Affordable, delicious: The world's 16 best 'B-class gourmet' dishes

They know their food in Japan. They know their high-end food, and they know their down-and-dirty cheap food. There's a passion in this country for cuisine at all ends of the budget scale, in all styles and flavours and presentations.

That's why Japan recognises the greatness of its "B-kyu gurume" food – otherwise known as "B-class gourmet". This is the hearty, unpretentious cuisine that will never win Michelin stars, that will never make 50 Best lists, and yet is cooked with passion and eaten with relish across the country.

There's an annual convention and awards ceremony for B-class gourmet food, the B-1 Grand Prix, designed to recognise the cooks around the country who are turning out best affordable cuisine, who have achieved greatness with things like ramen noodles, yakisobi (fried noodles), and even nabe (meat hotpot). It's a brilliant idea.

The Japanese know their food – but they're not the only ones churning out great B-class gourmet cuisine. Every great food culture around the world, in fact, excels at this style of simple, no-frills eating. And it's about time they were recognised.

Felafel, Israel

Louisa and Shuki at the Melbourne University farmers market where their felafel's were in high demand. The're opening a felafel restaurant in Brunswick.  Photo: PENNY STEPHENS. The Age - Good Food. 13TH APRIL 2016

You can't even describe just how good a real, Middle Eastern felafel is. The stuff we eat in Australia doesn't go close. In Jerusalem, at the small street stands and restaurants in the east of the city, they're churning out near-perfect felafel, crunchy on the outside, pillowy and light in the middle, with such amazing flavour.

Khao Soi, Thailand

This fiery northern Thai dish is the breakfast of champions, a spicy, sour, crunchy noodle soup that's good for what ails you. The noodles are a mix of boiled and deep-fried; the soup is a spice-heavy curry sauce mixed with coconut milk; the toppings include pickled mustard greens, ground chillis in oil, lime juice and fresh herbs. The result is sensational. (Melburnians, try it at Soi 38.)

Pizza, Italy

A pizza fresh out of the oven at Gino Sorbillo's celebrated pizzeria in Naples, Italy, Dec. 8, 2017. Sorbillo and the city's 3,000 other pizzaiuoli were recently named part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. ?It?s an art,? said Sorbillo. ?It started in Naples and survived the centuries, despite all the difficulties, the earthquakes, Vesuvius, the war, the wars.? (Gianni Cipriano/The New York Times) A pizza fresh out of the oven at Gino Sorbillo's celebrated pizzeria in Naples, Italy, Dec. 8, 2017. Sorbillo and the city's 3,000 other pizzaiuoli were recently named part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. ?It?s an art,? said Sorbillo. ?It started in Naples and survived the centuries, despite all the difficulties, the earthquakes, Vesuvius, the war, the wars.? (Gianni Cipriano/The New York Times) - XNYT130

American pizza is great, but you can't go past the traditional Neapolitan-Italian style, with the spongy crust and the soupy centre, topped with the barest minimum of flavours. Naples is the epicentre of the pizza world, though the gourmet supermarket Eataly in Rome also does a surprisingly great margherita.

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Ramen, Japan

I stayed at an Airbnb in Tokyo once, and the host had written a small booklet on her favourite local eateries. It began with a section on ramen, introduced with this sentence: "Ramen ramen ramen, always on my mind". I hear you girl. Ramen – that most delicious of noodles soups, sometimes porky, sometimes fishy, always rich and tasty with perfect, chewy noodles and slices of bamboo and boiled egg and pork – is always on my mind too.

Cheeseburger, USA

DA6W2M Shake Shack Burgers Covent Garden London Credit Alamy
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Oddly, given Americans' propensity to go bigger and better in all departments, the country's best cheeseburgers are kept pretty simple: ground beef moulded into a patty, cooked to your liking; a soft white bun; a slab of American cheddar; a few squirts of ketchup and mustard; a pickled cucumber on the side. And you have yourself burger heaven.

Xiao Long Bao, China

Xiao Long Bao, Streamed Pork Dumplings(Selective Focus) - Image
 SatFeb2Malaysia - Penang Malaysia food tour - Brian Johnston
Credit: Shutterstock

The world has already begun to recognise the delicate beauty of the Shanghainese xiao long bao, the "soup dumpling", the little package of pork and hot liquid bundled up in a tiny rice-flour package. You can get a great XLB in Australia, but for the real experience you have to go to the source, to Shanghai, and feast.

