10 Warming Winter Dishes From Around the World

Foods at a street vendor in Asia
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Winter cooking usually focuses on foods that are available during the non-growing season. Pickled or canned goods, long-lasting root vegetables, dairy products and protein-rich meat and seafood are winter staples in cold regions. Though some people in these parka-worthy places still choose a seasonal diet featuring these traditional winter edibles, this approach isn't necessary in the era of supermarkets, freezers and prepared foods.

Nonetheless, traditional cuisine still holds a prominent place on many wintertime menus. Yes, these time-tested dishes provide a connection to tradition, but they're also the kind of comfort foods that can make you feel warm despite the temperature outside. If you want to diversify your menu and give the people at your dinner table some extra warmth on cold nights, you might want to consider adding these dishes to your winter cooking rotation.

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Soljanka, or solyanka, is a spicy soup popular in Russia, the former Soviet states, and Eastern Europe. This hot and sour dish comes in several different varieties. You can find recipes for varieties with meat, seafood, sausage as well as meatless options. All varieties contain a similar broth that features pickled cucumbers (with a splash of the pickle juice) and tomatoes. Toppings include lemon zest or lemon juice, sour cream, olives and dill. Most varieties have cabbage, carrots and other vegetables as well.

The soup is popular throughout the former Eastern Bloc, and supermarkets in Germany sell canned varieties. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, has admitted a fondness for the dish. Some recipes suggest that the most authentic soljanka experience is only possible if the soup is accompanied by a glass of vodka.

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Tangyuan (sometimes romanized as "tang yuan" and called "yangxiao" in some regions) is a simple dessert dish. In China, people eat these dumpling-like balls made from glutenous rice flour during wintertime festivals such as the Winter Solstice and the Lunar New Year. Though deep-fried varieties also exist, tangyuan is usually served hot in a sweetened broth. The round balls come with different types of filling, and some cooks even serve them unfilled. If you bite into a piece of tangyuan, you may find sweet potato, azuki bean paste, sesame paste or jelly in the middle.

The rice balls themselves are easy to make. The dough consists of glutenous rice flour and water. The fillings need to be mashed into a paste and sweetened before you fold them into the middle of the dough and boil the resulting combination. Asian grocery stores often sell frozen and pre-made tangyuan, especially in December and January ahead of the solstice and new year festivities.

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Like many other wintertime dishes, oden doesn't have a set list of ingredients. This hearty hotpot from Japan comes in different varieties, and many street food vendors cook a number of ingredients and then let customers choose which ones they want to add to the oden broth. Common options include processed fishcakes or fish meatballs, daikon (Japanese radish), hard-boiled eggs, tofu, squid, corn and root vegetables. Though some restaurants sell oden year-round, it's more commonly found in the winter.

Oden broth recipes vary by region, with some places serving a light liquid flavored with kelp and dried fish, and others opting for a heavier, darker soy-and-soup-bone mixture. Some vendors will keep a master broth for the whole season (or longer) and add ingredients as they go to deepen the flavor.

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Though not ideal for dieters, poutine, which originated in the Canadian province of Quebec, is a wintertime comfort food that some consider Canada's national dish. The most common recipe calls for French fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in brown gravy. A number of variations exist with some cooks adding extras like bacon, ground beef, baked beans or sausage. The gravy and fries are served hot, but the cheese component is added at room temperature so that it warms and partially melts but remains solid instead of turning soupy.

Though it has made its way onto the menus of fast-food restaurants and fine dining establishments alike in Quebec, Québécois did not always celebrate the dish. Many people used to think of it as junk food that belonged in the kind of diners that are still open after the bars close. That changed after restaurant owners noticed people ordering the fries, curds, and gravy separately and then combining them to create their own poutine. Now, poutine is almost universally available in Canada and is popular in some regions of the U.S. as well.

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Clam chowder

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Clam chowder is a source of controversy on the East Coast. Even within New England, there are different varieties of clam chowder, though all are different from Manhattan clam chowder, which uses tomatoes rather than the creamy broth popular to the north. Most cooks agree that quahogs, also known as "chowder clams," are the best seafood choice, especially if you can get them fresh, but there's some disagreement about whether the addition of salt pork or bacon brings the best flavor.

