(CNN) — Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If we’re talking menus, you might be inclined to say “egg,” if only for its ubiquity at breakfast. But the egg is the star of many other meals, too, and it is beloved for its workhorse qualities in recipes the world over.
You could say the egg is ready for anything, and for its close-up. Or, as the saying goes, when in doubt, “put an egg on it.”
“The greatest of all our foods, the egg combines beauty, elegance, and simplicity, a miracle of natural design and, as food, bounty,” writes Ruhlman.
“For as long as eggs have popped from bird butts, they’ve been relished the world round,” says Khong, “eaten, drunk, steamed, whisked, fried, baked, poached, cracked into dorm room bowls of Top Ramen, coddled in Michelin-starred restaurants. People eat eggs everywhere.”
This unranked, purposefully meandering list takes us on a global tour of just some of those places, showcasing the myriad ways that eggs anchor dishes that are sweet, savory and every flavor profile in between.
Shakshuka, Middle East and North Africa
While most commonly referred to as an Israeli dish, shakshuka (rough translation: “all mixed up”) is eaten across the Middle East and North Africa. In the West, it’s often presented in iron skillets along with hunks of crusty bread, making it a brunch favorite. What makes shakshuka so irresistible, though, is the soft-cooked egg poached in a peppery tomato sauce. Whatever extra accoutrements are added, nothing beats the thrill of dragging a slice of bread into the fragrant sauce laced with runny yolk.
Burger with the lot, Australia
Australian cuisine stands on the strength of its uber-fresh ingredients, but one of the country’s most beloved dishes is a more down-and-dirty affair — a burger from the local “milk bar” or fish-n-chip shop. The stuff of beach days in the sun, the Aussie burger starts out simple enough with a plain white bun, minced beef patty, grilled onions, cheese. What makes it a “burger with the lot” are the additions of a fried egg, pineapple, bacon and a thick slice of tinned pickled beetroot. Top it off with Australian barbecue sauce (similar to A1 steak sauce) and grab a stack of napkins because this is going to get messy. You can add lettuce and tomato if you like. As long as it’s got that egg, you’re right, mate.
Eggs Benedict, US
Tortilla Española, Spain
Scotch egg, UK
Quiche, France and Germany
The basics: eggs, milk, seasonings and fillings of your choice. A savory open-faced custard pie, traditionally made in a pastry crust. While we tend to associate today’s iteration with French cooking, the quiche is said to have originated in a medieval German kingdom before spreading across the region. Once it reached France, it was renamed Lorraine, the pie gaining bacon and onions. Much later, cheese was added to most quiche recipes, too, but the traditionalists, such as chef Alain Ducasse, leave the fromage out of a classic Quiche Lorraine.
Pickled eggs, UK and USA
Once upon a time, bars served much heartier snacks than a bowl of peanuts, and the pickled egg was popular in the public houses of 19th century England. The custom emigrated to the taverns of the United States, and eventually became a staple of dive bars, even making an appearance at Moe’s on “The Simpsons.” While the brine in a pickled egg jar can take almost any kind of addition to zhoosh up the basic vinegar water, adding turmeric, red cabbage and beet will produce bolder colors.
Menemen takes its name from a region in Turkey, where it’s a popular breakfast dish, often served with yoghurt and flatbread or crusty bread. Similar to shakshuka, menemen consists of eggs scrambled with peppers and tomatoes. This delicious base can be customized by adding things like feta, onions and sujuk (sausage flavored with chili, cumin and garlic), Turkish author Ozlem Warren explains in “All About Eggs.” Often served in a Turkish copper skillet called a sahan, menemen is not just for the mornings, says Warren, but also makes a great light supper or substantial lunch.
Huevos Rancheros, Mexico
Egg salad, France
Egg drop soup, China
Croque madame, France
First there was a croque monsieur — a “gentleman’s sandwich” of bread, cheese and ham — which appeared in Paris in the early part of the 20th century. Then some wise soul put an egg on it and the decadent delight became a croque madame — the feminine name a nod to a woman’s hat. What makes a good croque madame apart from the sunny side up egg are those undeniably French details — at Bouchon Bakery & Cafe, that means clarified butter, homemade brioche, Swiss cheese and a mornay sauce with (more) grated cheese and a dash of nutmeg.
