A "Comfort Food" is a familiar food that a person eats because doing so relieves stress and anxiety and increases contentment and comfort (hence the name). It sparks happy memories, brings back feelings of security and safety, and thus can easily lift a person's mood.
Comfort food for most people tends to also be their favorite food, or the food they enjoyed the most while growing up. In his book A Cook's Tour, Celebrity Chef and Television Host Anthony Bourdain noted that, among big name chefs who specialize in fine cuisine at their restaurants, the most common type of answer to "If you were about to die and had time for one last meal, what would it be?" were meals like "my Grandmother's meat loaf" or "a nice hot ham-and-cheese sandwich" or "oreos and a tall glass of ice cold milk". Other common answers were things like "a Big Mac", "mint chocolate chip ice cream", "an entire bag of Lay's Barbecue chips", and "a chili dog".
In other words, Comfort Food.
Because corporations know a cash cow when they see it, there are entire restaurant chains devoted to serving you comfort food, like Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel, and Boston Market.
May overlap with Your Favorite. Heartbreak and Ice Cream is a common Sub-Trope. See also I Need a Freaking Drink and Drowning My Sorrows.
One Pound Gospel: Kosaku starts pigging out after Sister Angela tells him that she can't spend any more time with him until he stops liking her as more than a friend.
Sorta used in Persona 4 when Aika offers the Rainy Day Special to Yu after Nanako's death. Yu is in such a depressed state that he actually eats it whole in few minutes. (Notice that this is a beef bowl that Yu and his friends have eaten before, and it's so... special that it's almost impossible to eat in less than 40 minutes.)
In Inukami! Youko's Trademark Favorite Food is Chocolate cake. It turns out her crush gave her some when he was much younger; he doesn't remember it, but this act of kindness that happened when he when stuck on a mountain and surrounded by dogs, turned her into a yandere for him.
In Anpanman, Anpanman himself lives in a bakery. So, whenever his friends come running to him in need of help, they're normally in a panic, and Uncle Jam, Anpanman's father figure, always has fresh bread, tea, and cookies ready to help calm their nerves.
In the dub of Axis Powers Hetalia, America's explanation for why he eats so much junk food is because it numbs him to the many problems he has to deal with. When he tells China this, China's immediate reaction is to start eating a large amount of chocolate.
Fruits Basket: Tohru Honda tends to put her cooking skills to use cheering up her various friends (and given how many of them are The Woobie, she's often busy with that). One notable example is when she brings Rin, who is recovering in the hospital, some gelatine. Rin eats it at night, noting that it tastes good. One chapter also has Kyo cook a meal for Tohru, after she gets sick. Between the food and him listening to what upset her to the point of the cold, she quickly gets better.
Sorta weaponized with Kirio Hikifune's food in Bleach. Not only she's a Supreme Chef who's VERY good at both Western and Eastern food, but she charges her meals with reiatsu to help her guests replenish their energies beyond any levels. Once Ichigo and Renji eat a massive meal prepared by her right after being healed by Tenjirou, their spirits are lifted off the ceiling and they're brimming with energy.
The concept itself is also lampshaded and discussed, as Ichigo wonders if it's okay to eat such delicious food after Soul Society has almost been destroyed, and Renji replies that this is exactly the reason why they should do it: they gotta replenish their physical and emotional energy before starting to fight again for everyone's sake. Hikifune overhears this, returns and agrees with him.
Discussed in X/1999. When Sorata manages to feed Kamui some of his excellent food after a particularly harsh Break the Cutie deal, Arashi congratulates him and says that if Kamui is still willing to eat after all the shit he went through, it means he hasn't completely lost the will to live.
Implied to be the reason why Koujiro Hyuuga loves Coca Cola and always drinks it despite it being bad for a sportsman like him. He used to be very poor as a child, now that he has a regular income and a good part of his goals are secured, he feels that he can allow himself that little pleasure.
In Claymore, Deneve' and her apples. Considering the life of a claymore is a never-ending Trauma Conga Line, completely understandable.
