By Briana Seftel
Comfort food may look like macaroni and cheese or chicken noodle soup to Americans, but it can mean many different things depending on where you are in the world. For example, in Colombia, a popular comforting dish is ajiaco, a soup made with three varieties of potatoes. Find out what other countries consider comfort food, then get eating!
Sweden • Swedish meatballs
Sweden’s version of meatballs (köttbullar) is a familar and comforting staple perfect for those cold winter nights. The first recipe was recorded in 1754, back when eating meatballs was saved for royalty as beef was very expensive. As time went on, the dish became a staple of Swedish cuisine and even popular in the United States in the 1960s. The meatballs, usually beef, pork or veal, are served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and the ubiquitous lingonberry jam.
Where to have it: Meatballs for the People, Nytorgsgatan 30 Stockholm.
Colombia • Ajiaco
A signature dish in Bogota, ajiaco is a thick, creamy potato soup made from three varieties of potatoes grown in the Andes region. With the addition of chicken, corn and guascas (an indigenous herb), ajiaco is the ultimate comfort food in the chilly capital city. In Ecuador, a similar soup called locro de papa is another fantastic homey soup.
Where to have it: La Puerta Falsa, Cl. 11 #6-50 Bogota.
Switzerland • Raclette
It’s no secret: Switzerland loves its cheese! With over 450 varieties, one of the most popular (and comforting) ways to eat Swiss cheese is raclette. The name raclette comes from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape.” The semi-hard cow’s milk cheese is heated until a perfect gooeyness, then scraped onto boiled potatoes or cured meats. Like fondue, eating raclette is an interactive, social experience meant to be shared with family and friends.
Where to have it: Raclette Stube, Zähringerstrasse 16 Zurich.
Chile • Pastel de jaiba
Chile is renowned for its wine and gastronomy, particularly its seafood caught in the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean. One of the most popular dishes along the coast is pastel de jaiba, or crab casserole. The star of the dish is jaiba, a type of crab with delicious sweet meat. Cooked with Chilean white wine and topped with parmesan, the dish is served bubbling hot with lots of crusty bread to soak up the savory sauce.
Where to have it: Donde Augusto, San Pablo 967 Santiago.
Japan • Ramen
An icon of Japanese cuisine alongside sushi, ramen is as comforting and satisfying as any noodle soup in the world. With its long, thin wheat-based noodles, some say ramen is of Chinese origin, while others say it was invented in early 20th century Japan. No two ramen recipes are the same: each region - and each vendor - makes their soup a little differently. While a rich and savory broth is a mainstay, add-ins can range from tender pork belly to mouth-tingling chili. Japan loves ramen so much it opened a ramen museum in the city of Yokohama!
Where to have it: Kagari Ramen, 4 Chome-1-2 Ginza Tokyo.
France • Pot-au-feu
Literally meaning "pot on the fire," pot au feu is perhaps the ultimate French comfort food in a pantheon of comfort foods - french onion soup, potatoes au gratin, and cassoulet to name a few. While its origins remain unclear, its simple ingredients (carrot, leek, cabbage) and use of cheap cuts of meat mean this dish came from France's working class. Today, variations on the dish depend on the region, but it remains a simple yet satisfying dish for all.
Where to have it: Le Roi du Pot au Feu, 34 Rue Vignon Paris.
Canada • Poutine
In addition to being a popular hangover cure, poutine is Canada’s favorite go-to, comforting meal. Traditionally just fries, brown gravy and cheese curds, the dish was created in the late 1950s in the diners and pubs of Quebec. One theory as to its origin comes from a restaurant called Le Lutin qui rit. When asked to add cheese curds to a customer’s fries, the owner responded, “Ça va faire une maudite poutine” (That’s going to make a dreadful mess.) Today, variations on the dish can be found all over of the country from smoked meat poutine to upscale truffle poutine.
Where to have it: La Banquise, 994 Rue Rachel E Montreal.
Morocco • Tagine
A must-try food in Morocco, tagine is named for the ceramic or clay domed pot it is cooked in. A brilliant blend of sweet and savory, tagine is beloved throughout North Africa for its rich and comforting powers. Meat (lamb is most traditional) is slowly braised in aromatic spices, adding in vegetables and dried fruit. Served over couscous or with flatbread, the succulent stew is traditionally placed in the middle of a group as they sit on cushions.
Where to have it: L’ibzar, Angle rue Ibn Aicha et, 28 Rue Moulay Ali Marrakesh.
Mexico • Tamales
Many Latin American countries have their own versions of tamales, a dish of masa (corn meal) stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. Originating in Mesoamerica as early as 8000 BC, in Mexico tamales are a time-honored tradition. Traditionally served on holidays like Dia de los Muertos or Christmas, today tamales can be found all year long, in fancy restaurants and casual street carts. If you’re visiting Mexico City, street vendors hawking delicious tamales can be found all over the city.
Where to have it: Any street cart vendor, Mexico City.
South Africa • Bobotie
Bobotie (pronounced “ba-boor-tea”) is a popular dish from the Cape Malay people of South Africa. Ground beef, curry powder, milk-soaked bread, and other fragrant spices are simmered together than spread in a baking dish, topped with beaten egg, and baked to a golden brown perfection. The result is a rich and all-together warming dish representing the cultural mosaic of South Africa.
Where to have it: Biesmiellah, 2 Wale St & Pentz St Cape Town.