Make no mistake, lunchtime is a battlefield. For every glorious taco or triumphant baguette, a hundred bowls of ramen are left unslurped, a thousand sushi rolls sit unmunched and one greasy box of fish and chips goes unregretted.
Every day we make choices that shape our culinary destiny, but how do we know they’re the right ones? When do we stop listening to our stomachs and start listening to our hearts? When is a banh mi the right call?
To answer these questions, and deconstruct the continuing struggle for global gastronomic supremacy, we’ve assembled some of the most common and delicious snacks around the world. Old foodie foes that do battle on a daily basis. They say you can’t compare apples and oranges, but no-one said anything about Reubens and Cubanos.
Whose cuisine reigns supreme? Read below to find out.
Round 1: Taco vs. burrito
Two meals, both alike in deliciousness, in fair taqueria where we lay our scene. From ancient spice break to new toppings, where civil lime makes civil guac taste keen. (Okay I’ll stop there.) The point is that tacos and burritos have been competing for stomach space since the dawn of time*. It’s fair to say they agree on essentials: carnitas (pork), al pastor (spit-grilled pork), carne asada (beef) or baja (fish); coriander, red onion, beans, guacamole and queso (cheese).
But the devil is in the detail. Taco fans maintain their smaller and more portable size gives them a practical edge whilst still boasting enough surface area to combine multiple flavours. The smaller portions also enable tacoficionados (as they’re affectionately known) the ability to sample more than one type of taco during any given mealtime.
With burritos, on the other hand, you have solidity, consistency, sureness of purpose. A burrito apologises to no-one, and its general shape and structure makes it way easier to eat without dropping magma-hot al pastor juice all over your new white t-shirt. But ultimately, your burrito will taste the same throughout.
Winner: Tacos. We still love burritos, but being able to dig into al pastor, baja and carne asada in one sitting (for the same price as a burrito) is one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments, and one of life’s simplest pleasures.
*confirm date later.
Round 2: Banh mi vs. burger
This is really a duel between two halves of your personality: the impulse-driven child with no concept of meat sweats, and the rational, mature adult who considers a thin strip of cucumber ‘basically a salad’. In the red corner, wearing a crusty French-inspired baguette, is the banh mi – a Vietnamese-cum-French wonder filled with juicy pork or chicken, shredded carrot, spring onion, cucumber, chilli and coriander. In the blue corner, wearing a soft and yielding brioche bun, is the classic burger – a succulent pattie, melted cheese, pickle, lettuce, tomato and so on.
Burger enthusiasts will argue that the burger’s infinite flavour combinations, combined with endorphin-popping greasiness and nostalgia-soaked history, are untouchable. Banh mi fans hit back by pointing out that their choice does a much better job of balancing freshness and texture, with carrots, cucumber and coriander playing a necessary foil for the rich meat. This one’s tough.
Winner: Burger by a nose. Banh mi’s are a little restricted in their fillings. Burgers are a fluid construct, limited only by the scope of human imagination.
Round 3: Handroll vs. nigiri
The ultimate samurai battle. In the late nineties, sushi handrolls swept through Western culture with the fierceness and determination of a Shogun army. Soon, no lunch was complete without “two salmon and one crispy chicken”, pickled ginger and extra Japanese mayo (what do they put in that stuff anyway?) And it’s an understandable trend. Handrolls are portable, delicious, relatively guilt free and come in a variety of traditional (and not so traditional) flavour combos.
On the other hand you have nigiri, a more traditional Japanese staple: take an oblong mound of sticky rice, add a dab of wasabi, then lay a tender strip of fish on top. Nigiri has the advantage of being a) more legit, b) more aesthetically pleasing and c) simple enough to let the fish do the talking. Handrolls if done well, have the added crunch of paper-fresh seaweed (aka nature’s cracker).
Winner: Handrolls, but only if they’re fresh. Soft, soggy seaweed is a no-no.
Round 4: Curry laksa vs. ramen
We had to have a soup-off, right? Don’t let their liquid state and general go-with-the-flow vibe fool you: the rivalry between these two dishes is as fierce as they come. Let’s start with curry laksa. Put aside your running nose, eyes and general sweatiness for a minute and let’s appreciate what’s going on in that bowl. Creamy coconut milk cut through with dried red chillies, garlic, lemongrass and ground coriander; a few tender urpices of chicken or fish floating alongside crisp beansprouts, tofu and some peculiar fish puffs. Yep, laksa certainly packs a flavour punch.
On the other side you have ramen, a more subtle Chinese/Japanese broth, clear as day but sultry as the night. Add in yellow kansui noodles, shitake mushrooms, spring onions, sliced pork and crispy seaweed and you have a cracking dish. It may come down to personal preference here. Do you prefer your flavour to smack you between the eyes or seduce you quietly over a cup of green tea?
Winner: Curry laksa. On a pure dollar-to-flavour cost-benefit analysis, you just can’t beat this eye-watering bowl of deliciousness.
Round 5: Reuben vs. cubano
I know, even before I start, that this one is going to cause controversy. These two sandwiches don’t have fans, they have disciples. Entire books have been written about the Reuben: the precise length of time to cook your corned beef, the ideal tang of the sauerkraut, light or dark rye bread? There’s something magical that happens when any meat is shaved thinly then stacked to over 4 centimetres in height. Add gooey Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and obligatory sweet dill pickle and your mouth quickly becomes ill-equipped to deal with the Reuben’s flavour overload.
Fighting off against this titan is the Cubano, a sandwich that has spread from its Cuban roots and is rapidly taking over menus around the globe. The idea of the Cubano is a Cuban bread loaf, brushed with butter, inside which you’ll find good American mustard, sliced slow-roasted pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese and thinly sliced dill pickle. The whole thing is toasted in a press called a plancha and cut in diagonal halves (very important). Now the impossible task: to split these two sultans of sandwich.
Winner: Cubano. We’ve got to go with tradition here and give the Cubano credit. Workers were snacking on these 60 years before Reubens took New York by storm. Plus the melted butter adds a ridiculousness factor you just don’t find in a Reuben.
Disagree? Want to fight for your chosen foodstuff? Leave a comment below. And in the meantime, check out our range of tasty food adventures.
Feature image c/o Claire Sutton, Flickr