If you’ve ever encountered someone who is hangry or hanxious, you know how essential food is to our overall mood. Food plays a major role in determining whether we feel secure, calm, and satisfied. And no food accomplishes this better than comfort food. Feeling stressed after work? You’ll probably ditch the bulgar-kale salad in favour of hearty bowl of mac n’ cheese. Woke up to an argument with your partner? Forget the superfood smoothie, bacon for breakfast is the only option. Often fatty, textured and full of flavor, comfort food is just as it sounds—a remedy for comfort.
Comfort food looks different for everyone. But they all have the same elements: palatability (mouth-feel), fats, carbohydrates, and flavours that spark nostalgia. Researchers posit that the oral sensation of fatty food may indirectly cause that comfy cozy feeling by revving up the pleasure pathways in our brain. Similarly, carbohydrates and sugars have been shown to release endorphins, dopamine and serotonin—the feel-good chemicals in our brains. What’s more, the smells and flavours of the foods we enjoyed as children make us feel safe and calm.
So, whether you opt for a steaming bowl of soup or a crunchy bite of fried chicken, here are seven comfort foods from around the globe to satisfy a craving for a feel-good meal.
This Mexican comfort-food staple dates back to Mayan times when it’s believed that people of the Valley of Mexico wrapped corn tortillas around small pieces of fish. Today that corn tortilla is used to hold all kinds of fillings, and is smothered in chili pepper sauce and cheese (usually a blend of manchego cheese and queso fresco), then baked in the oven. These pockets of deliciousness are totally customizable—beans, vegetables, ground or pulled meat (think beef, chicken, or pork), hot or mild spices—it’s your pick! Typical seasonings include chili powder, paprika, onion, garlic, and sometimes cumin.
The Global Pick – El Regreso in Mexico City, Mexico.
The Local Pick – Aztec’s Mine in High Park.
While the Scottish are believed to be the first to deep-fry chicken, today this satisfying crunch snack (or meal) is ubiquitous throughout the Southern United States. Chicken thighs, wings, and drums coated in a seasoned batter then either pan-fried, deep-fried or pressure-fried. The goal is to get a crispy coating while retaining the juicy interior of the chicken. Best served with other comfort foods, like macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and biscuits.
The Global Pick - Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken for a solid chain restaurant pick or Martha Lou’s Kitchen in Charleston, SC for a comforting home recipe.
The Local Pick - It’s a tie in Toronto, we can’t choose between Bar Fancy or PG Clucks.
Korean soft tofu stew
This go-to Korean stew is made with fresh, soft tofu, umami-packed vegetables such as mushroom and onion, kimchi (hot pickled cabbage), and optional thinly-sliced meat or seafood. It’s seasoned with gochujang (chili paste) or gochu garu (chili powder) and it’s made directly in the serving bowl—a heavy vessel made of stone or robust porcelain. The dish is served in bubbling hot broth, and you can crack a fresh egg in for added mouth-feel (and protein!). It’s always served with rice and banchan (side dishes) which typically consists of seasoned soybeans, bean sprouts, spicy pickled radish, and of course—more kimchi.
These soft, bite-sized mouthful of doughy goodness are the ultimate comfort food for a cold day. Unleavened dough is wrapped around a savoury filling usually consisting of a combination of creamy mashed potato, onion or leek, cabbage, cheese, or meat. Seasoned simply with garlic, salt, and pepper, they can be boiled or fried, depending on the texture you love most. Served with sour cream and crispy bacon.
The Global Pick - Przystanek Pierogarnia in Krakow, Poland.
The Local Pick - Cafe Polonez on Roncesvalles Avenue.
French onion soup
A keen interest in French cooking among home chefs overtook the United States in the 1960s, and this warm, savory dish has been popular ever since. A soup made of rich, fatty meat stock with caramelized onions is ladled into individual oven-safe crock bowls and topped with a slice of bread or croutons. The best part? The soup is smothered in Gruyere cheese and broiled until golden-brown, a method referred to as gratinéed.
British sheperd’s pie
This dish is traditionally made with ground lamb (hence the shepherd reference) and finely chopped field vegetables such as carrot, onion, garlic, celery, and peas. It’s well-seasoned with salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and contains a saucy component like tomato, broth, or even a bit of Guinness for added flavor. The best shepherd’s pies are started on the stove-top, then capped with a fluffy, buttery mashed potato layer and browned in the oven.
The Global Pick - The Old Storehouse Bar + Restaurant in Dublin, Ireland.
The Local Pick - Stout Irish Pub in Cabbagetown.
Filipino adobo chicken
The word adobo refers both to the dish itself and the cooking method. Meats such as beef, pork, or chicken, and vegetables like carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, and peas, are marinated and simmered in a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Spices like whole black peppercorns and bay leaves are added for extra flavour. This Filipino staple is best sampled a la ‘mesa’—meaning family-style—and spooned over rice.
The Global Pick - Apu Restaurant in Manila, Philippines.
The Local Pick - Islas Filipino BBQ + Bar on Queen Street West.
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