Imagine something, if you will. It’s the year 3500. The apes have already risen and enslaved us, only to be taken over by alien overlords. Humans are done-zo. That’s all she wrote. Gone. As the aliens inevitably do something to reinvigorate the planet and hit the reset button on Earth, they will come across our records. They’ll see our wars, our innovations (that the aliens had 500 years before us), and, perhaps most important of all, they’ll see what we did to survive. They’ll see episodes of Essence of Emeril and Instagram photos of foods. They’ll see all of the best food pairings we as humans have come up with over time.
We’re not talking about the stuff that Michelin-starred chefs are creating, either. Those will live on in their own way. We’re talking about what you and I and Joe Everyman make. These are the pairings that you crave when you’re drunk and when you’re sober.
Below, check out our picks for the best food pairings that define humanity.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
This is a cradle-to-grave kind of pairing if there ever was one. As soon as you can chew — as long as you’re not allergic to peanuts — you can experience the wonder that is salty peanut butter and sweet grape jelly. With the blank canvas that is white bread, this sandwich is always delicious and fit for anyone of any age. If anyone ever tells you otherwise, they are not your friend. Quietly walk away, then go make a PB&J for yourself.
Steak and Eggs
You know it’s a good pairing when there are two sources of protein involved. A nice cut of steak cooked medium rare with just enough marbling in it only gets better when married with a perfectly fried egg. This pairing gets turned to 11 with the addition of a nice hot sauce. Is there a better breakfast? If there was, it might only be topped by our next option.
Chicken and Waffles
Fried meat and dough (and syrup). Two objects that are great on their own, but are made to sing like angels with the addition of maple syrup. When done right, the chicken is moist beneath a flavorful crisp shell that has soaked up just enough syrup. Great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a 2 a.m. snack.
Chips and Salsa
As we’ve already established (and will continue to), salt is a godsend when it comes to flavor — salt allows other flavors to thrive. With chips and salsa, the salt you find on a fresh corn tortilla chip brings to life the zesty nature of a nice, spicy salsa. You can eat this pairing literally anywhere, and it gets bonus points for the number of possible iterations (type of chip, flavor of salsa, et cetera) possible.
Cheeseburger and Fries
Another meat and starch combination, sure, but just as with the chips and salsa pairing, a cheeseburger and fries can be a simple, straightforward pairing, or it can be brought to the level of haute cuisine, all dependent on who’s doing the cooking and what ingredients they’re using. You’ve got grilled meat, cheese, dough, and salty fried potatoes. If we had to create a food pyramid, it would literally only have those ingredients on it. And it would be shaped like a burger and fries on a plate.
Macaroni and Cheese
So simple, yet so beautiful. Eating a good macaroni and cheese is like talking to a higher power. Evidence of this is the malleability of the dish. Not only is it amazing when using real cheese that melts and falls into all of the right nooks and crannies in the pasta, but it’s also delicious when made with mass-produced cheese sauce or, hell, when the cheese is created from a powder like some sort of witchcraft. It should probably be spelled witch Kraft.
Cookies and Cream
We haven’t had enough dessert options yet, so here you go. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got literal cookies and cream or cookies and cream as an ice cream flavor, they both are pretty epic. The sweet cream flavor, shot through with crunchy cookie, makes a textural sensation few pairings can top. Also, sugar. Lots of sugar. And who doesn’t love that much sugar?
Tomato (Sauce) and Mozzarella Cheese
In short, this pairing is all because of one thing: pizza. We’re not going to talk about the various kinds of pizza and which is best, but instead focus on what makes all styles of pizza so magnificent. We’ve already established that these ingredients, in other combinations, are amazing. Put together, they really help each other shine. When in sauce form, the tomatoes cling to the gooey, hot cheese, making a melange of flavors that is hard to explain, but harder to ignore. You’ve had pizza before, you know what we’re talking about.
Fish and Chips
If you were to ever create a legendary food pairing on your own, you’d probably do best by starting with potatoes. In fried form, they are almost the perfect example of a side dish. Some crisp, some salt, some texture, all coming together in portable form. With this pairing, you’ve got the glory of potatoes plus flaky, mild fish that falls apart under little pressure, the always under-appreciated tartar sauce, and the tang of a good malt vinegar. You cover multiple textures and taste profiles, much to the delight of one’s tongue. Ask anyone from England — we’re not wrong.
Chocolate and Strawberries
When it comes to sensual pairings, not many can top chocolate and strawberries. After all, you’ve got two aphrodisiacs coming together in a beautiful union — it’s science. On one hand, dark, sweet, sultry chocolate that can literally melt in your mouth. On the other, plump, luscious strawberries that burst with fresh fruit flavor. The combination of the two sends your tongue on a Tunnel of Love of flavor, leading your slowly toward pure bliss.