In a few recent Superman comics Superman mentions a fondness for his Mom's rhubarb pie.
In her solo series, X-23 is shown to enjoy spicy foods after having no choice but her nutritionist's bland offerings at the Facility.
In one Zits strip Jeremy isn't feeling well, so his mother makes a heaping pile of food to carry up to his room.
Walt/Dad: Calorie therapy?
Connie/Mom: When in doubt, apply food to the wound.
In another My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction, "Past Sins",Celestia is unable to sleep , fearing that an attack by Nightmare Moon is Imminent. She Orders Maroon Carrot Soup and an extra large helping of Cloud Cake from the Royal Kitchens in an attempt to calm her nerves and set her Mind at ease. For her part, Nightmare Moon is terribly fond of Celery Soup. Why is the dark goddess of Equestria fond of such a pedestrian dish? It was the first meal Twilight Sparkle fed her, after rescuing her from the Everfree Forest back when Nightmare Moon was merely, a scared little filly known simply as Nyx
In Constantine, after a jaunt into Hell for information, Constantine declares he needs to eat. It's unclear if this is to cope with the trauma or because he had used up a lot of calories in his psychic journey, but in the film it seems to be a little of both.
In Iron Man, the first thing Tony Stark asks for when he gets back to the safety of American soil after being held hostage by the Ten Rings is an American cheeseburger, which he proceeds to sit down and eat during the press conference he immediately holds.
In Gotcha, after Anthony Edwards manages to return to West Berlin after a rather traumatic trip to the East, the first thing he does is go to West Berlin's McDonald's and order "an American cheeseburger, some American fries, and a nice, thick, American milkshake."
In Defending Your Life, one of the benefits of the way station between Earth and Heaven is the ability to eat as much comfort food as you want without gaining weight (we see one person order and eat 20 pies).
"Of course I'm not happy! Look at me, I'm a big fat slob. I've got bigger titties than you do. I've got more chins than a Chinese phonebook. I've not seen my willie in two years, which is long enough to declare it legally dead. (on the verge of tears) I can't stop eating. I eat because I'm unhappy, and I'm unhappy because I eat. It's a vicious cycle."
Keep in mind that his idea of Comfort Food includes human babies.
In Ratatouille, the title dish proves to be a Comfort Food for Anton Ego, as evidenced by the tears of joy and happy memories of his mother when he ate Remy's slightly fancied-up version. The experience was enough to cause a complete change of heart.
In Kung Fu Panda Po often eats to comfort himself, after the climactic dumpling fight, Po has moved beyond that kind of emotional crutch.
Jurassic Park: While waiting until the next day to search for Dr. Grant and the kids, Dr. Sattler finds Hammond eating ice cream and joins him.
Subverted by Film/Signs; The Hess family decides to share a meal including all their favorite foods (spaghetti, bacon cheeseburger, ect.) when the aliens invade, but are too anxious and sullen to enjoy it.
In one of the books in The Pendragon Adventure, Bobby appears in modern-day Stony Brook where his Muggle friends live, and they go to their local fast-food hangout for fries.
In the Cordwainer Smith short story "The Ballad of Lost C'mell" Lord Jestocost is extremely fond of eggs, he considers them a special treat.
In A Planet Named Shayol On the Body HorrorPenal Colony planet Shayol the Bull-Man B'dikkat offers to make Mercer some fried eggs before he sends him outside because his first day will be easier if he has food in his stomach.
Deconstructed in Jelly Belly. Big Eater Ned struggles with his weight throughout the book, not helped by the conflicting food messages he receives from his family. His parents tell him he needs to lose weight, but Grandma Rose continues to make him fattening meals and sweets as she truly believes food equals love.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss's favorite food from the Capitol is lamb stew with dried plums. Soups and stews are common foods in Seam and it probably reminded her of the home and family she desperately missed
Discworld has Rincewind, whose love of potatoes stems from when he was marooned on a desert island, he was safe and had food but the two things he lacked were female companionship and potatoes. Some wires got badly crossed in his head.