Egg curry, India
As with all curries, each recipe you find for egg curry will have some tweak or “secret” ingredient, passed down through the generations. Almost everyone will prefer the one their mom or dad or grandmother made for them. In “All About Eggs,” Padma Lakshmi recalls a recipe her mother made when there was little else on hand. Whatever egg curry it is you’re cooking or savoring, it’s a good bet that the hard-boiled eggs will be joined by at least some combination of the following ingredients: onions, garlic, tomato, curry leaves, ginger, cumin, cardamom, bell peppers, garam masala, black pepper and cilantro to garnish. In other words: heaven on a plate.
Loco moco, US
This one’s not for the calorie-counters. The loco moco’s origin story involves hungry teenagers, who were said to have ordered the appetite-crushing combo of steamed rice, a hamburger patty and a fried egg — all of it smothered with gravy. Filling, comforting and cheap, it became a hit in Hilo on the Island of Hawaii before spreading across the state and to Japan and California. High-end takes on the loco moco have appeared, using prime rib and fried quail eggs, but traditionalists swear by the humble, gut-busting original.
Hopper, Sri Lanka
Popular across Sri Lanka, the hopper is most commonly eaten at breakfast. It looks similar to a pancake or crepe, but is made from fermented rice flour and served with coconut milk, spices and—for maximum flavor—an egg. The array of hoppers includes sweet and savory versions, and they are great accompaniments to all kinds of curry. As visitors to Sri Lanka’s open-air food stalls will discover, hoppers are usually made with a custom-made pan that resembles a mini-wok.
Basque-style baked eggs, Spain
What is essentially an egg casserole is elevated to culinary heights in the hands of Michelin-starred chefs. Martín Berasategui likes his baked eggs as a late-night snack. Alain Ducasse has a recipe for Basque baked eggs with bell peppers, Serrano ham and piment d’Espelette (a local pepper). Whatever the bottom layer of the casserole dish contains, the trick is to cook the eggs cracked into the mixture gently, so that the white is set but the yolk runny. Don’t forget the bread for dipping.
Pavlova, Australia & New Zealand
Both Aussies and Kiwis lay claim to the meringue tart, the “Pav,” that has become a summer and holiday meal favorite. The Aussies trace the recipe back to a chef in Perth; but he apparently found a recipe in a magazine (written by a New Zealander) and improved upon it. The Kiwi version involves a Wellington hotel chef who created the dessert in honor of visiting ballerina Anna Pavlova in 1926. Either way, the Pav is at heart a meringue base (made from whipped egg whites and sugar) filled with whipped cream or creme fraiche and topped with some form of fresh, zesty fruit, most commonly kiwifruit, berries or passionfruit.
Egg tart, China
Margaret’s Cafe e Nata is famous for its sweet, delicious Macanese egg tarts. We meet up with the legendary woman behind the Macao brand, Margaret Wong.
Egg tarts were eaten in medieval England and by 13th-century monks in Portugal. But the version we know from modern-day Hong Kong is said to have originated in Guangzhou in the 1920s, when department store chefs created a new treat to lure customers. The pairing of flaky puff pastry and smooth, yellow egg custard took off in Hong Kong’s “tea restaurants” in the 1940s and remains a popular dessert snack today. As writer Anna Ling Kaye recounts in “All About Eggs,” there is a version from Macau that’s more caramelized and smoky-sweet than the Cantonese version — an egg tart with Portuguese ancestry perfected by a British pharmacist-turned-baker and his Chinese wife.
Translation: fried (or grilled) egg. But, as with so many things Japanese, there’s more to it than that. Tamagoyaki is made from rolling layers of that fried or grilled egg into a kind of wedge or roll or log. (Don’t worry, you can achieve this by using a special pan created just for this process, called a makiyakinabe). Like the omelet, a tamagoyaki can be customized with different ingredients to make it sweet or savory, fishy or smoky, or whatever flavor it is you desire. The basics are basic — eggs, soy, sugar and dashi — the fish stock that’s also used to make miso soup.
Oeufs en cocotte, France
Cocotte is the name for the small oval casserole dish the French use to make their steamed eggs. While you’re getting your lips around one French phrase, here’s another: Maître d’Oeufst, Master of Eggs, a title French chef Jacques Pépin lays claim to. Pépin’s oeufs en cocotte entail mushrooms and shallots, cream, and of course, eggs, which are steamed with this mixture in their cocotte — or individual ramekins or little pots. Serve with brioche for maximum sopping up enjoyment.
