Galvanised by scorn for fake news, Matt Preston puts the alleged world’s top-ranked foods to rights and takes us around the globe one dish at a time.
@mattscravat 1. STEAK AND CHIPS 2. PEKING DUCK @Mattscravat
I’M SORRY but I’m about to have a whinge. And at the risk of sounding scarily like Trump, I’m going to whinge about CNN. The network might be jolly good at running a 24-hour news channel, but it’s rubbish at compiling a list of the world’s 50 best dishes.
How can you respect a list that has buttered popcorn and potato chips among the greatest foods in the world yet omits the far superior caramel popcorn and any number of other junk-food delicacies from across the globe including our Twisties? It also includes ketchup, English fish and chips, and toast with Marmite, but no barbecue sauce, the far superior Aussie fish and chips or toast with Vegemite.
I’m incensed by this list every time it pops up in my online searches so, rather than whinge, I’ve compiled my own list – The World’s 50 Best Dishes According to Me.
France has been challenged by other countries as the home of the world’s best cuisine, but it’s hard to go past one dish it gave the world, expertly cooked steak frites, especially if it comes with a classically made tarragon-scented Béarnaise, or even a more vintage mushroom, green peppercorn or brandy and cream sauce. Heck, even just mustard and horseradish rocks my boat. Add a vinaigrette-dressed butter lettuce salad and you have the ideal meal. Use properly aged, grass-fed Aussie beef and it’s something very special indeed.
Pork crackling and crisped-up fish or chicken skin – there’s joy in these brittle sheets with the added pleasure of a thin layer of tender fat on the underside and a little salt. And so it is with Peking duck. Take thin slivers of duck that are mainly bronzed skin with just a little meat, wrap them in gossamer-like pancakes with straws of spring onion, a baton of cucumber and the barest lick of plum or hoisin sauce for three bites of perfection. Enjoy the duck flesh stir-fried with noodles and turn the carcass into a soup to complete the Peking duck trilogy.
While other dishes require exactitude in their cooking, the best sushi relies on sourcing top seafood and then treating it with the ultimate respect – allowing it, rather than rice or a sauce, to shine. The sum should be a quiet riot of texture and subtle flavours.
A true Neapolitan pizza is about so much more than the perfect puffy and slightly chewy crust. A judicious selection of just a few ingredients, such as the milkiest, super-fresh mozzarella, is part of it, but more important still is the tomato sauce made with sweet yet acidic San Marzano tomatoes. Accept no substitutes!
5. MALAYSIAN SATAY
No more than skewers of rabbit, chicken, lamb or beef cooked over hot coals and served with a simple peanut sauce, satay is cooking at its simplest, but there’s just something about the spicing on the meat combined with the creaminess of the sauce. It’s perfect with the traditional but beautifully gentle accompaniment of compressed rice and chunks of cucumber.
Italy had a number of contenders for the top 10, but gnocchi at their angelic, pillowy best really show off the skill of the cook and their understanding of restraint – how little flour is added, how little time the gnocchi spend in the water, and what they might be served with. For me, burnt butter and a drift of finely grated parmesan, or a simple fresh tomato sugo is all they need, but if you force a blue cheese sauce on me I won’t mope.
Soft or crisp. Vegetarian or meat-laden. Unadorned or loaded with the full bonanza of salsas. From Maroochydore to Mexico City, I’ve yet to eat a taco I didn’t like. (I might have met a couple I didn’t trust. I’m not sure eyeballs have a place in my taco. I like seeing my food; I’m just not keen on my food seeing me.)
While my personal favourite are those snowy-white, super-fluffy barbecue pork buns, this is a delicious group of dishes that includes har gow loaded with fat, springy prawns, those scalding soup buns, xiao long bao, and Japanese gyoza.
It might be one of the most abused culinary concepts, but a hamburger done right – a chunky patty that’s juicy but crusty-charry at the edges, a veil of melted cheese, the sharp bite of pickles or ketchup, fresh lettuce and tomato, perhaps a rasher or two of smoky bacon – and you have something quite sublime. Pineapple or beetroot? Your choice. Burgers are from the US democratic.
10. CHICKEN RICE
It’s all about the broth and that rice, sticky with chicken fat, whether you have the roast or steamed chicken variety of this dish. They’re both loved equally in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore where chicken rice is held with the same reverence as chicken soup in other cultures.