The World’s Tastiest dish has been awarded to the Ceviche at Chez Wong in Lima, Peru and the above video is almost like the one that rolls out when a nominated actor at the Oscars gets up to receive his Best Actor award. Well, I am back from London having witnessed a coronation of sorts – imagine honouring some of the tastiest fast feasts of the world with the ultimate objective being to select the ‘single most Tastiest Fast Feast on Earth’! The Chowzter World Awards 2014 held recently in London just did that. It attempts to scoop out the top places to eat local food in more than 70 travel destinations around the world. Is it really possible to identify a single most tastiest dish in a city, in a region, in the world? Or, is it actually possible to coronate one city as the single most tastiest city in the world? How does it work? Who nominates these dishes? Is there a body of people who actually go around the world tasting all the dishes physically? To answer all those above questions, here’s how Chowzter works. Chowzter’s aim is to reach out to each city in the world through a trusted food blogger who takes up the role of the Chief Chowzter of that city, who then curates a list of 40 food items (classified into different categories) from that city in order of ranking. Being the Chief Chowzter of Dubai, my job has been to identify the tastiest food items in Dubai so that they can be presented in a simple location based APP that diners can use. There are only two rules here: no “chandeliers”(Fine Dining) and no chains. Firstly, I had to identify The King (my current favourite item in the city for now) and The sacred 6 (six more tasty items from a variety of categories). These rankings can obviously change any time I find a tastier dish – so that the listing is updated regularly. It’s important to note here, these are not fast food from popular chains but are actually fast feasts from restaurants and small food stalls – think small diners, street stalls and food carts. Have you ever walked away from a popular food cart in your city without licking your fingers?
Is any dish really award worthy? What makes that single ceviche dish of Chez Wong the ‘Tastiest Fast Feast on Earth’? Almost 50 food bloggers from around the world converged in Francesco Mazzei’s yet to open L’Anima Cafe in London (belonging to the award winning Italian restaurant L’Anima on Snowden Street) on a chilly April evening, while the food winners of 2014 were announced. As each nominated dish took centre stage and a movie rolled out on the dish crowned as the tastiest fast feast, the evening revealed more than just a room full of passionate foodies (evident from the above video taken by Simon Leong of Simon Food Favourites) discussing food and the next culinary destination they would travel to, or guests feasting on an array of specially created menu including a roasted whole suckling pig. Here we were, more than 200 people standing in a posh cafe in London, talking about a small restaurant located thousands of miles away, dishing out that food item which culminated in being qualified and honoured as an epic dish. As Chef Martin Morales – founder of London restaurants Ceviche and Andina, talks about Chef Wong, whose Ceviche won the award for the tastiest dish on Earth… Chef Javier Wong taught me the essence of ceviche. He started his restaurant in the garage of his house and it has expanded from there. He is the only chef in the kitchen and his restaurant has no menu. He only cooks using sole (only Pacific sole) and he only offers these options: hot or cold, sweet or sour. It opens for lunch only and you should book in advance. You could as easily find yourself sitting next to a top Peruvian politician or the plasterer working at the building site next door.
