Comfort foods for the sick around the world?
October 15, 2009 4:03 PM   Subscribe

What are different cultures' versions of comfort foods that are prepared for people who are sick and feeling under the weather?

The dishes I know from firsthand experience are American chicken noodle soup, Japanese okayu (rice porridge), and Italian pasta in bianco (pasta, parmesan, olive oil). I'm curious about what other sick folks around the world are eating.
posted by illenion to Food & Drink (67 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
chinese have a rice porridge too. i can't remember what it's called.
posted by violetk at 4:06 PM on October 15, 2009

chinese have a rice porridge too. i can't remember what it's called.

posted by Adam_S at 4:07 PM on October 15, 2009

Oat porridge or toast; a bottle of Lucozade later. (North England, working class.)
posted by Sova at 4:13 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

My Hong Kong born-and-bred mother definitely makes a thin congee when we're desperately sick. Once we're a little better, but still feeling poorly, she makes macaroni elbows in chicken stock with some frozen vegetables and cubed Spam tossed in.

. . . Yeah, Spam. In fact, had a hellish round of gastrointestinal upset about two weeks ago, and the first solid thing I ate and kept in my stomach was half a can of reduced-salt, reduced-fat Spam, which is all my local yuppie convenience store had. What can I say? My parents grew up with Spam being a delicious, expensive imported meat treat, just the thing to tempt appetites.
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:14 PM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

England: warmed milk
posted by Jabberwocky at 4:15 PM on October 15, 2009

NY Jewish - Matzoh ball soup
posted by mollymayhem at 4:18 PM on October 15, 2009

Matzoh ball soup
posted by Frank Grimes at 4:19 PM on October 15, 2009

It doesn't have quite the cure-all reputation that it does in the US, but chicken soup is also recommended for the ill in Germany.
posted by jedicus at 4:20 PM on October 15, 2009


No, not the boy band.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:21 PM on October 15, 2009

If by "feeling under the weather" you can include a hangover: then a Full English Breakfast may well be on the menu.
posted by selton at 4:26 PM on October 15, 2009

Australia: vegemite on dry toast.

I wrote that and then thought that's ridiculous; other countries are going for rice porridge and salty soup and we're giving our ill people dry toast with vegemite? Surely not. Maybe that was just my mum being weird, but searching around there seem to be plenty of other people reporting the same experience.
posted by severalbees at 4:27 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Vietnamese: pho (you must try this if you haven't already - also awesome for a hangover)
posted by sickinthehead at 4:39 PM on October 15, 2009

I'm Australian, but my Maltese mother made us a gentle pasta dish, which was made by cooking and draining pasta (spaghetti or even penne), putting it back in the saucepan, adding an egg and some grated cheese, salt and pepper, and stirring until the egg is cooked. I make this some nights when I feel delicate or unwell. It's tasty/bland/comforting/good.
posted by lottie at 4:46 PM on October 15, 2009

In Puerto Rico I would say it is asopao, which is a rice soup/stew that is usually made with chicken but can also be made with things like shrmip and pigeon peas.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 4:47 PM on October 15, 2009

From my boyfriend's Italian grandmother: a couple of beef or chicken bullion cubes crumbled and simmered in a little butter, then add water and a handful of whatever small dry pasta you have on hand and bring to a boil.
posted by scody at 4:57 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Scots: oatmeal and whiskey cure everything.
posted by x46 at 5:01 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Myself (N.England, working class) and my SO (S.England, middle class) both associate lucozade with getting over an illness. Proper lucozade that tastes like shit mind, none of this fruit flavoured modern stuff.
posted by biffa at 5:02 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Growing up in South India I got offered the following when sick:
Kanji (similar to congee above).
Pepper rasam (thin soupy substance, usually eaten over rice, but here drunk from a glass).
Arrowroot biscuits (for some reason this was considered appropriate for invalids, probably because they were so tasteless no one else liked them.)
Jelly (=Jello)
Various herbal concoctions including dried ginger tisanes, cumin water for stomach aches etc.
Mutton bone soup
This was also usually the only time my parents allowed me to eat chicken soup made from a packet, rather than from scratch.
posted by peacheater at 5:08 PM on October 15, 2009

I'm told that bibimbap is Korean comfort food. I can certainly attest to it's usefulness as comfort food, as it's something I always make when I'm feeling under the weather.

