If you’ve ever shown up at a friend’s house with a tub of ice cream or a home-cooked meal when they were having a rough time, you know that food has the ability to not only nourish the body but provide emotional comfort as well. Whether the smell of freshly baked cookies instantly takes you back to your grandmother’s kitchen or you find chicken noodle soup more healing than actual medicine, the memories and emotions associated with a particular food can be very vivid, perhaps because the act of eating engages all five senses.
While certain dishes take you back to a happy time, others are comforting simply because of their wholesome, carb-ridden goodness. Eating is also an important part of many cultures, loaded with history, tradition and social significance. For a culinary tour of dishes that will warm your heart as well as your stomach, pack your bags, leave sophistication aside and get ready to find out what comfort food looks like around the world by traveling to four of Iberostar’s best destinations for foodies.
Traditional Hungarian cooking is so rich, flavorful and heavy, that talking about Hungarian comfort food might be a redundancy. Magyar cuisine is filled with wholesome stews, casseroles and soups and is always served with fresh bread.
We start off with what is perhaps the most widely-known Hungarian dish: gulyás (or goulash, as it is known in English). Its origins can be traced back to Medieval times, when shepherds prepared the robust meat-and-vegetable stew that has now become a national dish. Töltött káposzta, or cabbage rolls, are another wintertime favorite, typically served around the holidays. The cabbage, often pickled, is stuffed with pork, paprika and rice and topped with sour cream.
Paprika is such an essential ingredient in Hungary that there is not one but two entire museums dedicated to it. While omnipresent in Magyar cuisine, the spice takes center stage in paprikás csirke, a chicken dish served with a creamy paprika sauce and served with noodles or dumplings.
Staying in one of the best hotels in the centre of Budapest means having everything to hand. From the city’s shopping area to its most famous monuments. Liberty Square is directly below the hotel, and you can walk to both the parliament and the Danube river!
If you’re craving something really decadent, lángos should be next on your list: a deep-fried flatbread topped with sour cream, cheese, garlic sauce and bacon and a variety of other toppings, much like a pizza. For an authentically Hungarian experience, get yours at Retró Lángos Büfé, only four-minutes away from the Iberostar Grand Budapest. Don’t expect glamour—located inside the Arany Janos metro station and open until 6 a.m. on the weekends, it is very much a dive, albeit a charming one—just satisfying, deep-fried deliciousness topped with just about anything you can think of.
While in Mexico the healing powers of burritos, tamales and enchiladas should not be discounted, the taco is arguably the most unifying Mexican dish. Whether eaten from a taco stand, a high-end restaurant or at home, tacos are an infinitely versatile staple of Mexican cuisine that has been filling bellies since the times of Aztec ruler Moctezuma.
This pre-Hispanic food is loved worldwide (the prevalence of Taco Tuesday is testament to this) but there are other comforting Mexican dishes you may not have heard of. For a robust breakfast, start off your day with some huevos motuleños, typical of the Yucatán peninsula, specifically of the city of Motul. This egg-based breakfast dish consists of fried eggs served on a fried tortilla called a tostada with refried black beans, tomatoes and ham, and is sometimes also served with cheese, plantains, peas or hot sauce.
Cold, rainy days call for caldo tlalpeño, a classic Mexican chicken soup with corn, chickpeas, potatoes, carrots and chipotle chilies served with chunks of avocado and cheese and topped off with a squeeze of lime. Pozole is another hearty favorite, a stew made with hominy, chicken or pork, radishes and other vegetables and spices that vary from home to home.
The hotels in Mexico of the Iberostar Hotels & Resorts are located in special areas to provide its guests with the country’s best qualities: they are located only a few yards from the beach, surrounded by nature and near to the most important archaeological sites.
Also perfect for keeping warm is atole, a thick, hot corn-based drink that is best enjoyed at breakfast or after dinner. Atole comes in a variety of flavors including peanut, pineapple and chili. Most popular is the chocolate version, called champurrado, which can also contain anise seeds and cinnamon. End your meal with a pastel de elote, a delicious corn cake with condensed milk and cinnamon that is often served warm.
Escudella i carn d’olla is a similar dish, typical of Cataluña, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. The escudella (soup) is served separately from the carn d’olla—a stew made with meat, vegetables and lard—and topped with slices of a large meatball called a pilota. In the wintertime you can try it every Wednesday at Estevet in Barcelona, a ten-minute walk away from Iberostar Selection Paseo de Gracia.
One custom from yesteryear that is coming back with a vengeance is what is known as “la hora del vermut”. Enjoying a glass (or three) of vermouth with some tapas around noon, right before lunch allows you to come together with friends before your meal and work up an appetite as well. One of the best—and most beautiful—places to indulge in this tradition is Gran Clavel, a recent addition to Madrid’s famed Gran Vía, right by the Iberostar Las Letras Gran Vía. You can enjoy their wide selection of vermouths at the bar with some charcuterie, preserves and other small bites or sit at the restaurant for lunch if you’re feeling like something heartier.
Typical both as a merienda (a mid-afternoon snack ) and for breakfast—particularly in the early morning after a night of intense partying—the combination of thick Spanish chocolate and loops of fried dough makes chocolate con churros a meal in itself. The most famous place to have them is Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid, which has served more than five million churros since opening in 1894.
Finally, no visit to Spain would be complete without trying croquetas, which come with a variety of fillings, including mushrooms, cheese and even squid ink. Although these fried balls of joy are ubiquitous in restaurants and bars all over Spain, everyone will tell you their mother’s or grandmother’s are the best—and when it comes to homemade croquetas, only the jamón or chicken varieties will do. Receiving tupperware full of frozen croquetas to enjoy for weeks on end is the highest form of love you can get from a Spanish mother, and if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Spanish home to try them, they might just become your new favorite comfort food.
JESSICA DECAMP I 23/04/2018
Photography by Cordon Press and Getty ImagesMAKE IT REAL NOW