It was evident that something extraordinary talent that differentiated some people from us lesser mortals, however foodie we might claim ourselves to be. Javier Wong almost has a cult following and to this day, he goes to the market every morning to buy his fish. The Guardian in UK writes more… He is considered a master of ceviche (spelt cebiche in Peru). His restaurant, which is far from fancy, is in one room of his house, in the rough and tumble district of La Victoria. There’s not even a sign on the door. If you don’t have a reservation, you don’t get in. No exceptions. There’s no menu, substitutions or alterations. Wong works with Pacific sole only. He gets the best pick from the market and is a master with the knife. He breaks down the entire fish at a small table at the head of the dining room and dices it up for a ceviche. He mixes it in a bowl right at the table with just the right amount of salt and lime. On most days, he’ll add octopus, though occasionally you will see squid. It’s served immediately. After the ceviche, you can add a tiradito (a sashimi-like cousin to ceviche) and/or a saltado (stir fry), which Wong prepares in the kitchen in a wok with a high flame. It’s unbelievably simple, yet no one has been able to do it better. Diners reserve months in advance for one of seven tables at Wong’s, proof that with the right ingredients and techniques, a classic recipe from a simple place can be as powerful and tasty as food from the world’s most expensive restaurants. So, what feeds the passion of people like Chef Wong so that they can feed other people with so much dedication, day in and day out? Or is it some kind of a spirituality? Whatever it is, I thank Nicholas Gill for nominating this dish.Dubai’s nomination: The only dish that had been nominated from Dubai was the spicy fried Shrimp from Bu Qtair. Everyone who has been reading my blog knows about my love for Bu Qtair. One year since it’s been published, this is still one of the most-visited blogposts of mine. Also, I am very proud that my amateur video on Bu Qtair has been able to capture its true essence and has had more than 18,500 views on You Tube. Yes, a fish shack on the beach might not be the most novel dining concept. But a fish shack (above) that has been existing for so long in an upscale Dubai neighbourhood without much cosmetic makeover and remaining unfazed by the mighty Burj Al Arab lurking at the backdrop – is definitely a feat. Although, another seafood restaurant around the same area has become quite a favourite of mine recntly, Bu Qtair will always be special. And with rumours floating around that Bu Qtair might shut down very soon with the entire Jumeirah shoreline falling under the surgery table for a makeover, I think it is important for food bloggers and anyone with a bit of social media prowess, to shout out for places like Bu Qtair. Although Bu Qtair didn’t win the Chowzter award and I did feel that I was struck by some personal tragedy. But as the mighty Alaskan King Crab from the Dynasty restaurant in Vancouver popped out from the screen in front (below) – larger than life – as the winner of the World’s tastiest Seafood Dish at the 2014 Global Chowzter Awards, I happily accepted defeat. Mijune Pak who blogs as Follow me Foodie describes her nominated dish… A favourite among the Chinese community, reservations are strongly recommended at Chef Sam Leung’s upscale restaurant, where he serves a traditional and west coast-influenced menu. During Alaskan king crab season (February to April), tourists and locals flock to experience his Alaskan king crab dinner. In this must-try feast, the crab is prepared several ways. The standard three-way features steamed garlic crab legs, deep-fried crab knuckles and baked Alaskan king crab fried rice with Portuguese curry sauce. Additional ways include crab salad and a soup and noodle course, which sits on a savory king crab steamed egg custard.
Did I fancy all the winners of Chowzter Awards = Am I dying to taste all of the winning dishes? Food is as subjective to individual palate as abstract art is. Each nominated food item has a story that reeks of either crushed garlic and onions or freshly chopped herbs and epic marinades. Many of them have tempted me to book my tickets immediately to that city or the region where it belongs. Some of them don’t. But for all those items that do, I can hear the hustle and the bustle of the tiny kitchen where the dish is prepared and the slamming of the doors as the unsung hero of the show – the cook or the chef paves his way urgently to stir up the orders. Here, I talked about Chef Wong’s Ceviche because it is Chef Wong’s story that inspires me more than the dish itself and the Alaskan King Crab because it had been a contender to Dubai’s deserving nomination. There are a few other winning dishes that may tempt me to travel thousands of kilometres. For example, The Chuleton at Asador Etxebarri in Bilbao which won the Chowzter’s World’s Best Steak. At a small village farm house (below), nestled deep in the Atxondo valley, at the foothills of the magical Mt Anboto, the restaurant still preserves ancient techniques of grill cooking using carefully selected firewood from the