Clam chowder has a long history. By the early 19th century, the creamy, warming soup was already popular in Boston. Herman Melville sang the praises of clam chowder in his famous book "Moby Dick," solidifying the dish's image as a warming meal for chilled seafarers.

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Hungarian goulash

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Goulash originated in Hungary in the Middle Ages. The Hungarian word gulyás means "shepherds" or "herders." Herdsmen from Central Europe invented this dish, originally using dried meat that they reconstituted over a fire. Some cooks still make goulash in a large iron pot over an open fire. Though Hungarians consider goulash one of their national dishes, other Central and Eastern European countries have similarly spiced stews.

The defining spice of today's goulash is paprika, but other ingredients vary depending on what's available. Goulash is traditionally a beef or veal dish, but lamb and pork are also common. Some recipes include potatoes, other root vegetables, or pasta (though elbow macaroni is an American phenomenon). Some versions call for sauerkraut or a souring agent such as vinegar or cooking wine. Though eaten year-round, the heavy, hot, and protein-rich stew is ideal for wintertime dining.

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Hotdish (which is usually written as one word, but sometimes as two) is a traditional one-dish meal in the Upper Midwest in states like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. There is no single hotdish recipe, but most of these casseroles contain protein, starch, and vegetable components and some sort of creamy (or cheesy) sauce that binds it all together. Hotdish recipes may call for a pie-like crust, though many cooks use alternative toppers such as tater tots.

Hotdish has its roots in Minnesota. The trend started during the Great Depression when people were looking for a cheap way to dress up canned soup, cheap meat and leftovers. Today, you can find hotdish year-round, but a just-from-the-oven casserole is best in the winter (which is a four- to six-month affair in the Upper Midwest). Minnesota's Saint Paul Winter Carnival has a hotdish contest where area chefs compete to make the tastiest version.

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Tteokbokki is everywhere in urban South Korea. This popular and dirt-cheap street food is available year-round, but it's especially popular in winter. It features a thick tomato-based sauce, a lip-burning level of spiciness, and thick rice pasta. Vendors keep the dish hot on steam trays and over coal fires. You can actually warm up by standing or sitting near the cart or food stall while you eat. Some vendors provide you with wooden toothpicks or skewers for stabbing the heavy noodles and lifting them to your mouth.

Other versions of this dish call for adding different types of noodles, pork, seafood such as fish cakes, and vegetables. Another version, gungmul tteokbokki, or "soup tteokbokki," features a watered down (but still quite spicy) soup.

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Shepherd's pie

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Shepherd's pie has working-class roots and long served as a way for rural residents to stretch limited meat supplies. These "pies," made with minced meat, date back to at least the 1700s. Shepherd's pie includes meat, vegetables, onions and a thick gravy. Instead of crust, the dish is topped with mashed potatoes and, sometimes, grated cheese. Some cooks include any other leftovers that don't clash with the gravy, or they stretch the meat and veg even further by putting potatoes on the bottom of the dish as well as on top.

The main ingredient of shepherd's pie is minced meat (though meatless recipes also exist). Traditionally, cooks, especially in the U.K., minced lamb or mutton for their pies. When they used beef, which is usually a cheaper option for cooks in the U.S., they called the dish "cottage pie." Regardless of the name and the ingredients, the thick layer of potato on the top effectively holds the heat, bringing an extra level of warmth to the pie eaters.

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Cheese fondue became popular in the U.S after Switzerland decided to promote it during the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. The idea of cooking cheese with wine developed in Switzerland in the 17th and 18th centuries. The country began to promote it as a "national" dish just before World War II as a way to get people to eat more cheese. Though the fondue fad has faded somewhat in the United States, the dish is still popular in Switzerland, France and the Italian Alps.

The bubbling cheese is constantly warmed during eating (traditionally with a candle or spirit lamp), so this dish does bring the warmth even though the items that you dip into the communal bowl aren't usually heated. Bread is the most common dipping ingredient, though other items, such as vegetables and meat, may occasionally be used.