Here are the first ever "Mike Sheridan Food Awards for 2017". The 5 best dishes from our trip:
1. Matsusaka sirloin, Wagyu beef at "Matsuzakagyu What's", Kyoto, Japan 5,600 Yen = £40 for 80g
You don't even need to chew. It just sits there and melts on your tongue. Like a Quaver, but much much better.
It's not really fair to even compare this special brand of Wagyu beef to the likes of Indian street food on this list. These cows get named, their ancestry is tracked to ensure a pure bloodline, and they get fed the best feed, drink spring water, and are cared for in a supremely relaxing and quiet environment so not to stress them out. While the myth about them drinking beer and being massaged is merely that, a myth, they are encouraged to sit still while humans wait on them, to maintain their tender flesh.
Wagyu literally means "Japanese Beef". The three top brands renowned for their supreme marbling are from Kobe, Omi, and Matsusaka, all different regions of Japan. Within each brand, they are graded as well, A5 being the top grade. "A" refers to the yield, the ratio of the meat relative the weight of the whole carcass. "5" refers to its quality of marbling.
The number of cows that can be killed each year is limited, reducing the supply and keeping the price sky high. The first Kobe beef wasn't exported to the USA until 2012, but many farms around the world claim to breed their own "Kobe" beef, which actually has nothing to do with the Japanese cows at all.
The taste is very different from beef I've eaten elsewhere in the world; sweeter and more juicy. It is cut relatively thin, so to allow the fats throughout the meat to cook. Not that they need much cooking though, as these fats already begin to melt close to room temperature. We were left to cook our own meat on a grill at the table, which was nerve wracking. I was looking forward to eating the best steak of my life, and I knew for certain I wasn't worthy of cooking it. It turns out this was a great way to slow down the meal and savour every bite. Each sliver you eat is literally right off the grill, so you don't need to throw the whole steak back immediately to enjoy it at its best. We took our time, ordered some more wine, and discussed each piece, bite by bite.
For a more trustworthy and in depth look in to the background of Wagyu beef, click here.
2. Afghan chicken with butter naan, at "Mohammed's Restaurant", Bodhgaya, India
300 Rupees = £3.80
Following an extended stint in deep and rural India, we had eaten the same food every meal for weeks on end at a University canteen; watered down dahl, cauliflower, and chapatti. We had many late night conversations about what we would eat upon re-entering the tourist world, and this tandoori chicken did not disappoint.
The large cubes of chicken were incredibly tender, but it was the simple spices that blew me away after my taste bud drought. A marinade of garlic, yogurt, black pepper, salt and lemon juice is all there is to it. That, and a tandoor oven. I was practically laughing my way through each bite I was so happy. To top it off the butter naan I wrapped it all in was huge and perfect as well. Crispy and charred but soft enough to tear, and was dripping with butter. In terms of taste for your money, this was the true winner.
3. Samosa Thoke, samosa and chick-pea salad, at street stalls, Yangon, Myanmar
1000 Kyat = 65p
I knew nothing of Burmese food before arriving, but it is a hodgepodge of Thai, Indian, and Chinese, and all the best stuff is street food. It the cheapest place I've ever eaten, and should be considered up there with the other SE Asian cities renowned for its street food.
The dish that won me over was served at manically busy road junction by a moody woman who did not want to serve me by the looks of it. Samosa Thoke is my kind of salad, and by that I mean it is not really a salad at all. A hot and spicy potato and chickpea samosa is aggressively cut up with a pair of scissors and thrown into a plastic bowl. After this, extra chickpea falafels are slumped on top, along with shredded cabbage, finely chopped raw onions, mint, coriander, and cinnamon. A ladleful of thick masala lentil soup is poured over the top for everything to swim in. When you've finished 30s later, you're eyeballed until you get off the stool and make space for the next addict.
Possibly the best street food dish I've ever eaten.
4. Sticky pork ribs, at "Hello Cloud", Yuanyang Rice Terraces, China 48 Yuan = £6
This small one-man band restaurant in the tiny village of Pugaolao was a gem of a find. It was the no.1 restaurant in town on Tripadvisor, and still is, thanks to its 4 reviews (one of them mine). It is also the only restaurant on Tripadvisor, so there wasn't much competition around, but the place did not disappoint.
The owner is the waiter, chef and cleaner, but he always found time to talk to us about the area. He recommended the pork ribs, which were so good we ate them 3 days running. A huge portion of 25 per plate added to our joy, but it was the sauce that made it so memorable. I don't generally like BBQ sauce, but this wasn't too sweet, and had a bit of a tang to it. I can't think of a more eloquent way to describe the sauce, and I couldn't understand his explanation of the recipe, but we drank it with spoons when we ran out of ribs, so you get the picture.
5. Khachapuri, Georgian cheesy bread, at "Sakartvelo", St.Petersburg, Russia
350 Rubles = £5
We trekked a long way across Saint Petersburg to try Georgian food for the first time. There was an eery empty stage in the dusty restaurant with no other customers, and we weren't sure if they were even open. The typically hostile welcome from the owner gave an awful first impression, and he refused to serve us beer or wine. He eventually burst out laughing at this 15 minute charade, and brought us some beer and finally took our food order.
This Khachapuri dish was described as a bread boat on the menu, and we had no idea what to expect, but were too curious to resist. What the menu didn't say was that this bread dish could probably sail across the sea to Finland with a 4 man crew if push came to shove. It was big, and it was strong. The crust on this oval shaped boat was about 2 inches thick, and the centre was filled with melted cheese and a raw egg. The highlight was the show of scrambling the egg into the cheesy mess at the table, just waiting to be torn apart and ready to burn the roofs of our mouths.
Our favourite waiter returned, pointed at me, clenched his jaw, and said "I am not letting you out until you finish this. You. Not her (Clauds), you." I laughed nervously, remembering how funny he'd been earlier in the night, and tried my best.
I did finish it, but only after snacking on the remains for the following two days. Possibly the most unhealthy dish I've ever eaten, but on a cold Baltic night, it hits the spot.
Here is the best (and worst) of the rest from our world food tour:
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