Traditional shelf-stable comfort meals in different cultures
March 30, 2020 3:32 PM   Subscribe

What are some meals consumed in various cultures that make use of only shelf-stable ingredients, need minimal cooking, and are considered comfort food (or at least relatively tasty)? Rules: no refrigerated/frozen or ready-to-serve meals. If it requires a can or jar, it should be something that one could theoretically make and preserve themselves, even if they choose to buy it.

The quintessential example is pasta and tomato sauce in the US*. I'm also thinking of rice and pickle (the hot sauce, not the cucumber) in India.

* I don't actually know how prevalent it is in Italy.
posted by redlines to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
In South Asia, dal bhat (rice and lentils).
posted by maya at 3:38 PM on March 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

There are countess ways to make congee, but my faves revolve around dried shrimp and dried pork.
posted by advicepig at 3:43 PM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

You can make a very basic chili with just dried chiles or chili powder, cumin/coriander/oregano, canned tomatoes, and kidney beans.
posted by rjacobs at 3:54 PM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Chana masala over rice seems pretty straightforward, assuming you have garam masala on hand.
posted by radioamy at 4:02 PM on March 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Rice dolmas in tomato sauce. (Dont tell my nana, but you can leave out the lamb)
Rice pilaf
Couscous with nuts and raisins
Properly canned pesto is shelf stable!
Dosas with chutney -- I make mine of cooked rice and beans, put through a food mill or processor, and fermented overnight
posted by ananci at 4:11 PM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Pasta puttanesca fits the bill - pasta, olives, anchovies, cayenne pepper, garlic, salt.
posted by dum spiro spero at 4:17 PM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Instant noodles, in a wide variety of brands and flavors, are low-effort comfort food in many, many parts of the world
posted by horizons at 4:22 PM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to thread sit, but instant noodles wouldn’t qualify, since it’s a ready to eat meal and also not something once can make and preserve at home easily (AFAIK).
posted by redlines at 4:26 PM on March 30, 2020

Rice and beans.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:33 PM on March 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Well, if not ramen, then noodles + vinegar + egg. Noodles + vinegar + peanut butter / sesame paste.

And repping the rice-eating side of my family, congee + pickled turnip.
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:20 PM on March 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

Tuna noodle casserole, green bean casserole, etc.
posted by mskyle at 6:29 PM on March 30, 2020

Corned beef is beef that's been salted and put in a barrel to preserve it, often cooked with potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnip - foods that keep well in a cool area, and it's a meal often served in spring to use up the old veg. It is usually simmered for quite a while, though. Creamed chipped beef is dried beef in a white sauce, on toast.

Bacon. Pemmican, jerky, dried fruit, preserves. Marmalade is a way to use lots of the parts of citrus fruit and preserve it in sugar. Eggs can be preserved for when the hens don't lay in winter. Salt cod and lutefisk. My parents, who grew up in the Depression in New England, liked salt cod & potatoes. Finnan haddie. Bread probably qualifies; grains keep well. Polenta/ grits. Pie; apples store well, and you could have a sweet treat in winter. Some cheeses are fairly shelf-stable, basically a way to preserve milk.

This question, actually, my answer, makes me feel old.
posted by theora55 at 6:47 PM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

posted by kapers at 8:07 PM on March 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Fermented bean curd/ tofu. After the introduction of chili peppers, spicy versions became popular.

Very pungent. A little bit mixed with steamed white rice makes staple rice-eating for calories go a long way. Also introduces some essential amino acids not present in rice.

As advicepig mentioned above, dried shrimp can be done, and dried pork probably refers to pork floss which I've known friends' moms who actually do it at home. Like dried shrimp (in a variety of grades), conpoy is dried scallop/ the connective stump in other moluscs can likewise be done. It's just sun-drying/ dehydration.

However, it's century egg that ties that particular congee together. It's eminently doable, but exceedingly rare in modern times.

Another ingredient in preserved congee are pickled/ salted "mustard tops/ greens." Not much different to make than any other salted/ pickled preserve.


Not my culture, but I see "make kimchi at home" kits at the local Korean supermarkets.

Likewise, I suppose sauerkraut could also be considered comfort food by some.


I get that you're asking for something like an "authentic" mac'n'cheese+ketchup+blackpepper that doesn't come from a box.

Might be a North American thing, but poverty/ subsistance cuisine that's good/ tasty enough to overcome material limitations tends to involve a rather lot of work to make preserves and then render the preserves tasty.

Home-canned (preserved) spaghetti sauce - I've made spaghetti sauce with friends who are passionate about it and it's an all-day event to make a batch of sauce. Lots of work. Same with canning, but canning requires a little more technical know-how than the art of making sauce.

If you include freezing as a "shelf stable" option, you open up an incredible world of dumplings (fillings wrapped in something) from a very large percentage of cultures on earth. I enjoy dumpling wrapping parties of all kinds. Gets people together, everyone does a little bit of everything, there's teaching and learning, and it's pretty assembly-line so lots of chatter can be had.

