Nostalgia, comfort foods and cooking during COVID-19

Periods of high stress and social isolation, such as a pandemic or moving countries (or both), can have huge impacts on mental wellbeing and food behaviours. Whilst acute sudden stress tends to suppress appetite, longer-lasting chronic stress and elevated levels of cortisol can lead to cravings for hyper-palatable high-fat, sugar and calorie-dense foods. Surveys suggest we have been turning to comfort foods during this very uncomfortable period. A large survey across 10 European countries found average increases in consumption of chocolate, sweets, crisps and snacks in 2020. Whilst, in an Italian survey, almost half the respondents stated they used food as a means of comfort in response to feelings of anxiety during the strict lockdown.  

Another notable change in food behaviour during this period was the resurgence in home cooking and baking. The trend was apparent in the bare supermarket baking aisles, and with dried yeast as rare as toilet paper (which infamously sold out in supermarkets worldwide) – alas, I was thankful to be a clichéd millennial with a sourdough starter to hand. Home cooking offered escapism during a period of captivity and travel bans. On my wide-reaching nostalgic cooking trip from my very tiny kitchen, I made: pasta to remind me of the previous summer in Italy; cookies with lyonnaise pink praline to reminisce about my internship in Lyon; and noodles, bao and gyoza to console myself for the cancelled trip to East Asia. 

For those living abroad, home cooking also offers a solution when you can’t get hold of your favourite comfort foods. It’s a real, real shame that the bakery chain Greggs doesn’t exist in Sweden (there’s nearly one on every street corner in the UK). Of course, I have attempted to fill the Greggs-shaped void in my life with some home-made pasties, but nothing quite beats that first Greggs in the airport arrival hall – for me it’s synonymous with ‘welcome home’. 

From left to right: Map of the many Gregg’s in the UK; my feeble attempt at replicating the mighty cheese and onion pasty; my ‘ode to Greggs’ pin badge. Greggs make all the good stodgy stuff: pasties, sweet things, and sarnies. As a budget lunch option, Greggs is particularly favourable with the student crowd, and holds a special place in many of our hearts (and resides close to mine quite literally, in the form of a pin badge). 

It’s usually the homely, unaesthetic and not so instagrammable dishes that have magical powers to soothe and satisfy. Typical comfort foods are often rich and welcoming carby, creamy, cheesy concoctions. But food preferences vary between individuals and across cultures, hence food can also form an integral part of embracing new cultures and customs. Taking advantage of our diverse and multicultural team, we asked our KI bloggers about some of their favourite comfort foods and Swedish foods they can’t live without now. 

Ayla 

  • Foods I bring to sweden (or beg others to bring/send): Belgian chocolate (Côte d’Or), Kwatta choco and chocolate sprinkles, Lotus speculaas spread, Dinosaur cookies (they now have them in sweden too, but only with milk chocolate, and I want the dark ones) 

  • Comfort foods: home made ramen noodles (though it’s not a childhood dish for me) and cheese+veggies+mayonaise sandwiches (which IS a childhood food… mayonaise… mmmm) 
  • Foods to bring back to Belgium: not too much :p but I have brought lingon sylt, flora butter and knäckebröd back at some point 😊 

Joanne 

  • Foods from NL to Sweden: chocolate sprinkles (!), salty liquorice, paprika-flavoured chips, caramel waffles (stroopwafels), all the cheese, peanut butter, pancake syrup 
  • Comfort foods: pancakes for dinner (it´s a thing back in the NL), pasta with creamy spinach sauce, any soup 
  • Foods from Sweden to NL: pepparkakor, sill, hjorton sylt 

Paula 

  • Food from Portugal to Sweden: alheira (a type of soft sausage typically made with game and – crucially – without pork or boar), butter cheese, salted codfish, sweet microwave popcorn (in Sweden I can only find salted) 
  • Comfort foods: sourdough bread freshly baked (I have a quick overnight recipe I make when needed) ; roasted vegetable bowl, ice-cream for dinner (it’s a thing, fight me. 😛) 

Richelle  

  • Food from Philippines to Sweden: mostly fruits (lakatan/latundan/saba – different varieties of banana; mango (fresh and dried ones); tamarind (fresh and candied ones); pancit canton (noodles); soy sauce and vinegar (Philippine brands that come in 5 L bottles) 
  • Comfort food: pan de sal (Filipino bread rolls – but since I am using sourdough, I call them ‘pan de sour’ 😀 ), I make my own ice cream flavors – homemade fläder, ube (purple sweet potato yam).  
  • Recipes I love making: red velvet cupcakes, vegan brownies, kolakladkakka, brazo de mercedes (rolled soft meringue with custard inside – I really love this since childhood but never attempted to make it by myself because I can easily get it from the store in the Philippines. Now that I am in Sweden, I had to learn to make it myself to satisty my cravings … turns out it wasn’t so hard to make it after all!), malagkit (sticky rice that can be eaten for fika), banana chocolate chip cookies 
  • Foods from Sweden to Philippines: Marabou chocolate, looots of lingon berry jam, cheeses (household and präst), pepparkakor, knäckebröd 