Ropa Vieja is Cuban comfort food (ha! I've posted about ropa vieja twice in one day!) This was my old standby when I lived back in South Florida.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:16 PM on October 15, 2009

Marmite on toast is far superior to vegemite. (I'm a kiwi)

I think it works because it's a strong savoury flavour so it always taastes good, even with blocked noses and sore throats and whatever else is going on.
posted by shelleycat at 5:19 PM on October 15, 2009

Growing up in England I distinctly remember being given dry toast and Lucozade as a child when feeling ill... in Canada, the equivalent seems to be ginger ale, though only for upset stomachs, not general illness..
posted by modernnomad at 5:20 PM on October 15, 2009

My midwest-US-raised mom used to give us a milk toast and flat 7-UP when we were sick.
posted by belladonna at 5:55 PM on October 15, 2009

For Ms. scruss, 7-up and saltines kept her midwestern family from urpiness.

For me, the ultimate comforting food if I was a wee poorly Scot was egg in a cup. Hardboiled egg scooped out into a cup, add a little butter, salt and pepper, then chop up with a knife. The chopping stage must be done withing earshot of the patient, as the reassuring clinka clinka clinka sound is a sign that you're being looked after, and is better than any medicine.
posted by scruss at 6:41 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

As a small 4th generation Californian, I was given ginger ale and saltine crackers when I was sick. Sometimes red Jell-o. What were they thinking?!
posted by chez shoes at 6:51 PM on October 15, 2009

Raised by a Southern-bred woman with Scottish roots: during an illness, orange juice mixed with 7-UP, saltine crackers. Getting better: same, plus chicken soup - broth only. On the mend: soft-boiled eggs and buttered toast (eggs and soldiers!).
posted by cooker girl at 6:59 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

When we were sick, my mom gave us "Jello soup" which was basically Jello in the first stage of preparation (add boiling water and let cool a bit). I still remember it fondly. She was third generation Oregonian.
posted by patheral at 7:06 PM on October 15, 2009

My mom always made me khichri, sometimes served (depending on how I was feeling, I guess) with a small bowl of plain yogurt on the side. We're from Punjab.
posted by sa3z at 7:11 PM on October 15, 2009

Central Europe: Borscht.
posted by smoke at 7:37 PM on October 15, 2009

as a kid, when i had a sore throat, my russian mother would give me tea, and make "goggle moggle" ... raw eggs, melted butter, hot milk and honey (and cocoa powder, my mom's special touch). i never died from salmonella and it made my throat feel better, so the risk was worth it :)
posted by anya32 at 7:45 PM on October 15, 2009

Australian. Apart from the Chicken soup and citrus for colds, vegemite on toast.
posted by kjs4 at 7:50 PM on October 15, 2009

USA -- Chicken Rice soup, Oatmeal, Hot Chocolate. toast with butter, orange juice
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 8:12 PM on October 15, 2009

My mom is Vietnamese and the second I get sick, she comes over with rice soup. It's delicious, and the only thing I look forward to eating when I'm sick. It's basically just rice, broth, and sometimes a few rice noodles. She only makes it when people are sick.
posted by fresh-rn at 8:18 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Okayu in Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm from California, both my parents were also born in California, we're a white & middle eastern family, and our sick food is tom yum soup. I think this is because my mom always got sick when anyone else got sick and she was the one who usually cooked, so when she wasn't feeling good we had takeout. Too many non-chicken-eaters in the family for chicken noodle from a can like everyone else had, plus we could ask for it extra spicy and it'd clear out the sinuses a little. This is obviously only useful for head colds...I wouldn't recommend tom yum soup for stomachache.

To drink, Good Earth tea, or Red Zinger, and ginger ale for tummy trouble.
posted by crinklebat at 9:35 PM on October 15, 2009

My Japanese-American grandmother used to make hot lemonade for her kids when they were sick.
posted by creepygirl at 9:35 PM on October 15, 2009

i was raised by my grandparents: old south (family there for ~400 years) and old philly (250+ years), and i was always given hot water or tea with lots of lemon and honey. a bit of whiskey if nana wasn't around.

my partner from cincinnati was given the same (minus the whiskey) growing up.
posted by chicago2penn at 10:03 PM on October 15, 2009

OH! I nearly forgot. My Irish ex brought me jelly candies and made me shandys when I was sick. He turned out to be an alcoholic, though, so maybe not all Irish drink shandys when they're sick.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:03 PM on October 15, 2009

When I got the Worst Flu Evar my freshman year of college, the Chinese-American girl down the hallway made me a broth from dried puffball mushrooms, assuring me that this was what her mother always made her. I'm not quite sure if it qualifies as "food" or as "medicine", though.
posted by Netzapper at 10:15 PM on October 15, 2009