Kwek kwek, Philippines
This dish checks all the boxes for irresistible street food. Kwek kwek comes on a stick, is deep fried, is a garish orange color and lends itself to dipping in all kinds of sauces. Annatto supplies the color, quails provide the eggs. Filipino street vendors dip them in batter (flour, water and annatto powder), fry ’em up and pop them on a stick. As for the name, it’s said to be a hat tip to the chirps of a bird.
While the migas we know best is a Tex-Mex dish, variations are also enjoyed in Spain, Portugal and, of course, Mexico. Migas means “crumbs” and the scrambled eggs cooked with corn tortilla pieces, cheese, onions, chili peppers and tomatoes is the kind of peasant dish that was born from scraping together whatever one had leftover. In that spirit, other ingredients are sometimes invited to the party, whether refried beans, bacon and chorizo or slices of avocado. For maximum flavor, shop for ingredients like the tortillas, Mexican cheese and crema from a Mexican grocery store.
Egg foo yung, China
Whichever way you spell it (egg foo yong, egg fo yeong, or one of many other iterations), the story of this custardy egg dish is one closely embedded in the evolution of the Chinese restaurant in America. Egg foo yung hails from Canton, but, like many Chinese-American recipes, has been tweaked over the years to suit Western palates. A kind of golden omelet, egg foo yung is filled with bean sprouts, onions or scallions, minced meat or seafood, and served with a sauceboat of brown gravy. That’s probably why it’s still more commonly associated with banquets and old-school Chinese restaurants versus Chinese takeout eaten in front of the TV.
This Turkish dish consists of poached eggs in (or perched upon) yogurt, topped with Aleppo butter. Çilbir is said to date back to early Ottoman times when it was eaten by sultans. What transforms a deceptively simple breakfast staple into something exceptional is the palate-pleasing contrast of the sour yogurt against creamy eggs and butter. Sopping up the runny yolks with a chunk of bread as they stream into the yogurt is naturally all part of the fun.
A savory custard, chawanmushi can be prepared a few different ways and with various additions, much like soup, which it sometimes takes the place of in a Japanese meal. The core ingredients are eggs, dashi and a seasoning of choice. In his book “Egg,” Michael Ruhlman shares a recipe from cook Matthew Kayahara that incorporates chicken, shrimp and mushroom encased in a fragile custard, and utilizes sake and Japanese soy sauce. Napa Valley chef Hiro Stone, meanwhile, adds a garnish of uni and yuzu peel.
Egg brik, Tunisia
Soft scrambled eggs
While the precise progenitor of the scrambled egg may be lost to history, there is evidence to suggest the Ancient Romans were scrambling their eggs, and as this list attests, there are versions from many a country and decade. Here is an abridged definition, as outlined in the American Egg Board’s Eggcyclopedia: “Beat together 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons milk or water, salt and pepper until blended. Heat butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, pour in egg mixture. As eggs begin to set, gently pull them across the pan to form large soft curds. Continue lifting and folding until no liquid egg remains.” From there, cue the debate: is a hard or soft scramble superior, and who does them best?
Baghali ghatogh, Iran
Eggs cooked with dill-scented lima bean — or vegetarian butter bean stew — baghali ghatogh is a northern Iranian specialty. To get even more specifically delicious, recipes often call for the Iranain mix of herbs, spinach and scallions called sabzi. Chef and owner of NYC’s Sofreh restaurant Nasim Alikhani serves her braised butter beans in citrusy dill broth stopped with poached eggs rather than whisking them into the stew.
Flip cocktails, UK and US
Yes, some egg dishes come in beverage form, and we’re not just talking about eggnog. A “flip” cocktail is best described as a combination of a spirit, sugar and a whole egg, preferably shaken with ice. Back in 17-century England — and in the early days of America — flips were made with beer, rum, molasses and egg. They were served hot, in taverns, although the presence of the egg was used to hype the drink’s medicinal benefits. Modern versions dispense with the beer and instead incorporate a range of liquors, thus giving us the sherry flip, the brandy flip, the rum flip and many interpretations of and in between.
