What is Comfort Food? Which Greek dishes are considered comfort foods?
Photo and text by Panos Diotis and Mirella Kaloglou
The term “Comfort Food” is one of those that are appearing more and more, in articles regarding cooking and gastronomy. However, there are still many people who don’t know what exactly does this term mean; even if they have some idea of what it means, people are often facing some difficulty to judge whether a food is a comfort food or not.
So, what is comfort food? The definition used by most people, is the one from the Webster dictionary, according to which, comfort food is a traditional food which has a "nostalgic" or sentimental effect to the person who is eating it. This is quite a broad definition, isn’t it?
In our opinion, comfort food, cannot be defined in strict terms. The reason for this, is that comfort food is related to feelings. It’s related to foods that are making us feel good, creating positive emotions. Therefore, that may differ from person to person. Moreover, this category of foods, includes traditional dishes, which we tasted in the family table and have sentimental value to us.
We believe that there are two main categories of comfort foods: a) foods related to tradition and culture, which are different from country to country and b) foods that have a sentimental value for an individual but may not be characterized as comfort foods for the genetal public.
Comfort food in Greece
In the Greek local culture, there is a large variety of traditional dishes and desserts which we can define as comfort foods; All of them are related to Greek tradition and the Greek family table.
Such dishes are the following:
- Moussaka (Greek Eggplants and Ground Beef Casserole)
- Pastitsio (Greek Pasta and Ground Beef Casserole)
- Keftedakia (Greek meatballs) or Soutzoukakia (Smyrna meatballs)
- Pasta with Ground Meat (more less the Bolognese recipe)
- Fasolada (Beans soup), Fakes (Lentil soup)
- Gemista (Stuffed Vegetables)
- Skordalia (Garlic paste/dip)
- Giouvetsi (Pasta and Meat Casserole)
- Chicken soup or Fish soup
- Roast Chicken with Potatoes (or any meat cooked in oven with potatoes, olive oil and Mediterranean herbs)
- Souvlaki, Gyros (Fast Food) and Tzatziki (Garlic-Yogurt dip)
- Traditional Greek Pies (Spanakopita-Spinach pie, Greens pie/Hortopita, Cheese pie, Ground Meat pie, Pumpkin or Zucchini pie, Small cheese pies/Tyropitakia etc.)
- Magiritsa (Lamb/Goat parts soup), Roast Lamb or Goat and Kokoretsi (Roast Lamb/Goat Intestines with Liver and spices) during Greek Orthodox Easter
- Pork with Celery and egg-lemon sauce or Fried pork during Christmas
- Galaktoboureko (phyllo and cream with syrup dessert), Baklava (phyllo with syrup and pistachios or/and walnuts), Kadaifi (pastry which looks like angel hair pasta with syrup and nuts), Ravani (Semolina cake), Samali (Semolina cake with Chios Mastic), Rizogalo (Greek Rice Pudding).
- Koulourakia (butter or olive oil based cookies in special shapes)
- Giaourti/Yaourti me meli (Greek yogurt, with walnuts and thyme/wildflower honey)
- Traditional ice cream like Kaimaki (Chios Mastic flavored), or Pistachio flavor.
- Diples (fried thin sheets of dough with syrup), Melomakarona (Syrup-drenched honey & lemon or orange zest cookies), Kourabiedes (cookies with almonds coated with icing sugar)
We see that these are foods which Greeks are introduced to since childhood, and are part of the Greek gastronomic tradition. Therefore, they have a strong sentimental impact when consumed by Greeks.
Comfort food beyond traditions: The impact on the individual
We discussed about foods related to tradition and local culture; But there are also some, which can be defined as comfort foods as well; these are foods, that can be characterized as comfort foods on an individual level.
Each person has a different personality and preferences. Therefore, a food may have a sentimental value to an individual, and constitute a comfort food for that person. The same food may not be a mainstream comfort food for the general public, but still it is a comfort food to that person.
So, a comfort food for a Greek, on an individual level, may be some roast octopus, some fried eggplants, or even chocolate cookies.
Some other examples of non-mainstream comfort foods which may have an impact on the individual level are:
- Various fried vegetables (like these zucchini fritters) or meats (like fried pork "tigania")
- Fried or Roast Seafood (like fried mussels or baked shrimp "saganaki")
- Greek Salad (Horiatiki)
- Potato salad or French fries (with or without any sauce)
- Tiganopsomo (Greek Fried Bread with Feta)
- Nontraditional desserts(e.g. éclair, mille-feuilles, profiterole, crème brûlée, cheesecake, mousse)
- Ice cream
Comfort food and nutrition
If we take a look at comfort foods, we notice that they are usually foods that are high in fat or carbohydrates or both.
This can be easily explained; Foods with high fat content are usually tastier (just look at bacon for example!) and therefore are fulfilling our need for gastronomic pleasure.
On the other hand, foods which are high in carbohydrates have been reported in various articles or studies, to positively affect the psychology. After all, the brain uses such foods as a fuel.
So it’s only natural, that most comfort foods have a high content of either or both of these nutritional categories.
Comfort food is the food that makes us feel good!
As a conclusion, we can just say that comfort food is the food that creates good, positive emotions. Some types of food that have such an effect in large parts of a society are common, global, comfort foods, because they are connected to common experiences and traditions. Other foods are "individual” comfort foods, as they are connected to individual experiences and are better serving personal preferences.
When we talk about cooking and gastronomy, we don’t have to be so "strict" when using such terms, as they are connected to feelings and emotions, which can vary from person to person or country to country.
So let’s enjoy our favorite comfort food every now and then, the one that lifts our spirit up, and makes us feel great!
We would like to thank the nutritionist-dietician Ms.Vicky Papavasileiou (email: [email protected]), for her feedback on this article.