The Culture of Comfort Food

by Alexandra Cuoco

Everyone cherishes that one food that instantly feels like nostalgia; a food that makes us feel young again and brings comfort. A “comfort food” that holds sentimental value and represents more than just a dish is different for everyone. Depending on where you grew up, who you grew up with, where you move, and the heritage of your family, your comfort foods are unique to you. 

One thing I have noticed – particularly about myself – is that you can have different comfort foods depending on the season. During the winter time, I can imagine coming in from a long day of playing in the snow and my mom brewing Swiss Miss hot chocolate and homemade chicken noodle soup on the stove. But during the summer time, barbecue and watermelon bring back happy memories. 

The minute the taste of a comfort food hits your tongue, you immediately feel safe and cozy. Of course there are traditional American foods that we all can see as comforts such as grilled cheeses, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets. But the most interesting aspect of someone’s comfort foods is the fact that they vary from person to person, especially when they relate to the heritage of your family. 

My mom is of Greek heritage and her cooking in general is a comfort food to me. But there are certain Greek dishes I can think of that bring me instant delight. Avgolemono soup reminds me of when I am sick and my mom takes care of me. It is made from egg yolk, lemon juice, and chicken broth with pieces of soft orzo in it, and it has always been one of my favorite comfort foods. My mom learned this recipe from my Yaya (my Greek grandmother) who still makes this dish today.

My dad grew up in an Italian household, in which my Italian grandmother is famous for her pasta sauce. Her pasta sauce with meatballs cooks all day on the stove and is a comfort food that my dad and I share. Another one of my dad’s childhood comfort foods is pastina, which is tiny pieces of pasta cooked in chicken broth or water. It is a traditional dish many children with Italian roots grow up eating. 

My friend Maliha, who grew up in a half-Indian household, grew up with completely different comfort foods than I did. She said one of her absolute favorite comfort foods is a dish her mom makes called gulab jamun, a dessert that consists of round jelly-like sweets made with milk and cardamom, and encased in a sweet syrup. “It reminds me of going to the market at night after dinner, which is in the center of my town in India. I would go with my whole family and it was my favorite part of my day because we all enjoyed this amazing desert and were all together,” she said.

My friend Anna comes from a Ukrainian family. Her top two comfort foods that her mom made for her growing up were pierogies and borscht. Pierogies are dumplings, usually with a sweet or savory fillings, with different variations of the dish made all over Eastern Europe. Borscht is a vibrant red soup originally made with beetroot that originates in Ukraine. Even though I have always been partial to pierogies, I hope to try Anna’s family’s borscht in the future!

All of the different family recipes and stories are what make everyone’s comfort food so special and diverse. As the days get colder and the temperature drops, we all just want to feel warm and cozy, even if we are far from family. Comfort foods link us to memories and bring us joy. This coming up holiday season, enjoy the time with your family, and certainly make sure to indulge in your comfort foods.

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