Another CA kid - both parents also from CA. I had mostly bland things when I was sick - toast, applesauce, saltines. Most of all, I remember drinking lots of juice - mainly apple, occasionally orange. I was also encouraged to drink as much water as I could manage.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:30 PM on October 15, 2009

In Texas, a Route 44 limeade from Sonic. It's great for a sore throat!
posted by Balna Watya at 11:27 PM on October 15, 2009

Northwesterner, daughter of displaced Southerners of Irish and Italian descent:

Besides the usual buttered toast, Gatorade, and saltines, I grew up with my grandmother's special cough syrup (whiskey cooked down with melted honey), plain buttered pasta (elbow macaroni or wagon wheels for extra feel-better-ability), and my mom's mashed potato soup. When I was on my way back to the land of the living and needed to be coaxed back into eating, my mom made delicious, delicious cheese grits. So comforting.

Additionally, other people in my life have introduced get-better recipes like Japanese-style seaweed soup with rice, kimchi soup (Korean, full of tofu and veggies, and spicy enough to unstuff stuffy noses), ochazuke (Japanese, affectionately known as "chacha rice"), and fresh ginger tea.
posted by teamparka at 12:00 AM on October 16, 2009

My mother is Scottish, and when I was sick, I'd get toast (with a tiny scraping of butter), and hot Ribena, and sometimes a cup of milky tea.

When my mother was ill as a child, my grandmother used to serve her potted heid (which my mother describes as "gelatinous boiled sheep heads" - apparently, a local favorite). I am remarkably glad she did not carry this tradition on with me.
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 12:15 AM on October 16, 2009

When I'm sick, my Greek husband makes me short-grained white rice (boiled, not steamed) with olive oil and lemon, and it's wonderful. You just throw the rice in the water (2+ water to 1 rice, roughly - a little more water than if you were steaming) add some olive oil (a couple of generous tablespoons for a couple of cups of cooked rice) and boil until the rice is done and the water is cooked out, squeezing some fresh lemon (we use about a half a medium-to-small juicy lemon) in there when it's close to done.
posted by taz at 12:31 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not really a comfort food, but salty sticks and coke are known as a (somewhat disputed) household remedy against sickness and diarrhea in Germany. Also, zwieback.
posted by Skybly at 1:43 AM on October 16, 2009


No, not the boy band.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:21 AM

Not really. Where are you from?

It is a reputed hangover cure but thats not the same as comfort food served when you're sick. Among my Mexican grandmothers that would be Albondigas - which now that I think of it is oddly similar to Matzoh ball soup.
posted by vacapinta at 1:48 AM on October 16, 2009

When I'm sick my mom makes me (Korean):
Bean sprout soup with lots of chilli flakes - this is if I have a stuffed nose
Rice porridge with real chicken, ginseng, and dried dates - takes literally 2 days to make, gotta love her.
posted by like_neon at 2:06 AM on October 16, 2009

My Dutch boyfriend likes to eat stamppot with endives when he's under the weather. Also, Daro for coughs, sore throats, etc.
posted by transporter accident amy at 2:11 AM on October 16, 2009

Khichri, a pre-Columbian mess of soggy basmati rice cooked with browned onions and chicken or moong daal and flavoured only with peppercorns, salt, cloves and black cardamom. With yoghurt. Also my favourite lunch on days when work feels like an ailment.

For stomach ailments: plain roti or boiled rice with home-made yoghurt. Sometimes washed down with a glass of Nimcol.

For colds: Joshanda.

For bad headaches: buttered toast dipped in sweet milky tea.

A peg of highly illegal brandy (thanks, British Raj).

All in Pakistan.
posted by tavegyl at 2:16 AM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I can say from personal experience that Soon Doo Boo (a spicy Korean soup) makes you feel much better. I ordered it because I specifically asked, "What's a good soup for when you're sick?" It apparently is a favorite of young Koreans recovering from a hangover. If you are stuffed up, it will all clear away. Just make sure you have plenty of tissues because you will start flooding.

A friend of mine who is more sensitive to spice reported that the soup, which I brought her when she was ill, caused no end of trouble on the way out but took the cold with it.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:17 AM on October 16, 2009

Marmite and congee is amazing comfort food. I think it has to do with a mixture of colonial and Asian influence.
posted by moiraine at 4:00 AM on October 16, 2009

If you live in Michigan and have the flu / nausea, you are drinking Vernors. If you ain't drinking it, you ain't doing it right.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:39 AM on October 16, 2009

I'm told that bibimbap is Korean comfort food. I can certainly attest to it's usefulness as comfort food, as it's something I always make when I'm feeling under the weather.

