When it comes to my life’s little luxuries, food tops my list – and I know from talking with readers it might top your lists, too. My particular area of expertise is comfort foods – you know, foods that stick to your ribs and make you thankful for having tastebuds!
Everyone’s favorite comfort foods are different, but since I’ve seen a fair few of them in my days – especially the special holiday ones, I thought I’d share with you some of my faves from the road these past few years. Who knows, maybe you’ll get inspired to dig up a recipe and try these at one of your holiday celebrations, or just to snack on something new next weekend.
Poutine in Quebec
Not exactly a holiday comfort food, but humor me for a second. I was in Montreal for a winter trip, which is a terrible idea because it is absolutely FREEZING there in winter. Beautiful, but freezing. Arriving back to the small B&B where we were staying, our host, who I could only half-understand due to her heavily-accented French – her only language – invited us for a evening snack of piping hot poutine and red wine. Poutine, for the uninitiated, is french fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. It’s not a holiday food, but as our host so eloquently explained (and I uneloquently translate), “parfois il faut faire ce qui se sent bien” – sometimes you’ve gotta do whatever feels good.
It’s weird that gingerbread seems to be a universal concept, but yet everywhere I go, it is done differently. Americans build gingerbread houses, the Dutch make tiny tasty “spec” cookies, the Scandinavians make ‘em really spicy, and who doesn’t love a wee gingerbread man? My favorite gingerbread is from the country that claims to have invented it, Germany – and the best place to sample is at one of the Christmas markets in Nuremberg. I prefer the smaller, softer cakes to those massive cookies with the writing on them – but they’re all called “Lebkuchen.”
The dictionary tells me we didn’t have the term “comfort food” until 1977. Interesting. I like Wikipedia’s definition the best: foods “consumed to positively pique emotions, to relieve negative psychological effects or to increase positive feelings.“
Pie, Pie, More Pie
I really do love pie. Who doesn’t? We all do. That’s why you’ll stumble onto pies of all sizes and fillings on your travels. My American fave is pumpkin pie – in fact, there is one in the refrigerator right now calling my name. I miss the tiny mince pies that were everywhere during the holidays in Britain. And I have to applaud the Australians and New Zealanders, who will stuff almost anything into a pie, sweet or savory – this is a concept we should all take to heart.
You know a dish has to be good when you can go virtually anywhere and find it on the dinner table, and a old fashioned Indian curry seems to fit the bill. I have met a lot of families who complement their traditional ham or turkey meal with a curry on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) or sometime in that low period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s – this was especially the case in Scotland when we were too lazy to cook anything else! If you happened to cook a meat that might be easily re-used in a curry, even better – nothing like an extra POW of flavor to spice it up a notch. As a side point, I love trying curry when I am traveling, because it’s a food that changes based on regional palate – and curry houses are always an interesting foodie experience. Pass the naan, please.
I have to say my idea of the perfect Sunday involves three things: sleeping in, copious amounts of coffee, and steaming hot dim sum. I love that in places like Australia or Hong Kong, Sunday dim sum brunch is so popular – it’s just so tasty, and you can grab whatever kinds of dumplings you like.
You don’t have to hop on a plane to Asia to get some good dumplings (though for those of you in North America, some of the best dim sum in the world is in Vancouver BC). Italy has their Tortellinis. Sweden has their kroppkaka, a fried dumpling topped with ligonberry jam (swoon). And how about a Polish pirogi – did you know that in a proper Polish restaurant, you can get them filled with either savory or sweets, like berries? Yum!
Last, but never least, I love pancakes – it is my favorite comfort food, holiday or not. They are pretty easy to make, and come winter, you can stuff them with all sorts of goodies. In Europe, pancakes come in many forms, from the Parisian crepe style to the more American fluffy version, and a variety of tasty toppings, like Nutella or jam. My favorite American pancakes are the pumpkin and sweet potato varieties – with heavy lashings of Canadian maple syrup please! And as I mentioned in my recent feature about Tokyo snacks, Asians love their own pancake creations.