I have been a meat lover from the time I came to my senses about food. Over the last two decades, I have been traveling around the world to realise one fundamental truth, if it was not to taste the amazing variety of food around the world, this life would have barely been worth the trouble. Or, in the pointed words of Anthony Bourdain;
– “To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.”
I have been privileged to have tasted a huge gamut of cuisines, from different corners of the world, but that has also made me realise how many amazing dishes I have not yet been able to try out. This realisation serves as one of the strongest motivators, for life in general.
In this piece, I have tried to rank what I feel are the tastiest dishes for each of the common meats that the world consumes. It’s an opinion and it is totally expected, that some of the readers would have their own list which doesn’t conform with mine. There might be some dishes I have missed out, or I have a different opinion about, but if I hear a feedback, I am surely going to try it again, to be sure or know more about it.
I have only considered the four most ‘common’ meats, namely Chicken, Pork, Mutton and Beef, for this article, since they are what I have defined as ‘mainstream’. And irrespective of whether you agree with me or not, you are going to be very hungry by the time you finish reading. So prepare yourself accordingly and let’s get started with it.
The poor man’s meat once, chicken is probably the most common meat around.
It is almost impossible to find a non-vegetarian eater who dislikes chicken. Some of course, like it a bit more than some others. I have had a very difficult time ranking chicken dishes, but here is what I felt in the end.
№3: Hainanese Chicken Rice
While originating from Hainan in Southern China, this dish has become one of the most popular in Singapore, Malaysia and a host of other South East Asian countries. The broth (traditionally of stock made of pork and chicken bones) is an exquisite preparation and the chicken is soft and succulent, but the fragrant rice is also an equally important part of the dish. If you haven’t tried it, you have missed something.
One-on-One Tip: Don’t be too generous about the accompanying sauce made of freshly minced garlic and chilli.
№2: Fried Chicken
Now, who doesn’t want some fried chicken once in a while? Crispy or Original, Spicy or Non-Spicy, Fried chicken is an all time favourite and features just below the top slot in my list of dishes made from chicken. Probably would have topped the list if it was just on convenience. If you haven’t had fried chicken in the last 3 weeks, today will be a good day.
One-on-One Tip: Since this category is well commercialised and fought over by large MNCs, I’ll share my own ranking of them as well. This is for Singapore.
And it goes as follows:
- Texas chicken
- Popeye’s chicken
- Four Fingers Chicken
- Ayam Penyet Ria
.. and if you don’t find KFC in the list, it is not just a coincidence.
№1: Tandoori Chicken
But the ‘ultimate’ in taste and satisfaction is probably the Tandoori chicken, a widely popular dish in the South Asian countries and Middle East. This delicacy is generally credited to the Mughal rule and has its root somewhere in the India-Pakistan region and I would rather enjoy a hot tandoori chicken leg than debate about who its founder was. I suggest you do the same.
One-on-One Tip: The mint sauce and some raw onions with a slice of lime are a holy combination with the chicken, unless you want to mess up all original styles of eating.
The borderline ‘red meat’ is forbidden to some and most coveted for some others
Pork has its religious restrictions, which is a pity and I request those bound by religious constraints, to skip this part as I don’t intend to offend anyone. At the same time, those who are open to this delicious yet affordable meat, please don’t miss on the top three below. With both Indian and Islamic cuisines majorly staying out of this domain, the top end fight remains restricted to Western and Chinese cuisines.
№3: Crispy Fried Bacon
If you haven’t started your day with a breakfast which includes fried crispy bacon, your day is likely to begin on a sub-par. There is something about Bacon, which makes your breakfast worthwhile and gives you a lingering warm juicy feeling in your mouth till you decide to drown it off with your lunch.
One-on-One Tip: Streaky Bacon it is for me, the others are all a compromise.
№2: Steamed Pork Dumplings
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the feel of a hot and soft doughy lump on your tongue. roll your tongue around it, feel the warmth and slowly bite it and your mouth fills up with a juicy hot flavour. Heaven is unverified, but this might just be closest to it.
Pork Dumplings are a pure testimony of Chinese art and there are few dishes which are comparable to this masterpiece. The Japanese version, the fried version, the Tibetan version etc., are really distant substitutes for the original steamed Chinese version.
One-on-One Tip: My personal favourite dip for this is soy sauce with thinly sliced ginger strips, but somehow adding a dash of wasabi makes it even more memorable, but not everyone would agree to that.
№1: Barbecue Pork Ribs
And the Award for the best dish from Pork goes to…. Barbecue Pork Ribs!
There isn’t much to talk about on this one, all words will be but a wastage of time. Just find and good steakhouse and head there, right now!
One-on-One Tip: For me, ‘meat’ and ‘sweet’ are not exactly words made for each other, except, when it is grilled pork ribs, there is nothing that beats the sweet BBQ sauce!
For the sake of simplicity, we will consider both Sheep and Goat meat under this category.
Growing up in India (Kolkata to be precise), Goat meat was probably the most coveted and somewhat reserved non vegetarian dish for us (it was expensive). When I moved out of India, I became familiar with sheep meat, both the young lamb and the adult mutton and the delicacies associated with them. Being somewhat limited on the variety of meats available, the Indian and Islamic cuisines really excel themselves in mutton dishes and I believe this is where they trump over western or far-eastern cuisines.
