Lifestyle

Comfort chow around the world

Hands up, those who binged on comfort food as the world went into lockdown in the past few months.

In times of crisis, it is not surprising that people turn to comfort fare for a sense of familiarity and normality.

I am sure food-loving Singaporeans, allowed to dine out two weeks ago after 21/2 months, indulged in their fair share of these foods when they were cooped up indoors.

In Europe, both the French and Italians, always passionate about food, have on average gained at least 2.5kg during their two-month lockdown.

While comfort eats are often associated with junk food and quick-and-easy fixes (think stodgy, fatty, carb-loaded), they are more than just a guilty pleasure to me. They can also be dishes rich in history, culture or nostalgia.

I once discovered a casserole dish in France that tells the story of the country's history with its power-hungry neighbour Germany. And it is hard to find a more soul-soothing breakfast in Taiwan than a bowl of local cereal.

There is comfort in life's little pleasures. So let me introduce you to some of my favourite comfort chow from around the world.

1 Fish and chips, Britain

As an Aussie, I find it hard to give Britain credit for excellent fish and chips, but nothing could be more British than sitting by the sea and tucking into a tray of fish and chips with mushy peas.

Mr Winston Churchill, the British prime minster in the 1940s, called them "the perfect accompaniment" to each other. I have to agree.

The dish of lightly battered crispy fish with big, fat crunchy chips can be found everywhere in the country, but for the best, head to the seaside, like Whitby in the north, and eat them hot and fresh.

Do not forget the vinegar and a cold beer.

2 Ramen, Japan

From New York to Paris, Japanese ramen has a cult following.

A warm and hearty bowlful ticks all the boxes of what comfort food should be.

There are many varieties in Japan, depending on the prefecture, such as soya sauce-, miso-and salt-based ramen.

Hakata ramen is my favourite and you can get a bowl for less than 1,000 yen (S$13). It has a pork broth with long thin egg noodles and is best slurped up with all the trimmings – egg, bamboo shoots and pork belly.

Ask for extra oil and be sure to yell "kaedama" when you want another bowl.

3 Savoury soya milk, Taiwan

For me, braised pork on rice, stinky tofu and oyster pancakes are all comfort fare from Taiwan because they bring back childhood memories of eating with my family.

Taiwan's beef noodle soup is probably the ultimate comfort dish for locals, but you cannot miss the breakfast staple – curdled soya bean milk.

Start your morning on the side of a street, slurping down a hot bowl of savoury soya milk with pork floss, pickled vegetables and fried doughnuts to dunk.

4 Cheese fondue and rosti, Switzerland

Fondue comes with a bad reputation of being just a big pot of melted cheese served with stale bread. But find the right places in Switzerland that serve this very retro dish and you will not be disappointed.

Meant as a winter warmer, the best varieties include two types of cheeses, Gruyere and Vacherin – known as moitie-moitie which is unique to the La Gruyere region in Fribourg.

At home, I prepare fondue using any good melting cheese which comes in its own wooden tub. I pour white wine on top of the cheese and bake in a hot oven till it turns gooey.

Another typical comfort food found in fondue restaurants is rosti – pan-fried grated potatoes, served with a fried egg and, yes, lots of melted cheese.

5 Moqueca, Brazil

The South American country's national dish has to be feijoada, a dish of beef, pork and black beans which gives it its distinctive dark hue.

But my Brazilian friends all love the other national dish, moqueca, a seafood stew. In a country known for its beaches, hot bods and coconuts by the water, moqueca gives many locals a sense of place.

Enjoy freshly caught seafood cooked with spices and coconut milk – served in a traditional terracotta pot with hot sauce, farofa (fried bread crumbs) and caipirinha, a zesty cocktail made with the local sugarcane liquor cachaca.

Head to Mercado de Productor, a seafood market with restaurants in Barra da Tijuca, a neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. I tried the dish at Cia do Camarao Restaurant.

6 Pierogis, Poland

If you love dumplings, you will surely love Poland's version, called pierogis.

While there are sweet renditions packed with strawberries and blueberries, I personally love, and recommend, the meat or cheese pierogis, which are cooked in melted butter and sprinkled with crispy bacon.

My personal favourites are the ones served at Karczma Zagloba, which is a little out of the way as it is on the outskirts of Warsaw. But they are worth the trip.

If you are in the city of Poznan, I recommend Restaurant Autentyk for a high-brow version of duck pierogis.

7 Schnitzel, Austria

Every time I visit Austria, I have to eat schnitzel, a lightly battered pork fillet served with cranberry sauce and soft-boiled potatoes bathed in butter.

Locals love it and it is found in nearly every restaurant in Austria – even the Michelin-starred joints have it on their lunch menu.

But you do not have to be fancy with this comfort food – just sit in a beer garden and enjoy it with a 1-litre jug of beer.

8 Alsatian Choucroute Garnie, France

France's Alsace region is one of my favourite places for food. It is almost impossible to visit a restaurant and be disappointed.

The late American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain regularly travelled there to eat the national dish, Choucroute Garnie (sauerkraut or picRead More – Source