What makes a dish perfect?

In my first post on this website (click here to read it), I talked about why pizza is a perfect food. While it remains one of my favourite dishes, I would be lying if I told you it was the only food I regard as perfect. But what exactly do I mean by that?

It is important to note that perfection is an entirely subjective notion because it defines something that's as good as it is possible to be, which obviously differs from person to person. Our tastes and preferences are also conditioned by what we grew up eating and where we live in the world, so my list of perfect dishes will be very different to yours. Although difficult to quantify, I've managed to narrow down my definition of a perfect dish into three main categories.

The first is having a balance of texture and flavour. By that, I mean that I, like many of us, have a preference towards dishes that have contrasting elements that balance each other out, rather than having a more homogeneous aspect. With pizza, for example, you have the crispiness of the bottom part that contrasts with the softer dough that sits below the smooth tomato sauce, which in turn provides sweetness and acidity that contrast the overall saltiness of the dish with the bitterness of a few charred areas of the pizza. Although balance contributes enormously to my enjoyment of a dish, they can generally be tweaked very easily by adding crunchiness through various other ingredients and balancing out the flavour yourself using salt, sugar, vinegar...

Next, we have whether a food is craveable or not, which just means: are the flavours present ones that I fundamentally desire? This is probably the most subjective part because there are many dishes that people are head over heels about that I like very much, but wouldn't call perfect, like sushi. Cravability is the only requirement it doesn't meet for it to be a perfect food to me, simply because raw fish, although being a flavour I very much love, isn't something I crave. On the other hand, having recently begun taking an interest in Mexican cuisine, the overall flavour profile of taco fillings like al pastor pork and carnitas paired with corn tortillas is something that I crave very much.

Finally is the question of how adaptable and varied a dish is. This is by far the most important one for me because if a dish has only one main version, then over time my interest in it will drop whereas if it has many different interpretations and variations, then I can spend much more time eating, thinking, and learning about it. Take ramen for example. It is one of the most versatile dishes I've ever seen, as it can vary from shio (salt seasoned soup) to shoyu (soy sauce soup) with broths made from pork, chicken, dried fish, vegetables or all of the above in one bowl, which is before even scratching the surface of the hundreds of different topping combinations that are possible. This ensures that getting bored with the dish is much more difficult because as the saying goes, variety is the spice of life.

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Matthew Daws

Matthew Daws