Maybe, but everyone I know here (including my wife and her family) eats ("jook"), a rice porrige probably similar to the Chinese one above. It comes in a lot of different flavors, from sweet ones like pumpkin to my wife's favorite, abalone. I like the pine nut one. It's pretty good.

Luckily there's a 죽 spot nearby so I can run get it when she takes ill.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:45 AM on October 16, 2009

In SW PA USA, we got hot sweet tea with Tang mixed in, accompanied by Saltine crackers or hot buttered toast. Or ginger ale, for tummy troubles.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 5:51 AM on October 16, 2009

Scandinavian cultures do a sort of rice pudding. In Sweden, it has raisins. In Iceland, it is milk & rice & cinnamon sugar. Sometimes, maccaroni pudding can suffice if rice is not available.

My German grandmother would mix up hot milk & honey for me for general illness and hot lemonade with honey for sore throats.

I also associate orange soda with getting over an illness, but that's probably just something my parents did because I liked it and not necessarily any kind of cultural thing. (See also: grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:57 AM on October 16, 2009

Caldo de pollo and pho for me. For my daughter, cinnamon toast and hot water with lemon and honey. Also, multi colored jello is prepared and offered enticingly with "it'll be so entertaining, you'll throw up pretty colors!" ... she has never accepted the jello but it does make her laugh.
posted by Allee Katze at 7:40 AM on October 16, 2009

How about Farina or Avena? I'm 3rd generation Puerto Rican. Oddly enough google image search gives me some NSFW pics. OK - Farina!! My grandfather hooks it up by adding milk, cinnamon, star anise. But I'd gag if there were any lumps in it.

posted by mokeydraws at 7:49 AM on October 16, 2009

Oops, scripted windows not allowed? Here is the Farina link
posted by mokeydraws at 7:53 AM on October 16, 2009

Yeah, in Korean culture, bibimbap isn't for when you're sick; juk is. The anti-hangover food is a kind of seaweed soup, called hae jang gook. Other kinds of food are acceptable in both situations, but these really are the canonical examples.
posted by smorange at 8:00 AM on October 16, 2009

Chicken vermicelli soup and mashed potatoes are pretty much standard sick food in Turkey.
posted by joydrop at 8:53 AM on October 16, 2009

Southern U.S.:

Stomachache: flat hot Blenheim ginger ale or Coke, saltines

General illness/flu/sore throat: buttered toast, chicken soup, matzo ball soup, saltines or Wasa, ice cream, Jell-O, applesauce, tea with honey and lemon, Russian tea (the absolute best thing ever when I had bronchitis and pneumonia and nothing else would help with the coughing), cream of wheat, Tobasco by the spoonful for stuffy sinuses
posted by notashroom at 9:02 AM on October 16, 2009

Romania: toast rubbed with garlic and spread with a little butter, chamomile, mint, or linden tea (with honey and lemon for a cold, plain for a stomach ache), boiled rice with sugar and/or cocoa powder sprinkled on it, chicken soup
posted by agent99 at 10:39 AM on October 16, 2009

Finland: warm black currant juice. Blueberry soup (sweet blueberry juice thickened with potato starch). Tea with honey.

My parents' generation still had to endure a concoction called onion milk at the first signs of illness: boiled water with milk and chunks of onion (and usually a little sugar) in it. Not exactly comfort food, mind you, as it apparently tastes just as revolting as one would imagine. (Although every time we fell ill, Mum comforted us with the thought that she'd never make onion milk for us, so there's that.)
posted by sively at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2009

UK: Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup
posted by janecr at 3:02 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Michigan raised, big family: like the Californian, ginger ale and saltine crackers if the ailment was digestive. If it was a cold, chicken soup. And the privilege of having it served to you on the couch!
posted by sparrowdance at 8:27 PM on October 16, 2009

I grew up in South Indian (Madras). The comfort food du jour was Idli. They are made with little or no oil. And the cooking by steaming, for some reason, was considered to be a Good Thing for ailing patients.
posted by thaths at 6:49 AM on October 17, 2009

Gujerathi roots - default meals if we had a cold or runny nose - Kadhi and rice.

Stomach upsets though- orange soda (Fanta) or ginger ale, and dry toast
posted by darsh at 10:08 AM on October 19, 2009

My Filipina mom makes sinigang na baboy (a sour, tamarind-based soup with pork) served over rice when anyone in the family is sick. She likes to throw in a hot pepper or two, making the soup both sour and hot... good for a stuffy, sickly head.

My midwestern dad, left to his own devices, makes milk toast (mentioned above).
posted by vespertine at 1:42 PM on October 20, 2009

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