Comfort Food: Porridges from around the World

During a heavy downpour or snowfall, the cold triggers us to seek warm, carbs-rich food that warms our bellies – and our hearts. Never mind the weight gain!

For many people around the world, there’s nothing more satisfying than a bowl of porridge, which represents the ultimate comfort food. 

A big, hot bowl of porridge can stimulate your internal motor during breakfast, wake you up from your midday doldrums, or help you unwind late in the evening. It’s simple, nutritious, versatile, and hearty. You can enjoy it savory or sweet as breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, or midnight snack.

The base ingredients of porridge are grains like cereal, oats, rye, corn, wheat, rice, or pseudocereals like buckwheat. Gruel is pretty similar to porridge but a thinner version of the latter. Formerly regarded as peasants’ meals, congee and gruel are now enjoyed as comfort food as well. They don’t have to be bland or boring – you can add more ingredients or toppings as you like to make them richer or more flavorful.

While you’re hibernating from the cold weather, you may want to try different kinds of porridge from around the world to keep you warm, full, and anything but bored.

1) Grits (United States)

grits with cheese, bacon, green onion, and a poached egg

Grits is a porridge made of cornmeal that’s boiled until thick, after which it is seasoned. It is usually served savory. The type of corn typically used in making grits is either white corn or hominy corn. The dish is of Native American origin, and it is a perennial favorite in the Southern USA. You can top it with a variety of ingredients, such as boiled or poached eggs (like the grits in the picture above). It is usually eaten as breakfast or as a side dish to other foods like eggs and bacon, sausages, meat, fish, and seafood.

2) Congee (Asia, but specifically India and China)

Chinese congee topped with pork floss and pickled vegetables

Congee is a savory rice porridge in Asia. While everyone thinks this dish originated in China, its roots actually came from India. Even the word “congee” itself is Indian in origin, being derived from the Tamil word, kanji. “Congee” may also be an umbrella term referring to all types of regional congees, but the Chinese version of it instantly comes to mind.

Plain congee is a staple dish in China, but it is usually called juk in the mainland, while it is called congee in Hong Kong only. It is basically flavored with salt and fresh ginger and usually eaten with salted duck eggs, bamboo shoots, pickled tofu, meats and organs (like tripes and intestines), and pickled vegetables.

3) Polenta (Italy)

Polenta cooked in “paiolo” or cauldron

Polenta is an Italian dish of boiled cornmeal. Yellow maize is the traditional grain used for this recipe, although other ingredients, like white maize or buckwheat, can also be used. Polenta is prepared and served in different ways. It is cooked traditionally in a paiolo or cauldron made of copper, soapstone, aluminum, or cast iron. People familiar with polenta usually eat it in solidified form (like cooked rice) as a side dish to meats and vegetables. However, polenta can also be cooked and served as a porridge. In fact, it is technically classified as “porridge.”

There is another version of polenta, called polentina. Italian countryside peasants in the 18th century commonly ate this as their staple meal. While polenta is usually served with savory dishes, polentina is commonly eaten as a sweet fare, traditionally infused with orange and topped with non-traditional flavorings like maple syrup and bananas.

4) Lugaw (Philippines)

a bowl of goto, a version of lugaw

Lugaw is a rice porridge or gruel from the Philippines, derived from the Chinese congee. It can be made entirely of glutinous rice to make a porridge. Some cooks, though, use a combination of glutinous rice and regular white rice (plus some more water) for a less thick gruel.

Lugaw is the ultimate comfort food in the Philippines, usually enjoyed during the cold, rainy season. For the basic lugaw recipe, garlic, onions, and ginger are sauteed in hot oil before they are added with water and rice for boiling. Once cooked, it is usually topped with black pepper, kasubha (safflower), kalamansi (local sour citrus), green onion and/or toasted garlic. It may be eaten alone or partnered with tokwa’t baboy (fried tofu and pork, chilies, vinegar, and soy sauce). Heartier versions of lugaw include arroz caldo with chicken and boiled egg, and goto with tripes (usually beef tripes).

5) Kasha (Central and Eastern Europe)

kasha with bowtie pasta

While kasha is usually baked, it can also be boiled and served as a porridge. The traditional base ingredient is whole-grain buckwheat or buckwheat groats, which are boiled in water or milk. Kasha is usually eaten as a side dish or even a dish in itself. Other grains like semolina, bulgur, millet, and oatmeal are used depending on the region. Ashkenazi Jews regard kasha as comfort food, and their version is topped with bow-tie pasta (pictured above), onions, and brown gravy.

6) Žganci (Slovenia and Croatia)

Žganci (Slovenia and Croatia)

Žganci is a porridge in Slovenia and Croatia, except on the Croatian coast, where it is called pura. The base ingredient is either buckwheat flour, maize, wheat, or a combination of wheat and potato flour. The flour is added with water, cooking oil, and salt, and then left to boil. The cooked lump is then crumbled onto the serving plate.  The savory version of žganci is usually served with meat as part of a hearty main dish. Another version is served with milk, honey, runny yogurt, and lard. It is then topped with pork cracklings.

7) Champurrado (Mexico)

a cup of champurrado

Champurrado has been one of Mexico’s favorite comfort foods since the pre-colonial era. Technically, it is a beverage, and its origins date back to the Aztecs. Champurrado is the chocolatey version of the atole consisting of either masa de maize (corn dough), masa harina (masa de maize’s dried version), or regular corn flour, and then water or milk, and ground cacao beans. It’s usually sweetened with piloncillo or panela (unrefined whole cane sugar) and flavored with spices, such as star anise. It can be drunk hot or cold.

Champorado is a sweet rice chocolate porridge in the Philippines, derived from the Mexican champurrado.

8) Oatmeal (North America and United Kingdom)

Oatmeal (North America and United Kingdom)

While oats may have originated from Central Europe, they became (and have remained) popular in North America and in the United Kingdom. The term “oatmeal” may refer to the prepared oats themselves or the thick porridge made from them. Oatmeal, as a porridge, is a regular breakfast item. It is prepared by boiling steel-cut oats, which take longer to cook, or the quick-cook rolled oats. Then water or milk is added for boiling. Oatmeal is usually served with a pinch of salt and topped with raisins, a variety of fruits, honey, sugar, or maple syrup.