Another custardy dessert with its roots in Portugal, quindim is popular in Brazil. It’s made from sugar, egg yolks and ground coconut and is usually served with a shiny glaze of butter or glucose syrup, just in case the sweet ingredients weren’t already tempting enough. It’s thought that the coconut was added to the recipe by African slaves during the 17th century. These days, quindim is typically made using cupcake baking tins, which are flipped so that the crispy layer on top becomes a crusty base for the sweet treat above.
Khagina, Pakistan and Afghanistan
Scrambled eggs may be a common dish around the world, but each region seems to enhance the scramble in new (or old-fashioned but irresistible) ways. Consider the khagina — a hearty, aromatic version filled with spices and best enjoyed with roti. Along with the requisite eggs, butter and salt, khagina typically calls for chopped onion, cumin seed, Thai bird chillies, chopped cilantro and tomato. As is the case with so many of the world’s egg dishes, there are echoes of other regions in this recipe, namely menemen of Turkey and shakshuka of Tunisia or Yemen.
The name of this dessert means “Emperor’s pancakes” and the ruler in question was said to be Austrian Emperor Francis (or Franz) Joseph I (his reign ran from 1848 to 1916). Franz Joseph supposedly liked simple but tasty sweet treats, and who can blame him? Kaiserschmarren is a light, caramelized pancake cooked in butter. Eggs, flour, milk and sugar will get the dish started, and from there, it’s dealer’s choice on adding things like chopped nuts, raisins or pieces of apple, cherries or baked plums.
Scotch woodcock, England
Machaca con huevos, Mexico
Another hearty Mexican egg dish, machaca con huevos kept families satisfied all morning long by adding dried shredded beef to a mixture of eggs, onions, tomatoes and chile peppers. It was a traditional breakfast in Nuevo León and Chihuahua in northern Mexico — cattle country — and a way to use the beef jerky farmers made to preserve meat before the days of refrigeration. Today, machaca can be found in Mexican supermarkets or prepared in the oven. The salty, shredded protein is the perfect match for eggs, especially when served with warm tortillas.
Matzo brei, Eastern Europe and US
Traditionally eaten at Passover when Jews abstain from eating leavened baked goods, matzo brei is made from crumbled matzo (unleavened flatbread), soaked in water and then beaten with eggs. This mixture is then fried and served with a dash of something sweet or savory, depending on the diner’s preference. While it may sound like a stop-gap measure or compromise of sorts, former “Gourmet” editor Ruth Reichl describes matzo brie as a comfort food in her memoir “My Kitchen Year”f and a recipe on the Zabar’s blog claims it makes an excellent midnight snack, as well as a solid brunch or breakfast.
Hangtown Fry, California
This all-American concoction originated in the heady Gold Rush days, when vast appetites collided with deep pockets, making it possible for miners to afford a decadent omelet made with breaded oysters and bacon. To order the dish signaled a windfall, a mark of status. As for the “Hangtown,” that was the name for a Californian mining base now known as Placerville, the one-time home of the El Dorado Hotel, where the fry was said to have been invented. The dish exists in few places today but lives on as a tempting slice of California’s culinary history.
Kai jeow moo sab, Thailand
At its most basic, kai jeow moo sab is a Thai omelet, and while plenty of countries have their version of an omelet, what makes this one worth trying is also what makes it so decadent. It contains minced pork (or chicken), and it’s deep-fried. Whether made at home or purchased from a street vendor, the oil-heavy dish looks more like a golden pancake than a light, fluffy omelet. The key is to cook the ground meat inside the whipped egg, so the fats mix with the yolk,.Use a very high heat.
In a break from many of the egg dishes on this list, matambre is often served cold, and in many cases, eaten as an appetizer. There seems to be some fable embedded into the origin of the dish and the name (said to mean “hunger killer”), but its appearance alone makes it stand out in a sea of brunch staples. In short, matambre is thin flank steak rolled with vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, then grilled or braised. The final step of slicing this meat roll gives it a photogenic, cross-section appearance.
Onsen tamago, Japan
Imagine sinking into a hot geothermal spring in Japan. Now, imagine you are an egg. Onsen tamago is just this: a bath-cooked egg. An egg slipped into warm water to create a silky, custardy egg that can be enjoyed on its own, perhaps with soy-dashi broth poured on top, or as part of another dish such as ramen. Immersion circulators or precise temperature management can be used in place of a thermal spring to provide the low-and-slow method that turns out the best onsen tamago. Somewhere between 45- to 90 minutes at a temp of 63°F will do it, depending how soft you like your whites and how runny or firm you like your yolks.