surrounding. You will find a home-grown menu, perfectly in sync with nature and changing with the seasonal fresh produce – do have a look at the video here and tell me if it doesn’t tempt you (assuming that you are a non-vegetarian beef-eater of course!). The Steak winner was revealed however, a day earlier at a Steak Symposium that had been organised at one of the popular steak houses in London – Flat Iron. Our steak journey was conducted by Mark Schatzker, the author of the award winning book by the obvious name – Steak. While my post is marinating, I can’t forget our experience at the Steak Symposium and the sheer hard work that we had to put in while blind tasting 6 different types of steak in order to rate them later… No Garlic No Onion writes all about it. While the Steakhouse at Etxebarri in Bilabao is beckoning me in my dreams, so is the Pad Thai at Pad Thai Thip Samai, Bangkok. How does this Pad Thai, arguably the most popularly recognisable Thai dishes differ from the many $1 Pad Thai dishes that you will find in the streets of Bangkok? Mark Viens of Eating Thai Food describes this dish so eloquently in his blog that it makes me want to go and slurp on the noodles from a hot bowl. The restaurant has been operating since 1966 and Mark writes more… Using charcoal, the chefs are able to fuel the fire so they get the fierce heat required to produce the correct scorched flavor. Big batches, probably 10 – 15 plate fulls, are cooked at a time in medium sized woks. Depending on the version of Pad Thai ordered, the recipe often begins first with shrimp that are fried in oil before being joined by thick handfuls of dry rice noodles. The noodles are soaked in sauces and oils as the heat and steam cooks the noodles quickly. Tofu, baby shrimp, leeks, bean sprouts, and other ingredients per recipe, are all tossed into the mixture. Finally the mess of Pad Thai is scooted to one side as eggs are cracked into the agglomeration. The last line lingers on my mind. Bangkok also wins the Chowzter’s ‘Foodiest City in the World’, knocking down the other competing foodie cities – London, Lima, Singapore and Vancouver. Thailand has me wrapped in its fingers and last year I had spent a lot of time in Krabi in South Thailand, even learning how to cook a freshly caught Baramundi in a Thai Red Curry in a small restaurant in the fishermen’s village. I am yet to savour Bangkok, and if we diverge away from the street food scene, the city boasts of some award winning fine dining restaurants – Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list revealed in February placed Nahm on the top of its region. Particularly interesting is Gaggan, a Bangkok restaurant by Gaggan Anand where Indian street food is inspired by El Bulli, made its debut on the list at No. 17 at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list! But for the time being, I am happy with my Bangkok street food…
As pizzas and seafoods, noodles and vegetarian dishes competed amongst themselves for the top tastiest spot, the other dish that I have been fancying a lot is the Hainanese Chicken Rice from Tian Tian at Maxwell Hawker Center in Singapore. Singapore has always been one of my favourite cities to eat out but I have missed out eating on this Chicken Rice which won the Chowzter’s Tastiest Rice Dish on Earth, seems so simple yet tempting. To be eaten slightly chilled, it contradicts the ‘fierceness’ of the chilli and has Anthony Bourdain writing this… the rice can be taken alone. Although simple it delivers a taste that develops wonderfully and engages with the senses! This is not all. The dish has defeated Gordon Ramsay in a hawker duel. Catherine Ling who nominated this dish writes more on this episode in her blog, Camemberu, A little description of the dish here… The rice is cooked in chicken stock and fat, ginger, garlic and pandan leaves. It’s soft, moist and so full of flavour, you can eat it on its own. The real kicker at Tian Tian is the house-made chill sauce that uses lime juice instead of vinegar for that sweet citrusy tang. Customise your final flavours with dark soy sauce, fragrant minced ginger paste and chilli sauce, either as a dip or drizzled on top.
Are Food Bloggers becoming the real source of dining news in a city? Around the world – definitely yes. And Dubai also catches up with its own Gourmet Trail. And a Food Magazine created by collaborating with UAE Food Bloggers. Food bloggers are gradually being perceived as the leading food writers in their own cities and it was about time that their efforts and their passions were recognised. Interacting with so many food bloggers who had come from around the world, made me feel stronger in my belief about my own blog. I came back inspired. To mention each one them here would probably be insane and deserves a separate blog post by itself, but I have to mention Maria Luisa Ríos of Milsabores, who won Chowzter’s Outstanding Contribution Award. Both of us had been lugging each other – whether on our trip to the Borough Market or to the Brick Lane (above right) – she in search of Indian spices that she would be carrying for her friend in Caracas and I, searching for my Bengali friends who had come to the Bangladeshi