"Gus Simpson adored birthday cake. Chocolate, coconut, lemon, strawberry, vanilla-she had a particular fondness for the classics. Even though she experimented with new flavors and frostings, drizzling with syrups and artfully arranging hibiscus petals, Gus more often took the retro route with piped-on flowers or a flash of candy sprinkles across the iced top. Because birthday cake was really about nostalgia, she knew about reaching in and using the senses to remember one perfect childhood moment."
In one of the Animorphs books, after Rachael involuntarily morphs into an elephant and falls through the second floor of her house, after a big hullabaloo she is resting in a hotel room, where she calls room service and orders a burger and fries with a slice of cherry pie a la mode and chocolate milkshake.
In Jane Austen's Emma, Mr Woodhouse orders a bowl of gruel whenever he's distressed, which is nearly all the time. His older daughter Isabella loves gruel as well and the comforting effect is the same for her.
In Papelucho en la Clínica, Papelucho chomps on some watermelon after being operated on by mistake and lampshades the trope as he thinks "oh wow, an ill person who eats won't die" while eating. Bad thing, eating so soon after an appendix removal operationbackfires *terribly* on him; he passes out few minutes afterwards and, when he wakes up, he's told that he almost died.
A Series of Unfortunate Events: While at the Anxious Clown, the waiter, hearing of Aunt Josephine's death, offers the Cheer-Up Cheeseburger to the Baudelaires, Mr. Poe, and Captain Sham/Count Olaf. Subverted in that it doesn't do much.
Live Action TV
In Doctor Who after the Doctor explains to Rose that he's the last of the Time Lords, and what that actually means, they go out for chips. The chips help.
In Supernatural, when Castiel abandons his host body, we get to see said host body, Jimmy, chow down on cheeseburgers to the point of grossing Dean out.
Doubly funny because cheeseburgers are Dean's comfort food.
In Parks and Recreation, cheesburgers are one of two known cures for Andy's 'shoe shine head' ailment.
In The Drew Carey Show episode "The High Road to China", Drew is stranded in China with no money and without his passport. He gets some money by working locally and upon arriving in Beijing, almost immediately goes to the McDonald's there. Unfortunately, he still hasn't got enough even for a Big Mac, prompting him to say "I never thought I'd use this in real life, but 'I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.'".
It is mentioned in an episode of Babylon 5 that Michael Garibaldi eats like a starved man after experiencing serious personal tragedy, though only one early episode draws any particular attention to it. Worth noting that he is consistently depicted as being an excellent cook, particularly when it comes to Italian cuisine. He is also an alcoholic, so the food could also be a sort of Addiction Displacement.
Tater tots for Mercedes in Glee. Naturally, she is not happy when they are banned.
Kurt resorts to cheesecake when stressed - whole cheesecakes - and knows that the only cure for loneliness is cake.
In Fraggle Rock, radish bars are Comfort Food to Red and Mokey Fraggle. They even sing a song about it!
After Buffy and Angel break up near the end of season three, Giles' immediate suggestion is ice cream of some kind. Buffy decides to wait until after she's killed anything that could stop her friends from going to the prom. "Kicking ass is comfort food."
Buffy: "When this is over I'm thinking pineapple pizza and teen video movie fest. Possibly something from the Ringwald oeuvre."
There's also the Buffy sized tub of chicken she brings back from her intense visit to Angel when she was brought Back from the Dead.
When Angel hears that Buffy is Back from the Dead (again), they realize they have to meet...and it's a Noodle Incident on both shows that neither wants to discuss. Buffy brings back a giant tub of fried chicken, while Angel admits he could really use some ice cream.
In the first season of Lie to Me Foster is always seen eating or drinking something that's admittedly unhealthy - Slurpees, chocolate, huge soft drinks. Lightman never misses an opportunity to make comments about it, though Foster is firm on her refusal to quit because it's what makes her happy.
On Bones FBI Agent Booth - a former sniper - has a huge weakness for macaroni and cheese. At one point, Brennan surprises him by acquiring the recipe of a chef in an impossible-to-get-into restaurant and serving him a special dinner. It was yet another tiny moment that spoke volumes about their relationship without words.
