Comfort food is just what it sounds like — food that comforts us, not just satisfying our hunger but warming us emotionally, making us feel better about life.
It has these effects for reasons that go beyond the way the food tastes. Certain dishes comfort us more than others because they’re familiar, unchallenging, easy to love — and because they’re linked to times or places when and where we have been content.
Comfort foods are often childhood favorites, or they may evoke memories of some favorite person or some carefree stage of life. They’re rarely if ever haute cuisine, and they’re usually hearty and often not particularly healthy. (There may be some people who consider a quinoa bowl or a bag of kale chips comfort food, but probably not many.)
Of course, what constitutes comfort food is highly subjective. What brings succor to one person might leave another person cold. There are some recurring themes, though. Ground meat and melted cheese are often involved in comfort food. So is pasta in one form or another. And chicken seems to be a favorite element. (These are the best restaurant chicken dishes in America.)
These foods are often regional. Loosemeat (basically sloppy-joe-style ground meat without the tomato-based sauce) and hotdish (a meat-and-vegetable casserole typically topped with tater tots) are comfort food par excellence in much of the Midwest. Loco moco — a dish that consists, in its traditional form, of white rice topped with a burger patty, gravy, and a fried egg — is widely considered comforting in Hawaii, but would probably be greeted with suspicion in Maine.
Every culture and every cuisine has its own comfort foods, of course — the need for comfort being pretty much universal. For Koreans, comfort food might mean the mixed rice dish bibimbap; for Egyptians, koshari (rice with lentils); for Peruvians, causa (mashed potatoes with chicken or other additions); for Senegalese, the fish and rice preparation thiéboudienne; for Australians, Vegemite on toast. Or something completely different in every case, depending on the person.
24/7 Tempo has assembled a list of some of the most common and popular comfort foods in America — the favorites that people make for themselves or order again and again when they need a little culinary TLC.
To determine America’s favorite comfort foods, 24/7 Tempo consulted stories on the subject from about 20 top culinary and lifestyle websites, including All Recipes, Food Network, Fine Cooking, Delish, Rachael Ray, Taste of Home, Southern Living, Food & Wine, The Daily Meal, Midwest Living, Sunset, Tasty, and The Spruce Eats. We collated their lists of dishes and chose the ones that appeared most frequently.