If you travel it helps if you love food. It lets you associate ingredients and cuisines with special places and memorable meals.
I have a longish mental list of favourite meals and dishes, and am about to share some of it with you. I can’t remember the names of all the restaurants or even the exact names of the dishes, but I remember the food.
Six spectacular standouts have been:
• garlic snails in Damascus, Syria
• Goan fish curry in Kampala, Uganda
• croque monsieur (grilled ham and cheese sandwich) in Paris, France
• a simple salad in Istanbul, Turkey (the waiter said the secret was pomegranate juice in the dressing)
• saganaki (grilled haloumi cheese with lemon) in Cairo, Egypt
• sashimi donburi in Auckland, New Zealand
Now there are two new ones. We only had three days in Beijing on our way to joining our next overland journey, but we managed to stumble upon two sensational meals.
The first was a true hole-in-the-wall. We’d visited Jingshan Park and climbed to the top of the hill there, which overlooks the Forbidden City. After we strolled down and left the park, we skirted around the edge of the Forbidden City—in search of food. It didn’t take long to come upon a small space, up a few stairs, and full of customers.
Ordering was easy. Survey the tables, point at the most desirable dish and hold up two fingers.
It was noodles in a beef broth, plus a few veggies. It was wonderful. It was delicious. The noodles were homemade and eggy and chewy and irregular in shape and size and fabulous. I have no idea what the restaurant is called, but I know I can find it again. And never mind that they hugely overcharged us—the meal was that good that I can forgive almost anything.
Yet I never expected Beijing to deliver twice in three days.
On our last afternoon before flying out, we started the hunt for lunch. We took a side door out of the hotel and explored a new street. Poor John was rather taken by the hotpot/Sichuan-looking restaurant we passed, so in we went.
This place almost came close to being fast food. Order the meat/protein component and then add the extras. We chose pork because we knew it would be rare traveling across predominantly Muslim nations in central Asia. Then we added mushrooms, cabbage and broccoli. The Sichuan chillies, leeks, coriander and a few other bits were just part of the package. It was wonderful. Truly memorable. And our chopsticks clicked furiously.
We’ll be back in Beijing in August and just might have to fast the day before we arrive so we can indulge in repeats of both dishes.