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May 21, 2007 09:10 AM

Defining "Comfort Food"

Help me define comfort food. I knwo what comforts me---pot roast, braised short ribs, good cheese. I know what comforts others---mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, etc. I think of casseroles as being comfort food.

Can you all help me with a decent definition. My husband is a scholar and linguistics is a hobby so he's just not buying my explanations.

Thanks for the help.

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  1. To me, comfort food is something that makes me smile when I eat it. I can close my eyes, and it conjures up wonderful memories. It makes me feel like a warm blanket is wrapped around me. A comfort food can relax me when I'm wound up, or make me feel better when I'm sad. It's something I can savor in smell, taste, texture. Most comfort foods stem from memories of eating them with my family. When I have a bowl of PA Dutch chicken pot pie, for instance, I think of my family, because the recipe has been passed down through the generations.
    It's not a very good definition, but I'm not sure you can define it. It's almost an intangible concept.

    1. Comfort food is food that makes you feel better, makes you feel warmer, happier and that things will be better soon. On a cold gray winter day (the entire month of February for example) a bowl of homemade chicken soup with dumplings is the best thing - just knowing that I've got it on the stove makes me feel better.
      Foods that make you smile when you see them, before you've even had your first bite, work too. Peanut butter cookies with the sugared fork marks, especially warm, works for me - thats the first type of cookie I ever made.
      Foods that someone you love used to make for you is a comfort. My husband's grandmother used to make a German Chocolate Cake for his birthday every year. She is gone but I have the recipe. When I make it, we smile and say "Just like Grandma's", and it almost is - it doesn't have quite as much love in it! We had dinner at a restaurant here in town recently and our entree was duck - now she never made duck for us but this dish tasted like someone had spent the day in the kitchen cooking it. It was fabulous and had a flavor-note that reminded us of Grandma. That was comforting.

      Thats what I'm thinking comfort food is - love on a plate.
      Hope that helps!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Cookiefiend

        I think that familiarity is cofort, so comfort foods are things that we are familiar with and have liked. Foods that connect to our positive thoughts and please our sences.

        Because we all have different things that we are familiar with and that we enjoy smelling and eating, the personal definition for what our comfort foods are change from person to person.

        I totally agree with cookiefriend in what he or she said.


        1. re: Cookiefiend

          Chicken and dumplings, German Chocolate cake for my birthday, Peanut butter cookies. OMG - I think we grew up in the same house!

        2. My idea of comfort food isn't one that evokes memories, but a very personal feeling of complete and utter happiness when I'm eating it. When I eat chicken fried steak with creamy mashed potaotes and creamy gravy, I'm not thinking of past memories.As a kid, I couldn' stand potatoes in any shape except fries, because I thought they were gritty. I certainly couldn't have any memory of egg drop soup another of my favorite comfort foods, I know for a fact that I ever ate very much ethnic cuisine unless at a restaurant, because my parents just cooked the usual fare. As a result of that I didn't begin to experience ethnic cuisines until I was in my 20s.

          So comfort food to me is a food that creates a heightend personal experience between ones body and all the senses and then their soul, like a healing.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chef chicklet

            My daughter (age 12) is also an "only fries" kid. I could never understand how she could possibly find anything objectionable about a bland food like potatoes, but perhaps it's the texture, not the taste. I had never thought of that, so thanks for your post! Here's hoping she'll get over it, as you clearly have. :-)

            1. re: bklynite

              I can still remember scraping mashed potatoes off my tongue and having a gritty feeling on my teeth. Expected to clean my plate I would make a bee-line to brush my teeth.

              Now, HA! I could live on them! More than likely she will learn to love them, I was exactly that same age when I considered them grody. There's hope!

          2. I'd love to add a piggyback question (if that's OK): What are some translations of the expression "comfort food" into other languages? I've noticed that this category seems to be almost exclusively anglophone. I'm currently living in France, and I have the hardest time explaining the magic of grilled cheese sandwiches, poutine, fluffer-nutter, and PB&J.

            6 Replies
            1. re: LMGM

              La Cuisine Grand-mere, or Cuisine your case, just say Cuisine Bourgeoise Americaine! Of course, if your French friends aren't foodies at all they still might not catch on, but I have no experience of non-foodie French people, and for all I know they don't exist...

              Some of my favorite comfort foods are French, such as tripes Provençale, cassoulet, choucroute garni, tête de veau...if you can get it at a brasserie or bistro, I'd say it's eligible for the category.

              1. re: Will Owen

                My favorite comfort food of a French origin is tartiflette ... and I'm not even that big of a cheese fan, generally speaking.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  Thanks! Although I'm more likely to say Cuisine Bourgeoise Canadienne, if anything. Especially poutine, which is practically Québec's "national" dish. I've noticed that fries & gravy are rare in the states, outside of the New England-NYC-Philly corridor.

                  1. re: LMGM

                    Poutine is actually a fairly recent (certainly post Second World War, probably 1960s) development, and not in any way one of our "national dishes", which would be more things like tourtière or soupe aux pois.

                    Comfort food is one of those expressions, and concepts, that are actually hard to translate - I've seen "nourriture reconfortante" (very literal) and "aliments doudous" (which emphasizes the regression into childhood).

                    I don't think regression into childhood is looked upon so kindly in French-speaking countries. In France, one might eat childish things such as "petits suisses" (bland, rich pots of white cheese") or those milk-based desserts in plastic pots one finds in French supermarkets. Or perhaps a Proustian madeleine?

                    1. re: LMGM

                      "Wet fries" are pretty common sandwich-shop fare here in SoCal - there's a local chain called The Hat that has'em on the menu, and they're really popular, though I haven't tried them. I'm more of a mayonnaise guy myself ;-)

                      There's a Canadian place over in Monrovia that has poutine, too. LA County: the Land of All Foods!

                  2. re: LMGM

                    In Japanese, I'm not sure if there's a direct translation for "comfort food", but there's an expression "ofukuro no aji" which means "taste of your mom's cooking". The term refers to a nostalgic feeling over certain flavors.

                  3. I think it can be described as rustic, homestyle food.