Egg caviar, France and US
Diners at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s namesake restaurant in New York City may have treasured memories of enjoying egg caviar, one of the chef’s most famous dishes. It’s one that was passed down to Vongerichten from his one-time mentor Louis Outhier. The story goes Outhier needed something to do with the trunks full of caviar he received from the Shah of Iran. A thing of beauty, the caviar egg is made with eggs scrambled with cream, lemon juice, vodka, salt, butter and cayenne. The results are served in the preserved egg shells and topped with whipped cream and two tablespoons of caviar.
A type of Persian frittata, the kuku (or kookoo) is a dish made from whipped eggs combined with different, usually vegetarian, ingredients. Chef Yotam Ottolenghi shares an eggplant kuku recipe in his cookbook, “Plenty More,” which uses barberries — “tiny sweet-and-sour Iranian berries” — that he says are worth hunting down at a Middle Eastern grocery store for the dramatic sharpness they bring to the other ingredients in the dish. In this case, onions, eggplant, garlic, saffron and eggs.
Avgolemono, Greece and Jewish
Another egg soup, this one is different from the Chinese and Italian versions on this list; it’s a thicker concoction of chicken broth, rice or orzo, egg and lemon. And while it’s best known today as a Greek dish, it has both Iberian and Jewish roots and may have been eaten by Sephardic Jews to break the Yom Kippur fast. Avgolemono is not only enjoyed as a soup, but as a sauce, often accompanying vegetables, fish dishes or Greek dolma. Similar egg-lemon-based sauces are used in Turkey and in Spain to thicken soups or in place of mayonnaise.
Ovos moles de papaia, Mozambique
A papaya and egg yolk pudding, ovos moles de papaia comes to us from Mozambique, where the creamy, light flavors are said to be a perfect summer dessert, best served chilled. To make the confection, chopped papaya is blended with lime or lemon juice and water into a puree and then mixed with sugar, cinnamon and cloves to make a syrup. Folding in beaten eggs helps turn the mixture into a thick pudding texture, which thickens even more as it cools.
Eggnog, UK and US
It’s synonymous with the Christmas holiday in America, but eggnog is said to have originated in medieval England, when monks would drink a milky concoction featuring eggs and sherry — ingredients that signaled prosperity. The drink emigrated to the States in the 1700s, when rum became part of the recipe. It’s not known if the “nog” refers to the word “noggin” (wooden cup) or was used to rhyme with “grog” (booze) but eggnog became the name of this cheerful holiday beverage enjoyed across the land, even famously by George Washington.
Deviled eggs, Spain and US
Egg butter, Finland and Estonia
Also known as munavoi, egg butter is a spread from Finnish and Estonian cuisine, typically served on rice or potato-filled rye flour pastries or on rye bread. Some consider it a version of egg mayonnaise, but it may be best understood as a blend of crumbled hard-boiled eggs and butter. As in: take hard-boiled eggs, mash them up with a few tablespoons of butter, and salt as your taste buds dictate.
Bacon, egg and cheese, UK and US
The beloved bacon, egg and cheese came to the States, in an early form, from the UK. The breakfast sandwich gave blue-collar workers sustenance for a hard day’s work. The magic combo of a fried egg, salty bacon and creamy cheese on a soft white bun can become gourmet for brunch and go mainstream as an Egg McMuffin at McDonalds. But, as most enthusiasts will agree, there’s nothing quite like the classic bacon, egg and cheese from the closest source possible — the bodega across the street. A Dutch version (sans bacon) is known as uitsmijter, says “All About Eggs” author Rachel Khong. It’s “pronounced outs-my-ter, which means ‘out-thrower’ in Dutch. Basically it means the bouncer who throws you out of the bar after you’ve had a few too many drinks.”
Miso-cured eggs, Japan
A popular snack or breakfast item, gyeranppang can best be described as a type of Korean egg bread. Small loaves, usually found at street food stalls, are made with a simple egg batter and then filled with different ingredients such as whole eggs, ham or cheese. Toppings for the mini egg breads also vary, from sauces to nuts to (what else?) more cheese.