Battle Of The Bites

In an Intelligent Life roundtable on the world’s best cuisine, Josie DeLap argues that Iranian food is underrated:

Politics has kept Iranian food tucked away in the Tupperware box of the Islamic Republic. Other Middle Eastern cuisines are brazen. Lebanon flaunts its sophistication. Morocco flourishes its tagines, with their fruit and meat, so cleverly combined. Turkey brandishes its breads and flashes its kebabs. Who thinks of Iran?

And yet this is the source of it all. Cultivated over millennia, enhanced by numerous invasions both launched and endured, Iranian food has a subtlety and intricacy unrivalled but unrecognised—at least by outsiders. Who knows of its jewelled rice, studded with ruby barberries, flickers of sour sweetness, amid rice gold-stained with saffron, run through with shards of pistachios? Who has heard of caramelised sohan, a nutty brittle, produced mostly in Qom, Iran’s holiest city, its buttery excess so at odds with the austere piety of its creators? What of kuku sabzi, an omelette thick with fistfuls of coriander, parsley, dill, chives, tarragon, fenugreek? The world is missing out.

Katherine Rundell, for her part, sticks up for English cuisine, writing that “British food is best when it has heart, literally as well as figuratively.” Bee Wilson maintains that French is foremost:

French cuisine can be seen as passé and unhealthy. Sure, it’s delicious, but who wants to eat all that heavy meat in fancy Escoffier sauces any more? To dismiss it in this way is to neglect the fact that it has always been about much more than Michelin pretension. Its genius can be seen in delicate fish soups with a dollop of fiery rouille; rare onglet steak and salads of green beans; tiny wedges of big-tasting cheese. It’s there in the habit of avoiding snacks between meals, not from self-denial, but because hunger is the best sauce. French cuisine is the best because it’s founded on an understanding of how to square the circle of pleasure and health.

But Fuchsia Dunlop finds Chinese food does a better job:

No other culture lays such an emphasis on the intimate relationship between food and health. The everyday Chinese diet is based on grains and vegetables, with modest amounts of meat and fish, and very little sugar—a model for healthy and sustainable eating. A good Chinese meal is all about balance: even a lavish banquet should leave you feeling shufu—comfortable and well.