Food, Wine and other Beverages

Satisfy Comfort Food Cravings in a New Country

Last Updated on

What’s one to do when a strong comfort food craving strikes while traveling?

Anyone who likes to eat can attest that she has desired a particular food with a ferocity that outruns self-restraint, and has submitted to the pleasures of this singular, non-substitutable comfort food.

A comfort food can only be described and known through a feeling. A mug of hot tea may be relaxing and comforting on some level, but that level doesn’t go as deep as the one a real comfort food occupies. This food is crave-able; it is relieving to eat it; it is loyally on your plate every other Monday. A comfort food often provokes a memory, but not always. But most of all, it is a food that scratches the itch. “Ah! That’s what I needed.” Eat it slowly and savor, or devour it greedily, because you wanted just that.

Hokkaido Squash Mac and Cheese with Swiss Chard by Zita Nagy

Food is one of the greatest pleasures for the traveler, and is a cultural and social doorway into a new land. It’s an understanding of the geography and territory of a country and its people’s traditions. It’s indulgent, exciting and new. But then – uh, oh – it hits. You need it! Not another dish can be enjoyed, really, until this need for a specific food is satisfied. And of course, it is nowhere to be found in a foreign country.

[pullquote]But then – uh, oh – it hits. You need it! Not another dish can be enjoyed, really, until this need for a specific food is satisfied. And of course, it is nowhere to be found in a foreign country.[/pullquote]The desire for and then lack of comfort food in a foreign country usually comes to a person who’s abroad for a longer than a vacation. She has eaten plenty of meals and enjoyed every one. But, enough time has passed to let the novelty wear off once in a while. In this situation, rather than taxi or hop a train to the nearest big city in desperate search for that singular food, there is another option: find a new comfort food.

After spending seven months in Italy, I have grown into two new comfort foods. One is a new fixture and I craved it back in the US for the holidays. The other one is only a day old, but it has that quality – you know, the one that gives you relief to eat, happiness and calmness. It’s a prime comfort food candidate.

The first one is the southern Italian frisella.

Friselle are hard pieces of bread that look like a bagel sliced across lengthwise. They are dried out until they have potential to chip a tooth. Friselle are soaked in water for about a minute, or enough time to let the water saturate the top while leaving the crust crunchy. Even this Italian comfort food has become unattainable where I am, which is in northern Italy; only southern Italians know to use the right kind of bread that doesn’t get wet. Ugh.

Friselle get umide – humid, damp-ish, and certainly not soggy – and then completely soak up the olive oil drizzled on top. Salt it, and then eat it quickly with two hands or it will fall apart. Sometimes in the summer, diced fresh tomatoes are perfect for a make-shift bruschetta; and other toppings can be added, too. For me, extra virgin olive oil and salt is perfetto.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

My second, newer comfort food is traditional, age-old polenta. Fresh polenta is so easy to make. Just boil a cup of water and then pour in 1/3 cup (or so) of polenta and a full ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir. Whisk. When it pulls away from the sides, it’s done.

Here is where I add just a dash more water to make the polenta smoother and less dense, and whisk it for another few minutes. Take it off the burner, spoon it into a bowl, dab it with butter, and you have instant, spoon-able popcorn! Okay, it’s not quite the same thing. But it’s equally or more satisfying.

Comfort food is as warm and inviting as a fluffy couch and coverlet, as comfortable and kind as an old friend. You know it by how you need it – just that – and only that will satisfy you. So go ahead. Eat your comfort food for dinner tonight, whether that be Spaghetti-Os, ice cream, or a new foreign favorite.

What comfort foods do you crave when traveling? Have you discovered any new ones while on the road?

Top photo by Travel Belle contributor, Zita Nagy ©. You can find her recipe for Hokkaido Squash Mac and Cheese with Swiss Chard on her site. Second photo by author of this article, Diana Zahuranec ©, and used with permission. 

About the author

An American expat living in Piedmont as journalist and translator, I love Italy’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps. I like learning about local wines and craft beers, and finding the best pizza, panino, and gelato in the city. I’m fascinated with cultural anthropology and in particular how it relates to food culture. My favorite way to explore is on my own two feet, and I can’t get enough of hiking in the vineyards or Alps.

This article has 5 comments

  1. Briana Palma

    I love the idea of finding new comfort foods in a foreign country and I’ve certainly discovered a few great ones in Ireland. With the cold, damp weather, the Irish are pros at making food that gives you that warm feeling. For me, it’s all about the soups and stews here. There’s nothing better on a chilly day!

  2. Krista

    I always have to find a comfort food when I travel. 🙂 In Amsterdam I MUST have “moules and frites” mussels and French fries. They make my heart happy. 🙂 But when I’m missing home, I just need anything with potatoes in it. 🙂

  3. judith works

    My comfort food is spaghetti with cacio and pepe, a richer vrsion of mac and cheese

  4. Briana Palma

    That’s one of my favorites, too!

  5. Katja

    Oh, I *love* friselle! I’ve been off bread products for ages so had kind of forgotten about them, but now I most definitely have a craving again. There’s nothing better on a hot summer afternoon than friselle with fresh diced tomatoes, a bit of basil and mozzarella, and a drizzle of peppery olive oil.

    My comfort food here is cime di rabe. Tossed quickly in hot, anchovy-salted olive oil it’s a meal in itself, or for those cold winter nights when you need more stodge, you can add pasta. Gnam gnam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *