I’ve been asked what my favorite dish is enough times to have an answer out of the box. Before we get to the nitty-gritty, would you guess? I mentioned it a few times during my tenure as City Weeklyis the resident kitchen guy, but chances are it’s more of a between-the-lines thing.
To abandon? Okay, I’ll tell you: my favorite dish is what I affectionately call meat-stuffed bread. Now, before I burn all the credibility I’ve gained in my food writing career so far, give me a chance to unbox this simple yet perfect bite.
When I say “meat stuffed bread,” I cast a net wide enough to wrap around a variety of foods that cross geographic boundaries. These are foods that exist and are enjoyed by every major culinary culture on the planet, foods that could very well have been the first attempt by early humans to put together a recipe. Meat-stuffed bread transcends cultures, reminds us of our similarities and makes us feel at home – and how many world leaders can you tell that from?
If you’re still not convinced, allow me to plead my case. The following are meat stuffed buns that come to us from around the world and where you can find a good example locally. Keep reading – you can thank me for discovering your new favorite dish later.
The baker. Sometimes called Cornish Pasty, if you want to get technical, this savory hand pie originated in Cornwall, UK. holding a candle underneath.
Incidentally, the Park City silver miners were also fond of baking, which is where The dough miner (945 S. 300 West, Ste. 101, 385-334-3389, doughminer.com) kicks in. This new addition to the Central Ninth area bakes homemade baked goods with traditional flavors like rib eye, potato , carrots, turnips and onion. . For the ultimate Utah culinary purist, they also have Funeral Potato Pies, stuffed with buttery cheesy mashed potatoes. Although donuts aren’t meat-stuffed bread, they’re nice enough to have after devouring a pastry or two — nothing goes better with a savory dough than a sweet one, after all.
The Calzone. It’s hard to improve on pizza, but let the culinary geniuses of Naples, Italy be bold enough to try. Like the pasty, the calzone was conceptualized as a way to enjoy pizza perfection on the go. By adding all the toppings, folding the dough over the top, and throwing it in the oven, a pizza revolution was born.
Locally, I think you have two safe bets. Calzone at Vesuvius The pie (multiple locations, thepie.com) revels in its own excesses by stuffing a traditional calzone with spaghetti, meatballs and mozzarella cheese. It’s a great example of how modern chefs continue to innovate calzone technology. I also dig the pizza benders at The Italian village (5370 S. 900 East, 801-266-4182, italianvillageslc.com), which can be made to order, just like their pizzas.
The Bao. Given its longevity and regional diversity, the Chinese dish known as bao could lead its own meat-stuffed bun subcategory. Its mythical origin story involves a military strategist named Zhuge Liang in third-century China trying to trick a river deity into letting his army cross. The deity demanded 50 severed heads, so Liang demanded 50 human head-sized dumplings and threw them away for passage. It worked and since then Chinese chefs have been creating new variations of this delicious meal of steamed or baked bread stuffed with BBQ pork, vegetables or whatever sounds good.
You have a solid list of bao places here in Utah, but I like to order them with dim-sum at Hong Kong tea house (565 W. 200 South, 801-531-7010, hongkongteahouse.yolasite.com). They have steamed and baked variants, although baking bao are usually only there on weekends. If I was a river deity, I would ask for 50 bao on severed heads any day of the week.
The Samosa. Another ancient dish that can thank the various cultures born from the Persian Empire. It was a snack in the palatial courts of the Ghaznavid Empire, and it was a lunch bag for Uzbek shepherds. Today, of course, it’s our appetizer of choice when we order savory curry at one of our local restaurants. It’s hard to go wrong with a fried triangle stuffed with ground meat or baked potatoes wherever you find one, although I think the deals at Saffron Valley (multiple locations, saffronvalley.com) are my favorites. It’s consistency, I think; the seasoning and size are always exactly what I want when I crave that delicious little snack.
The list of tasty stuffed meat buns can of course go on and on. I know that I neglect empanadas Latin American cuisine, pierogis from Eastern Europe and the pretzel dogs from the mall food court, but all hold a special place in my heart. I hope you can say the same.