Taco, Mexico

Taco stand, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

Tacos ain't tacos. The versions served in Mexico are different beasts entirely to the tacos we've been served for so long in Australia. In their homeland tacos are filled with things like tongue and offal, with meat stripped from a cow's head, with cactus that's been salted and fried. As long as it's spicy and delicious, Mexicans will stuff it in a tortilla and eat it.

Nasi lemak, Malaysia

<i>Nasi lemak</i>

Photo: Alamy

Another breakfast of champions, and one of my favourite ways to begin the day. Nasi lemak is a little mountain of coconut rice served with deep-fried anchovies, peanuts, slices of cucumber, boiled egg, and a spicy sambal that's so addictive it should be illegal. Add a fried chicken leg or some beef rendang and away you go.

Rice and curry, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Food Rice and Curry Jan14cover-tour

Rice, and curry. So simple, and yet so delicious. Go to any rice-and-curry shop in Sri Lanka and help yourself to a smorgasbord of local flavours, several vegetable and meat curries, with all the sambals and chutneys and pappadams you can handle, piled on top of perfectly cooked rice. I don't crave Michelin-starred food – I crave Sri Lankan rice and curry.

Choripan, Argentina

The name "choripan" is a portmanteau of this widely loved street snack's two main ingredients: a chorizo, and a bread roll (pan in Spanish). Pop one into the other, add some chimichurri and you're all set. Snacking perfection, Argentinian style.

Pho, Vietnam

Girl eating traditional Vietnamese beef soup Pho Bo with chopsticks
 SunSep2Trav10 - TRAVELLER 10 Asian food cities - Brian Johnston
Credit: Shutterstock

If you've ever tried to make pho, the famous Vietnamese noodle soup, then you'll know how deceptively complex it really is. There's so much that goes into the broth, so many spices that have to be perfectly balanced. Then you need the right noodles, the right cuts of beef, bean sprouts, fresh herbs and wedges of lemon – and you're in heaven.

Arroz con pato, Peru

Peruvian cuisine is becoming famous thanks to its superstar fine-dining chefs, but it should be known for the high quality of its everyday cuisine. Take arroz con pato: a dish of rice pilaf cooked with local vegetables and spices, as well as a confit duck leg. This is a sophisticated dish, and Peruvians just grab one for an average lunch.

Cassoulet, France

There's much to love about French cuisine, both the fancy stuff and the more basic meals. This is one of the latter, the cassoulet, the hearty stew of pork sausages and duck cooked with white beans in a rich soup. It's the local specialty in Languedoc, and it's worth travelling for this dish alone.

Hainanese chicken rice, Singapore

Hainanese chicken rice.

Hainanese chicken rice. Photo: Quentin Jones

It's not as if this dish hasn't been recognised by the big food identities: Michelin has awarded several of Singapore's Hainanese chicken rice purveyors its "bib gourmand" classification, one below a star. Many of these purveyors serve their famous dish for only $3 or $4 a plate, making it highly accessible, and yet still amazingly good.

Scotch egg, England

British food doesn't get much love on the world stage, but it deserves it. Take the humble Scotch egg. It's a boiled egg, still slightly runny in the middle, covered in pork sausage mince, coated in bread crumbs and deep-fried. What's not to love?

Thali, India

EMK65A South Indian Thali, gourmet restaurant Malabar Junction, Boutique Hotel Malabar House, Fort Kochi, Kerala, India str30reasons-kochi

A traditional thali is one dish, but it's also several. It's like the rice and curry of Sri Lanka: usually a set portion of selected curries, served with rice or bread (depending on where you are), with chutneys and lime pickle, plus a super-sweet dessert. Every city you go to in India, the thali will be different, but it will be delicious. More people should know about this.

See also:The 10 foods every visitor to the US needs to try

See also: From Rocky Mountain oysters to Marmite, here are the world's 10 most divisive foods

What are your favourite "B-class gourmet" dishes from around the world? Does Australia have a dish like this to call its own? Is this stuff better than Michelin-starred fare?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

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