shop for grocery. We strutted back together (light headed in our heads for obvious reasons) to our hotel from L’Anima Cafe on the Awards Night – our lives depending upon the Google Map on my dying smartphone. Life is not easy in Venezuela, specially with the current political situation, but she continues to share her love and passion for food through Twitter (she tweets more often than she blogs nowadays). Chowzter gave us – the food bloggers a great international platform (hats off to Jeffrey Merrihue’s vision) where we can together talk about the unsung heroes of the various small restaurants around the world. The food world has more than enough Award Nights like these. Back home in Dubai, diners and authorities are waking up to the power of the Food Bloggers in scouting out the best dining venues in the city – be it fine dining or budget eateries. The recently concluded Dubai Food Festival appointed 6 food bloggers from the city to chalk out its Dubai Gourmet Trail Guide. These bloggers are not only perceived as local food experts, they are also perceived as major influencers in the Dubai culinary scene… Sarah Walton of The Hedonista, Samantha Wood of FooDiva, Saba Wahid of Culinary Delights, Shaikha Ali of When Shaikha Cooks, Tala Soubra of Fork it Over Dubai, Karen of Secret Squirrels Food. Apart from these bloggers, there are more than 100 passionate food bloggers in the region who are part of Fooderati Arabia, an informal group of bloggers, all united by the common subject matter – Food. These bloggers inspire Dubai residents with its recipes, culinary travels and chalk out the regular happenings in the Dubai dining scene. My belief and utter trust in Food Bloggers have given birth to Food e Mag dxb, the digital magazine that I co-edit.Here’s the list of all the dishes that have won the Chowzter Awards. I do have reservations on some – no bones to pick here with any of the Chief Chowzters (love the group picture taken by Simon) who had chosen them (in fact I have got selfies with most of them to prove that as well). But then as I said before, food preferences are subjective. I couldn’t eat the Léchon that has been awarded the tastiest feast in Asia, even though Anthony Bourdain, on his Philippine episode of No Reservations, hailed this roasted pig – a speciality of this island country, as the ‘the best pig ever’. Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet, who has nominated this dish from Pepita’s Kitchen in Manila – no offense buddy! Also, I would have expected a more tastier dessert than the one coronated as the Chowzter’s Tastiest Dessert on Earth. Niamh of Eat like a girl, had nominated the Fried Jam Croissant from Albion, the award-winning bakery and cafe in Shoreditch. Unlike the other dishes that I was drooling over, just hearing about them or by watching the movie on them, this was one dish which was served to us (above). I loved biting into fried croissant through the crystalised sugar and discover the fruit jam tucked inside its flaky pocket, but to satisfy this sweet-loving Bengali food blogger, there has to be more punch to the syrup! Regarding the Falafels too, I like the sound of the Parisien ones and I found Mathilde, who nominated them cute too, but I will always stand by the sesame sprinkled Falafel Mahshi from Sultan Dubai Falafel restaurant, the ones that I have tasted in Arabian Pilgrimage Food Tour With Frying Pan Adventures. Well, have you tasted any of the above winning dishes in your travels and most importantly, do you fancy all of these? Or is there a fast feast dish that you have come across that you think should have made the cut? Coming back to Dubai, do you think that there are dishes that ought to have been added/deleted in my Dubai list of fast feasts?
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: All pictures have been taken by me, mostly from the Chowzter movies that were rolling out on the screen, excepting the group photo below of the Chief Chowzters. Please note that this blog is not a sponsored blog and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can catch my daily travel and food journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
More on Chowzter Awards by the Chief Chowzters from around the World:
- Chowzter’s Steak Symposium at Flat Iron, London (No Garlic No Onion)
- Barcelona vs The World: best fast feasts (Forever Barcelona)
- Chowzter Aims to Find Tastiest Dishes on Earth (Chopsticks and Marrow)
- Chowzter announces winners for 2014 World’s Tastiest Fast Feasts (A Gringo in Mexico)
- 13 Of The Tastiest Dishes On Earth (Tasty Chomps)
- Chowzter’s Tastiest Feasts 2014 and Feasting in London (Migrationology)
- Chowzter World Awards 2014 (No Onion No Garlic)
More on Chowzter Awards in Press:
- The Best Street Food in the World (Business Insider)
- Bangkok Named ‘Foodiest’ City in Fast Feasts Battle (Wall Street Journal)
- The best fast food in the world – winners of the Chowzter fast feasts awards 2014 (The Guardian UK)
More on Bu Qtair by Dubai bloggers:
- Where to take visitors to eat in Dubai – on a budget (mycustardpie.com)
- Bu Qtair Dubai (Pear tree Diaries)
- Dubai :: Bu Qtair: Fried fish worth waiting for (The World according to Mitzee Mee)