When temperatures drop, the comfort food cravings hit. Why? Because it’s warming, nostalgic, and tasty. It’s also emotional, passed down through families and used to lift people’s spirits in hard times (like the dead of winter). Dishes like chicken noodle soup, meatloaf, and macaroni and cheese are the ultimate in American comfort food — but other countries have their own ideas about cozy cooking. To bolster your comfort food repertoire this winter, we’ve gathered seven international dishes you may not have heard of. Any of them will make a wonderful addition to your winter menu.
1. Australian Sausage Rolls
Meat plus carbs always equals comfort. In Australia, sausage rolls are a staple of school cafeterias and gas stations; they first gained popularity as a street food in 19th century London, and eventually made their way Down Under, thanks to British settlers. A classic sausage roll consists of meat wrapped in a puff pastry, and you can experiment with the fillings — ground turkey, chicken, lamb, and beef all work, as do vegetarian swaps like diced mushrooms. Try this Pork and Fennel Sausage Roll recipe, adapted from the Australian chef Paul Allam.
2. Ukrainian Stuffed Cabbage
A comfort food that doubles as a serving of veggies? Sign me up. Stuffed cabbage is a favorite in Eastern European countries. In Ukraine, it’s known as holubtsi, which translates to “little pigeons.” Thankfully, there aren’t any actual pigeons in this stuffed cabbage (though pigeon was used centuries ago) — nowadays, the cabbage is filled with seasoned ground meat and grains. Recipes vary from one family to the next, but this one, adapted from Mamushka: A Cookbook, Recipes from Ukraine & Eastern Europe, is a good place to start.
3. African Peanut Stew
Peanut butter is wonderful in savory dishes, and in African cultures it’s used to add creamy texture and a touch of salt to stews. Also called mafe, Senegalese peanut butter stew is made all over West Africa. In an article for NPR, writer Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs spoke of the dish’s many varieties: “Mafe represents more than memories. It’s a symbol of my changing identity as an African American.” While not from Senegal herself, Scruggs discovered the dish through Senegalese friends in Ohio, and eating the traditional meal gave her a new perspective on her cultural heritage. She views it as testament to how comfort food helps build community and connect people to their ancestors. Scruggs’ piece includes a recipe for mafe with chicken.
4. Persian Crispy Rice
Rice is a kitchen workhorse in all parts of the world — it truly goes with anything — but in the Persian dish known as tahdig, rice takes center stage. Tahdig means “bottom of the pot,” which refers to the dish’s signature crunchy bottom layer. The preparation’s origins go back to the 19th century, and the combo of carbs plus a crispy texture remains irresistible today. A TabletMag.com piece praises the rice’s versatility (it can be paired with many different flavors; you can even make Pasta Tahdig or Potato Tahdig). While getting the perfect gold brown crust may take some practice, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Try this take from chef Samin Nosrat (author of bestselling cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat) and don’t be a perfectionist; as Nosrat advises in her instructions, “if for any reason your rice doesn’t slip out in one piece, do what every Persian grandmother since the beginning of time has done: scoop out the rice, chip out the tahdig in pieces with a spoon or metal spatula, and pretend you meant to do it this way. No one will be the wiser.”
5. Korean Kimchi Stew
Kimchi is the national dish of Korea, and in kimchi jjigae — a meal dating back to the 16th century — the fiery pickled cabbage is made into a hearty stew with ingredients like beef and tofu. As an added bonus, kimchi is a superfood packed with digestive-aiding probiotics. The Korean chef Maangchi calls this stew variation “a warm, hearty, spicy, savory, delicious dish that pretty much everyone loves” and Maangchi’s recipe has an impressive five-star average rating with over 64,000 votes — so you know it’s tried and true.
6. Cuban Ground Beef
Picadillo is a Cuban dish consisting of ground beef, tomatoes, raisins, and olives. The New York Times calls it “the ultimate Cuban comfort food,” and reports that many preparations of picadillo derive from a 1954 recipe by Cuban chef Nitza Villapol. Variations on picadillo exist throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, but they always rely on ground meat. Ladle the sweet and savory beef over some rice and dinner’s set. The best part: it all cooks in one pan. Try this take from the blog Laylita’s Recipes.
7. Chinese Tomato and Egg
Both economical and easy to prepare, eggs are a go-to when it comes to comfort food in the U.S. and abroad. In a Chinese tomato and egg stir-fry, the ingredients are cooked with sesame oil, sugar, ginger, and ketchup to make a quick meal writer Francis Lam says “hits every pleasure center in the brain and makes it easy to scarf down a lot of rice, fast.” In his New York Times piece on the dish, he recalls eating it during childhood and describes the significance of tomato egg stir-fry in Chinese culture: “in Chinese cooking, the dish is like air, present and invisible.” This is an easy one to whip up — try Lam’s recipe below.
Ingredients (Serves 2 to 3):
- 6 eggs
- Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 pound beefsteak tomatoes in season, or 1 can of diced tomatoes in juice (14.5 ounces)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 scallions, sliced
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger (from about ¼-inch nub)
- Steamed rice, for serving
- In mixing bowl, beat eggs well with 1 teaspoon salt, sesame oil, and rice wine or sherry. In small bowl, stir together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water until well-combined, then stir in sugar and ketchup.
- If using fresh tomatoes, core and cut into ½-inch-wide wedges.
- Heat wide nonstick skillet over high heat with 3 tablespoons vegetable oil. When oil shimmers, add most scallions, saving some to garnish. Cook, stirring, until very aromatic (about 20 seconds). Add eggs and cook, stirring well with spatula or chopsticks, until just set but still runny (about 45 seconds). Pour eggs back into mixing bowl, and wipe out pan.
- Reheat pan over high heat with remaining tablespoon of oil. When hot, add ginger and cook until aromatic (about 15 seconds). Add tomatoes and salt to taste; cook, stirring occasionally, until flesh has softened but still has shape and juices have begun to form a sauce (2 to 3 minutes). (If using canned tomatoes, add juice as well and cook about 4 minutes, to reduce it to sauce-like consistency.)
- Reduce heat to medium. Give cornstarch-ketchup mixture a stir in bowl, then stir into pan. Cook, stirring, until sauce returns to boil and thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, sugar, or more ketchup — should be a savory, tart-sweet sauce. Stir eggs in bowl to cut up curds a bit, then return to pan. Cook, stirring, for few seconds to finish cooking eggs and to combine. Top with reserved scallions, and serve with steamed rice.
Ultimately, each of these international comfort foods carry years of history along with it. More than just yummy meals, they are traditions that strengthen family bonds and connect people across decades and cultures. Let us know which ones you try!