food, made from a pork sausage covered in curried ketchup and topped with more curry powder. Sounds intense, but it’s so good!
China – Dumplings or Jiaozi
Since visiting China with my family, I have loved dumplings to the point where I will look out for these little pockets of comfort in every country I visit.
Everyone has their take on this ancient dish, believed to be first seen in China between 25-220AD, but personally, I prefer a pan-fried pork dumpling, known as jiānjiǎo or potstickers!
The succulent filling of meat and vegetables contrasted with the slightly crisp outer layer of dough dipped into soy sauce or chilli, and ok, wow, just writing this is making me hungry.
Xiaolongbao is another favourite. It’s a steamed dumpling filled with meat and a little soup! I was so confused about how they got the soup inside the closed dumpling until I saw them being made through a window in Brisbane, Australia. It’s a broth with gelatine added, which means it can be cut up and put in the dumpling as a cube with the meat and melts into a liquid when it’s cooked. SOOO GOOD!
Italy – Pizza
This seems a given for me despite tough competition from both tiramisu and pasta! Melted cheese and the toppings of your choice, what more comfort could you ask for?
Whether you’re eating chef-made pizza in a wonderful restaurant or buying a slice on your way home from a night out, pizza ticks all the boxes.
The only question I have to ask you is one that has split myself and Phil down the middle, pineapple or no pineapple?
Portugal – Caldo Verde
This traditional Portuguese Soup is made with potato, chorizo and kale/collard greens. We were recommended to try it by a waitress in a restaurant in Porto when we visited in winter, and although I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of kale, it was actually really delicious and definite comfort food for cold days.
It can be eaten as a starter but the potatoes and sausage in it mean that if you serve it with a chunk of bread it makes a complete, comfy, meal too! This comfort food is a little different to the rest of the list in that it’s actually fairly healthy because it’s essentially vegetable soup with sausage.
So, a special mention also has to go to the francesinha sandwich we also had in Porto! If you want cheese, meat, and carbs, then you really can’t go past this. It’s several types of meat layered between two thick slices of bread, covered with melted cheese and smothered in a tomato and beer sauce that’s unique to every establishment. Served with fries.
All the carbs! And cheese! And meat!
We all crave a little comfort food at times, and it’s interesting to see how where we came from or have lived can influence our choices in what to eat.
One person’s comfort food is not necessarily another’s!
But when you’re next wanting to cook a satisfying meal, maybe you’ll give a different one of these a go.