№3: Turkish Doner Kebab
I am sure many of you are drooling at the sight of this perfectly cooked stack of Doner-Kebab, a Turkish specialty, also available in its other popular formats like Chawarma or Gyros. Seasoned meat stacked in an inverted cone and turned slowly in a rotisserie, to be shaved vertically as it cooks. Goes incredibly well as a simple sandwich or a platter with pita bread, pickled chillies and raw onions.
One-on-One Tip: My personal favourite sauce to go with this is a subtle mix of garlic sauce, ranch sauce and a dash of mint sauce.
№2: Mutton Rogan Josh
One of the most delicious and aromatic mutton dishes, with its origin from Persian cuisine, Rogan Josh has a stamp of Kashmir and was heavily promoted by the Mughals. Today, it is famous all around the Indian subcontinent and beyond, and if you haven’t tried it, you have been missing something.
One-on-One Tip: Rogan Josh can be intense, while the Muslim version is more aromatic and spicy, the Hindus often tend to use some yogurt to make it milder and give it a cooling effect. Best tried with Butter Naan.
№1: Mutton Biryani
Dishes will come and dishes will go, but one dish that can never go, is the sumptuous Mutton Biryani!
Another dish with its origin hotly debated but definitely somewhere between Persian, Mughal, Turkish and ancient Indian, Biryani is one of the most famous and popular dishes across the world. India itself has its different variations and each one has its loyalists fighting for supremacy, but most of the versions are too good to give a pass.
One-on-One Tip: Being from Kolkata, my allegiance is with the Kolkata style Biryani (Influenced by Awadhi style), less spicy, insanely aromatic and comes compulsorily with a boiled egg and a slice of potato.
The ultimate in Red meat is probably also the hardest to rank
Ah Beef! As an Indian born of Hindu parents, I was deprived of this ultimate meat for much of my childhood, but I believe I have made up for lost time in more ways than one. The most expensive meat (except in India) is something that is probably also the hardest to rank, simply because there are too many incredible ways it can be cooked.
As Marie-Antoine Carême once famously quoted;
“Beef is the soul of cooking”.
Unfortunately, this is where Indian cuisine clearly loses out and even though Beef is a common item in Asian, Islamic and most other cuisines, the evolution and subtlety of western cuisine, really takes beef to a different level. Here are the top three, in my opinion.
№3: Beef Rendang
Owing its origin to the Minangkabau community from Indonesia, rendang is now a popular dish in most SE Asian countries, especially but not limited to, the Malay population. While some describe it as “West Sumatran caramelised beef curry”, it is a specially spiced beef dish with mouth watering flavours and the taste of galangal, lemon grass and turmeric leaves somehow stays on with the succulent and tender chunks of beef, slow cooked to perfection.
One-on-One Tip: It might be somewhat dry, but it is still best relished with steamed rice.
№2: Çiğ köfte
Born in a Hindu family, I risk being disowned for even recommending a dish that is not only made of beef, but is in fact, made of raw beef. But if you are a meat lover and have not tried this at least once in your life, you should reconsider calling yourself a foodie.
Primarily a Turkish cuisine, although with probable Armenian and Kurdish influence, this is a dish made with ground beef, after removal of the tendons and fat and is meticulously kneaded with parsley, onions, green pepper, scallions and mint leaves. It is normally hand made into meatballs (Kofte) and served as a mezze, similar to a cold appetiser.
I have tried other raw beef dishes, including Steak Tartare and the Korean ‘Yukhoe’ but Çiğ köfte is one of its kind, take my word for it.
One-on-One Tip: Even in Turkey, for obvious hygiene reasons, the best of this dish is found only in the top end authentic, Turkish restaurants, so pick your place well or you’ll end up with some Vegan version of Çiğ köfte, essentially potatoes and ground walnuts.
№1: The one and only Beef Steak
And finally, the crown of all beef cuisines is, without any doubt, the grand old, Beef Steak. As Curt Siodmak insists;
“A bath and a tenderloin steak. Those are the high points of a man’s life”.
There is something about a properly cooked Beef Steak, that takes you away from all the mundaneness of being human and elevates you to the heights of heaven. Making a good beef steak is as much about science as it is about art and as Soumeet Lanka concluded;
“There is only one right way to eat a steak — with greed in your heart and a smile on your face.”
I strongly believe that every human should get to taste one quality beef steak, with all its divinity and juiciness, at least once in their life, just to appreciate the gift of having existed.
One-on-One Tip: With steak comes the intriguing issue of doneness, and I usually prefer medium-rare, which is a pity. But if you choose to go for Medium-well or well done beef steak, you should really stick to beef curry instead.
So here you have the list of the top three for each of the popular meats, according to yours truly. Some are expected, some not so. Most are familiar, a few not so. I am sure many of you would have other recommendations and I am dying to hear them. Leave a comment if you can and I’ll surely try it out, if I haven’t already.
Meanwhile, happy reading and drooling, while I try to figure out what’s for dinner tonight!