In Justified Errol has loved marinated pork tongue since childhood. Limehouse reminisces about how Errol's father would bring him pork tongue when Errol was a little boy.
In Good Eats, Alton Brown mentions comfort food in quite a few episodes but in the forth episode, "Use Your Noodle", he proclaims the most comforting comfort food of all is lasagna (He may have a point there)
In the eighth season of American Idol the top seven are asked what there favorite comfort foods are Lil likes chocolate chip cookies with pecans, Anoop is fond of barbecue,Matt really likes hot tea, Danny loves Puerto Rican and Mexican, food Alison loves anything with chocolate on it, Kris favors cornbread as his comfort food and Adam REALLY LOVES ice cream.
In the episode Good of the Soul on The Chew four of the hosts talk about their favorite comfort foods Mario wants spaghetti, Carla wants collard greens and cornbread, Daphne is always craving banana pudding and Clinton craves macaroni and cheese.
In the Mash episode "Adam's Ribs", Hawkeye goes out of his way to order and have delivered to the 4077th (which is in Korea, remember, in the middle of a war zone) 40 pounds of ribs (plus sauce) from a restaurant called Adam's Ribs in Chicago, Illinois. And why did he go to such trouble? Because he was sick of army food and Adam's Ribs was the best food he could think of. Unfortunately, he never got to eat any of it as he was suddenly called away to the O.R.
Pity he forgot the cole slaw.
Frasier: Maris ballooning to 200 pounds after Niles divorces her.
Dorothy: Blanche! You're getting old! We all are! That's no reason to eat an entire cheesecake!
Blanche: I found the two gray hairs in the cheesecake.
Mentioned on Orange Is The New Black in "Tall Men With Feelings." During the impromptu memorial, Poussey says she thought they could use some "comfort food" and pulls several snacks from under her shirt and the waistband of her pants.
In My Fair Lady, Eliza has her chocolates. It could be interpreted that Professor Higgins denying Eliza her chocolates is what causes her to snap and sing "Just You Wait" plotting his death in a gleeful Imagine Spot.
In The Sims 2's Free Time Expansion a Sim with the Family Aspiration can learn to prepare Grandma's Comfort Soup which gives a strong boost to both food and comfort meters and instantly cures sickness.
In The Sims 3 you can choose a Sim's favorite food (Along with favorite color and music) Sims will get a mood boost when eating their favorite food.
Also appears in The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess: Yeto brews a soup for his sick wife using pumpkin, goat cheese, and fish... and as you add each ingredient, the soup becomes tastier (?!) and is a better healing potion. You can drink as much of it as you want, and considering how many bottomless pits and spiky ice monsters haunt the premises, you'll probably want a lot of it...
This is probably the reason for for the Favorite Food in Earthbound and Mother 3 you can either type in your own actual favorite food, or use one of the default options. In Mother there is no default options it is entirely up to the Player to name the favorite food. Of course Hilarity can ensue inMother 3 where it is used more often
In the Pokémon games feeding your Pokemon vitamins and EV berries will raise their happiness and make them like you more.
In one of the Nancy Drew Games The Haunted Carousel the hot fudge Fundae is connected to Joy's lost past, Nancy has to order the sundae and grab the special spoon in order to rekindle Joy's suppressed memories
In Housepets! The depressed dog Tiger frequently eats to comfort himself, to the point of eating disorder, His most frequent comfort food seems to be pizza, but he's also been seen noshing on other things like cookies as well.
In a recent comic Tiger's owner tells him he needs to go on a diet.
Marvin: Within the past week, Tiger consumed 57,000 calories worth of pizza, soda, chips and other bagged fried food, ice cream, pasta, snack cakes and regular dog food.
The Nostalgia Critic likes all sorts of junk food, but enjoys the cookies and cream brand of Ben & Jerry when he's feeling low.
