The phrase “comfort food” was added to the Oxford-English Dictionary in 1997, but an original use can be found in a 1966 Palm Beach Post article, according to the Atlantic, where the writer describes comfort food as dishes associated with childhood security. Comfort foods vary from country to country and region to region. What’s considered comfort food in the southern United States, for example — think fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and collard greens — may not be the go-to in New England — try seafood favorites like clambakes, clam chowder, and lobster rolls.
While it’s a fact that most comfort foods smell and taste delicious, their comforting effect isn’t only via taste. Psychologically, these dishes tend to pique our positive emotions and relieve negative psychological effects — our minds draw the connection between the food and the positive associations we have with certain memories, feelings, places, and people that make us feel better.
That said, no matter how comforting they may be, many of the most popular comfort food dishes are still high in fat and low in nutrition. Using them as emotional stress relief is believed to be one of the key contributors of obesity in the United States. The key is to enjoy your comfort foods, like most great things, in moderation. And according to Psychology Today, the more balanced your meals are, the more balanced your brain function will be. If you’re struggling with loneliness or depression, a balanced diet is important to follow.
Some comfort foods are a favorite in many cultures, like cheese pizza (enjoyed all over the world, like in Australia, the United States, and Italy, its country of origin). Others are local specialties or national dishes, such as Egyptian koshary and Russian golubtsy. Some, like butter chicken from India, are rich and spicy treats that retain the tastes of their original country’s cuisine even as they’re enjoyed across the world.
Read on for 15 comfort foods across the world, and consider paying homage to another culture with a dish at your next big dinner.
Additional reporting by Sevusha Govender.