A few days ago I watched food critic Anthony Bourdain’s documentary about the Democratic Republic of Congo. His constant worry was food. "Let’s eat well today," he’d say; "this may be our last edible meal." I understand the sentiments. I lived In the DRC for two years and rarely ate outside my home. My main memory is finding mud in the bottom of my coke bottle. From what I gather, the best thing Bourdain’s team ate was a goat stew, not gourmet, but preferable to the grubs, worms, and termites one often finds at the food stalls. Taste is relative, right?
The show made me so hungry, I switched over to the Food Network. Watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate, made me take stock of my most favorite meals. None of them, mind you, was consumed in the Congo.
As I compiled this list, I thought about why these foods are so memorable. I think it was the total package of senses that engaged me. Not only the taste, but the smells and textures, as well as the sights and sounds around the restaurants. The memories of spirited dining experiences.
Donuts. Voodoo Doughnuts sells tasty, elaborate pastries in a funky section of Portland. The menu lists many ingredients: “Our doughnuts may contain eggs, milk and dairy . . . voodoo magic, and soy.” All true.
Soup. Last summer I loved the cold melon soup I had in La Roque Gagnac in the Dordogne. It was fresh, sweet and healthy. It was consumed on a second floor terrace overlooking the river in this most historic of towns. One December I loved the beautiful, layered, green and red holiday soup of beets and broccoli at the Heritance Tea Factory in Sri Lanka. At a high elevation in the midst and mist of a tea plantation, the hearty soup warmed our spirits. (Second Place: Mulligatawny at the Empress Hotel in Vancouver, BC.)
Seafood. The Tamarind in Mombasa, Kenya is nestled in a harbor overlooking the Indian Ocean and dhows with their sails unfurled. Here the sudden craving for lobster and white fish are sated.
Steak. Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington, Virginia draws diners from the D.C. Metro area. It could be the only institution in town with bipartisan support.
Lamb. Stay on a sheep ranch in New Zealand, learn about their biggest industry, and dine on lamb that tastes as good as a high quality steak. (Second Place: Bukara Restuarant, Maurya Hotel, New Delhi).
Pork. My favorite comfort food in the world is a good schnitzel—wiener or jagger— found everywhere in Germany, except Berlin.
Wine. Sip the wine at the Burrowing Owl Vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, Canada. At its Spanish-style resort, you can enjoy outstanding cuisine accompanied by various wines named after the rare burrowing owls living underground on the property.
Dessert. Don’t miss the pavlova in Australia. I now make mine on a meringue crust, with whipped marscapone cheese and kiwis or peaches. The fruit makes it feel so fresh and healthy. (Tied for first place: I've tried to copy the bread pudding soufflé at Commander's Palace in New Orleans, but it's just too labor-intensive. You have to go there to enjoy it.)
I’d love to hear your favorites. They could give me travel and dining ideas for the New Year. Salut!