Team Kimba of the Whateley Universe and Chou's Moon Pies. The rest of the team has their own comfort foods (Lancer's is pork rinds), but Phase is appalled by all of them since he has the refined palate of a food critic.
In Homestar Runner, after his Lappy got swiped, Strong Bad gorged himself on various chips, which he claimed to be his anti-depressant.
In both the book and the cartoon Where My Hat is At Homestar really needs a few Cold Ones when he fails to find his hat and thus can't play in the big game. Turns out his hat was between the milk and the Cold Ones
In the Sbemail Bedtime Story The Cheat can't go to sleep without his security...item, and a big glass of Suddsu (Which is a glass of skim milk and gummy bears)
In Neopets the chips and gravy item is described 'The perfect comfort food for a cold windy day'.
Although it is technically listed under 'medicine' not 'food' when your pet is suffering from Neoblues feeding them a Tasty Pie will instantly cheer them up, or you could use Steaming Green Tea from Shenkuu, either will work
There also is a bit of a inside joke with the Asparagus Anonymous and other asparagus references. A little bit of Author Appeal here as asparagus is one Adam Powell's favorite vegetables.
Global Guardians tough guy Stone fights off feelings of hopelessness when tragedy strikes by indulging in his love of Sabrett's hot dogs. Grilled, with onions, relish, and Memphis style barbecue sauce on a whole wheat bun, accompanied by a handful of Lay's barbecue potato chips, and an ice cold beer. If things are really bad, he's been known to down an entire pack of the things, one at a time.
In Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Norville 'Shaggy' Rogers constantly consumes massive amounts of sandwich and pizza, seemingly to sooth his jittery nerves, even going so far as to consciously seek out food when in immediate physical danger. He shares this trait with his dog.
"Like, being in a constant state of terror makes us constantly hungry!"
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The turtles were ALWAYS craving pizza, Michelangelo in particular to the point that Fanon sometimes depicts him as having an eating disorder.
In The Simpsons episode Scenes From a Class Struggle in Springfield After Marge realizes doesn't want to become a member of the Springfield Country Club, the family shares a meal at Krusty Burger. (In the DVD Commentary the writers point out a Continuity Nod to Lisa Becomes a Vegetarian Lisa is only eating the French Fries in this scene)
Care Bears: The Care Bear Cousin Treat Heart Pig seems to be the embodiment of this trope
At the end of the episode The Great Race The Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins all treat themselves to ice cream after Lotsa Heart Elephant beats Beastly in the titular race.
Another instance in the episode Home Sweet Homeless After the Forest of Feelings is flooded leaving the Care Bear Cousins homeless, the Care Bears console their cousins with hot cocoa.
In the Wild Kratts episode A Bat in the Brownies everyone gushes over Jimmy Z's brownies which he boasts is his Grandma's recipe.
Also in the same episode Koki (Who has been freaking out due to her fear of bats) really wanted some chocolate zucchini bread.
In Space Beasts Ichabod Crane (not that one) really likes a good cup of chamomile tea after a humiliating experience
Also his girlfriend Marzipan the Cat Girl wanted a hamburger with extra onions after being held captive for three weeks by aliens.
Most of the characters have their own personal comfort foods, there have been quite a few episodes dedicated to discussing when their comfort foods became comfort foods.
Special mention goes to one of the villains, Duchess Bimbolurlina Has a weakness for chocolate covered pretzels.
Everybody has that special treat that makes life a little more bearable.
Nancy Reagan used to eat bananas in the middle of the night when she couldn't sleep.
It is said that the poet W.H. Auden kept a bowl of cold potatoes by his bedside at night.
Great chef and food writer James Beard found comfort in marshmallows. He didn't like to toast them, he just liked to eat them right out of the bag.
M.F.K. Fisher wrote about the comfort foods of her friends,one enjoyed a baked potato with lots of butter, another preferred milk toast, undoubtedly surprising, Mrs. Fisher's comfort food was canned tomato soup. She had a even special pitcher from which to drink it from.
Psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers finds comfort in floating islands. (Floating Islands are a dessert, meringues sailing on a sea of custard)