Tatiana 

  • Food from Spain to Sweden: I have never been too much into the “filling the suitcase” before traveling – I feel like things are to be eaten where they belong sort of? But of course there are some things that are hard to resist: before really reducing my meat consumption, I would always bring a FUET with me. I always thought cured ham was a Spanish exaggeration, but my friend brought me some on a visit once that I still remember *watery eyes*… (the same friend that says she is vegetarian anytime but when she eats ham xD). Perhaps not adequate, but I actually crave on a liquor rather than food: PACHARÁN.  
  • Spanish recipes I am sure I only learned because I left: fabada madrileña, paella valenciana, fideuà (for the untrained eater is similar to paella, but with little, thin pasta instead of rice), to make a good allioli, and I haven’t attempted yet but I have huge cravings for arròs negre (black rice, with squid ink and cuttlefish). Thank God as well I lived with Italians here so I could learn a bit how to cook pasta properly. And the existence of fried salvia (sage). And home-made tiramisú.  
  • Colombian recipes I am sure I only learned because I left – even further (the thing of having to think of two, now three, countries at the same time): AREPAS (sort of flat corn bread…) you can eat it with butter and cheese for breakfast or have it with more elaborate things on top for a full meal; haven’t tried yet but will make a good sancocho one day (type of soup with chicken broth, perfect for hangovers ;).  
  • Comfort food: tamales, buñuelos, pan de bono… (too hard to explain, can give details if needed 😀) and as Ayla, somehow sandwiches with mayonaise are a BIG guilty pleasure.  
  • Food from Sweden to wherever: the christmas yearly edition of systemet’s fancy glögg, reindeer cured stuff once (way too salty), knäckebröd 

Katharina 

  • Food from Germany to Sweden: chocolate brands not available in Sweden, such as Yogurette and Mon Cheri; alcohol (if I come by car or plane); homemade jam from grandma 
  • Food from the Netherlands to Sweden: salty liquorice (I know, Sweden has it, too, but it’s different, believe me); stroopwaffels (mostly eaten by my colleagues though) 
  • Food I bring as gifts from Sweden to friends and family: Giflar (because that’s what is expected), Swedish cheese (yes, some kinds are better than Dutch cheese), knäckebröd (because Germans don’t know what they’re missing out, let alone Dutch people), pepparkakor and glögg during Christmas time 
  • Comfort foods: chocolate spread straight from the jar, chocolate milk, chocolate in general, cheese in general, pasta with lots of cheese, lasagne with lots of cheese…. basically, alternating sweet (chocolate) and savoury (cheese) snacks  

Monica 

  • Food I brought when I moved from the UK to Sweden: A random selection of spices and sauces, including za’atar (Middle Eastern spice blend that is to die for) and Valentina (Mexican hot sauce that I blame our Mexican friends for introducing us to). Turns out you can get them all here too, so I shouldn’t have bothered. My boyfriend will no doubt smuggle Marmite back with him next time we go to the UK, but I don’t think there is anything I will be bringing back. 
  • Food I used to bring from Sweden to the UK (when I lived in the UK): fresh biskvier from the bakery, dill crisps, liquorice, assorted naughty treats (Bilar, Polly), lemon-mint chewing gum (does it count?), packs of waffle mix, and a box or two of cereal (Havre kuddar) 
  • Comfort food: Lebanese mezze (if anyone knows of a good place in Stockholm – let me know!), gooey cheese in any format (quesadillas, fondue, grilled cheese toastie), chocolate (brownies, peanut butter cups, chocolate truffles, chocolate chip cookies you name it), and ice cream (ice cream makes everything better) 

Anethe 

  • Food I love is the dishes my family, husband and two children make for us. I then take care of the dishes 😉 
  • My husband has re-started with the sourdough bread baking during the pandemic and several days a week I wake up to newly baked breakfast buns. 
  • My daughter loves to make home-made pasta and the French macarons – and it taste so good. 
  • My son study at the gymnasium “Stockholms hotell och restaurangskola” and every week he brings home yummy dishes and cakes. 
  • All of this above means I need to do more outdoor activities during the weekend 

Natassia 

  • Foods I bring (or import) from the UK to Sweden: Marmite, Yorkshire tea, Bisto gravy, veggie sausages, Cadburys chocolate, prawn cocktail crisps 
  • Comfort foods: Beans on toast, Fish & chips, Sunday dinner with Yorkshire pudding 
  • Things I’d take home from Sweden: Kalles Kaviar (I mean it’s essentially a fishy marmite 🤔 and sounds so unappetising but is very addictive!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s