1. Macaroni and Cheese
Like Natalie, mac 'n' cheese is at the top of my list, now and forever.
Growing up it was a double-edged sword because we always had mac 'n' cheese alongside ham, easily my most-loathed meat. In general I have never been a hardcore meat lover, but things like chicken, pork, beef, turkey, and so on, I can eat without issue. I don't particularly like them but they're not abhorrent.
Ham, on the other hand, is gross. And you know what? It's still gross now, too. I've managed to outgrow a lot of my childhood aversions and dislikes, but ham is definitely NOT one of them.
So for years mac 'n' cheese was a mixed blessing. I would have to ration out bits of the mac 'n' cheese as rewards for finishing so many bites of ham. And then hope there would be enough left for a massive heaping reward of "HURRAY YOU ATE ALL YOUR HAM." When I was old enough that I could make my own dinners out of whatever I wanted, there were definitely a few nights where I just had like half a box of mac 'n' cheese right out of the serving bowl.
There's no Velveeta in Sweden, though. Sadface.
2. Dolsot bibimbap
What? Vegetables? This doesn't seem like it belongs in the same category as mac 'n' cheese, but it does. Piping hot in the stone pot, it warms you from the inside out. The best part? The crunchy rice at the bottom that fries in the sesame oil while you eat. Mmmm.
I ate this for lunch every day at my first school in South Korea. I struggled a lot at that first job, and the daily caloric dump of a bowl full of hot rice and veggies gave me the strength I needed to make it until 9 pm.
I really need to get a dolsot of my own.
3. Budae jjigae
Dolsot bibimbap is something you eat on your own; budae jjigae is something you eat with your friends. Sometimes after a long day teaching you don't feel like making dinner, so you get your friends to go out for dinner instead.
And there are any number of Korean dishes you can have, really, that would be about as comforting. Budae jjigae is especially dear to my heart because it is the signature dish of my Korean "hometown."
A jjigae is a Korean stew, of which there are innumerable varieties. Kimchi jjigae, tofu jjigae, tuna jjigae, and on and on. Budae jjigae features random bits of meat like you'd find in American military MREs: hot dogs, SPAM, and cheap sausage. During the Korean War, enterprising Koreans used these scraps to supplement their own cooking. So in addition to the meat, budae jjigae contains all the trappings of typical jjigaes: kimchi, mushrooms, tofu, bits of seaweed, and the spicy broth. However, budae jjigae is the only jjigae I've had that is also served with ramen noodles and slices of ddeok (rice cake).
The best way to have a bowl of budae jjigae is to eat the ramen noodles before they get too soggy, then go after all the large bits (ddeok, SPAM, hotdogs), and then have the remaining broth and little bits with rice. And if all that food doesn't make you feel better, the endless bottles of soju you're going to have with it will!
Every culture has some variation on the dumpling. I came to know them as pirogi, and they were regular dinner guests in our house, both the Hanka Foods pirogi (a local company that was bought by the company that makes Mrs. T's in 2001) and school fundraiser pirogi handmade by little old ladies whose names end in "-ski." Saute with onions and serve with sour cream. Heaven. Acceptable fillings: potato, with cheese or vegetable as you like.
The best part about pirogi when I was a kid was that they were a dish of their own. Unlike mac 'n' cheese, there was no nasty ham I had to contend with first to get to my starch-filled starch.
It wasn't until I went to college that I met people who had no idea what these were. Once in a while these were available at the dining hall and that was always a good night when that happened.
5. Fruity Pebbles
I don't care if this doesn't count as food. Disgustingly sweet sugar-loaded breakfast cereals are an important part of
a balanced breakfast American food culture. The only reason I don't take my grown-up Muesli with equal parts Fruity Pebbles is because there are no Fruity Pebbles (or weirdo European equivalent) at our grocery store. But this was my favorite cereal as a kid and a regular breakfast all the way through high school. Even as an adult I would cut my bowl of Kashi with equal parts Fruity Pebble to get me started. I have the same relationship with sugar that most people my age have with caffeine.
What are some of your favorite comfort foods?