Updated: Oct 20, 2019
Autumn 2019 has officially arrived in a wave of pumpkin spice lattes, knit sweaters, and apple picking stories on Instagram, but the weather getting chilly means more than just a 200% increase in Patagonia sightings. It’s also flu season. Anyone who’s ever had the flu knows that it’s definitely not the cute red nose and sniffles you see in movies, and sometimes the only thing that helps is a warm, comforting dish of…what? Chicken soup and orange juice were staples of my sick days as a kid, but my childhood was as American as deep-fried apple pie. What foods comfort sick kids in China or settle stomachs in Australia? I decided to find out, so I interviewed people from five different countries to see what "sick foods" they remembered, or still make today. What I discovered was this mouthwatering collection of unique recipes entirely worth exploring:
If you’ve never had congee before, you seriously have no idea what you’re missing. In full honesty, I may have written this entire article just to discuss my deep love for this admittedly odd-looking Chinese rice porridge. Slightly thinner than oatmeal (just a tad thicker than grits for y’all Americans), congee could not be easier to make. A few hours of cooking one cup of rice in 6-8 cups of water yields a plain congee porridge that is the perfect canvas to decorate with literally whatever you want. Hard-boiled eggs, soy sauce, or sesame oil are great options for cautious palates, but congee absorbs almost any flavor pretty well, so the only real limit is your taste buds.
Ok, so this one is not exclusively Australian, but when I interviewed my friend from Sydney he would not stop talking about these odd little soup croutons. Apparently, down under they got impatient waiting for their soup to cool, so they decided to just make a full meal out of the crackers. Traditionally, these little fried bread bits are in rectangles similar to fried wanton strips, but my friend tells me stories of his mother's heart-shaped Sippets carrying him through flu season. Dangerously easy to snack on, each satisfying crunch of the small biscuits releases more of their mild, homey flavor. I'm not sure I'll be replacing all my soup with soup crackers from now on, but I also ate half a bag of Sippets on my own last night, so maybe the Aussies are on to something.
Vietnam (Chao Ga)
For those hard-liners out there unwilling to part with the classic chicken soup on a sick day, let me introduce you to chicken soup’s more successful sibling: Chao Ga. Essentially rice or noodle porridge jam packed with chicken and mixed vegetables like onion and scallions, Chao Ga puts those watery Campbell’s cans to shame. Basic recipes for this warm bowlful of comforting carbs abound online, but if you're looking for authentic Chao Ga and you don't mind a little extra effort, I'd suggest this recipe from Tia Nguyen. Also, if you're going to make Chao Ga, translated literally "porridge chicken," use the whole chicken please. No, that doesn't mean both white meat and dark meat, it means the whole chicken down to the bones. That might gross some people out, and that's okay. Let them have bland, sad chicken soup.
Palestine (Mint Tea and/or Arak)
Tea has been a go-to beverage for flu sufferers everywhere, and the evidence-based studies have linked mint tea in particular with benefits from pain relief, to anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. Aside from the science, solid food isn’t always the most appealing thing when you’re sick, so tea is a good alternative. Maybe you don’t like tea though, and that’s fine because Palestinian’s have got you covered: try some Arak. Made from pressed grape musk and distilled a minimum of two times, Arak puts your hot toddy to shame. A staple at many Middle Eastern meals, the aniseed-flavor liquor forms mesmerizingly milky clouds when mixed with water. This unique trait has helped earn it the nickname, “the milk of lions,” that, and its 40% alcohol content. For anyone curious, yes, I’ll absolutely be treating all my colds with Arak from now on.
Jamaica (Stew Peas)
Anyone who’s sick, needs to try stew peas. Anyone who’s having a bad day, needs to try stews peas. Raining outside? Stew peas. Hungry? Stew peas. You get the point. Beans, coconut milk, meat, and veggies meld with strong Jamaican spices like bonnet pepper and allspice to create an aromatic, if inelegant, bowl of heaven. Bonnet pepper is pretty much guaranteed to clean out your sinuses, and the recipe is so easy that you can probably make it on NyQuil (although legally, it is not recommended). Throw in a couple of homemade Jamaican dumplings, and if someone finds a better comfort food, I’ll give them a prize.
There you have it: five brand new cures for the common cold. While I can't actually promise any of the dishes will clear up your flu symptoms, I can guarantee they will brighten your mood. Consult your Nana to see if these sick day foods are right for you, and Happy Flu Season!
Many thanks to my sources: Boaz Silberman, Quynh Nguyen, Penelope Shao, Geena El-Haj, and Ashlee Falconer