Actually preparing the dumplings for eating tends (tends) to be much less involved than making the dumplings in the first place.
posted by porpoise at 8:55 PM on March 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

- Kimchi fried rice
- Rice with a fried egg, butter and soy sauce (and kimchi)
- Kimchi stew
- When I was growing up and we had NOTHING to eat, my mom made a dumpling sort of soup using just flour and water. She would drop pieces of this paste into a broth of dried anchovies. At the end we stirred through a scrambled egg. Eat with kimchi. If you wanted to make a fancy version you could use pre made rice cakes.
- If you had premade rice cakes (they freeze well), a great comfort food is to cook them in a paste of gochujang (korean chilli paste), soy sauce and sugar to make tteokbokki.
posted by like_neon at 2:44 AM on March 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

NE Scotland - skirlie. oats, butter, and onions. goes nicely with fish or mince if you have it but can be eaten on its own. Slightly naff link from the Press and Journal paper here.
posted by sedimentary_deer at 4:03 AM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

Appalachian Soup Beans. (My spouse is vegetarian, so we don't include dried/smoked meat - just pinto beans, onion, salt & pepper.)

They are best if you soak the beans overnight and then keep the soup on for most of the day. Also, serve with cornbread - which in my family is white cornbread, typically baked in a cast iron skillet.
posted by dryad at 5:43 AM on March 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sheera. Toast rava (semolina?) in ghee, add milk, sugar, and raisins, steam for 10 minutes, eat.

It's technically a dessert, but my mother used to make a not-very-sweet version whenever we were sick as kids.
posted by basalganglia at 8:30 AM on March 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

I guess here, back in the old days, it would be something similar to savory grits made with any native grain, but I feel nobody under 70 eats that anymore, though many people still have porridge for breakfast. My mother loves every combination of grain and water boiled to extinction known to mankind. But I think she prefers sweet versions with butter and cinnamon on top rather than savory versions. We had both as kids.
Soups and broths based on cured meat and winter vegetables like onions, carrots, beets and celeriac. With dumplings made from scratch with two spoons so they have an oval flat shape. When I was young, I still made that a lot, and my 26 year old daughter doesn't make it from scratch but she does buy the supermarket version.
Another thing that is rare now but was popular is dried salted fish. I like that, soaked and rinsed and boiled with potatoes on the side and a mustard sauce and pickled beets. My younger daughter's best friend, who is our roommate, eats dried fish shaved into something like katsuobushi as a snack just like that. No cooking.
My gran's favorite pantry food was a kind of omelette, except it was really thick, like a Spanish tortilla, and it had thick slices of bacon in it. You had it in slices, like the tortilla. Unwashed eggs keep just fine out of the fridge, up to 60 days. So does bacon.
Another thing you would make with a bacon or cured pork base was split pea soup. Not for me, which is weird because in general I love all pulses. Again, it's something that seems to be dying out.
The Danish version of lobscouse: cured meat, potatoes and onions boiled till it's a mushy stew. I like it, with pickled beets again and Worcester sauce, but I rarely cook it.
Old school smørrebrød could be made entirely out of relatively shelf stable ingredients: rye bread keeps very well, so does lard. Then on top of that some sort of dried sausage and a pickle. For many people their only food apart from that grit-like substance. To me it sounds good if all the parts are good. One of the best smørrebrød is with boiled potato and finely chopped onion.
During winter months, there could be pickled herring as well. It needs a cool space, so it doesn't fit your criteria entirely; on the other hand, a north-facing pantry would be cold enough from November to April. Eat them with potatoes, or on smørrebrød. I guess that's the thing: in Northern climates, you could have a refrigerator-like pantry indoors, and a freezer-like thing outdoors in the form of a box on the North side of your house with netting to keep out the vermin. That box would have refrigerator-like temperature the rest of the year, except July, August and September where there would be fresh produce. So people would have cured meats, lard and fat from chicken duck and goose, cheeses, smoked and cured fish, eggs, fruit preserves, grains and some pickled vegetables most of the year. There would probably be a little milk, cream and thus butter all year round.
posted by mumimor at 8:40 AM on March 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

Mujadarra is a middle eastern dish with lentils, rice, cinnamon, cumin, and bay leaf cooked together. Top with lemon juice and caramelized onions to complete. Fresh parsley and some yogurt bring it to the next level, but aren't shelf stable. It's an easy, hearty, 30 minute dinner.
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 10:16 AM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

like_neon: Could it be like ge da tang ("lump soup"), a northeastern Chinese poverty staple?
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:59 PM on April 12, 2020

Very similar! I would say the dough we made was “wetter” and we would pull pieces off the larger ball dough, kind of spread them out with our fingers and then drop them in boiling broth (stirring the broth constantly so the pieces don’t stick together). We never used tomatoes and spinach either. But similar family of dish I would say, not surprising given the cultural overlaps between China and Korea of course.

I finally looked it up, it’s called sujebi in Korean.
posted by like_neon at 2:01 AM on April 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

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