Friday 30 September 2011

Eating My Way Round the World.

I have two ambitions that happily complement one another: to become a member of the Traveller’s Century Club and to eat my way round the world. Travelling is enhanced by the food you eat along the way - there are so many local fruits and vegetables and dishes unknown in Britain - even when we import so much foreign produce and have restaurants representing all nations. Early in my travels in Rome, where I discovered delicious pasta dishes - then still relatively unknown in England where pasta meant tinned spaghetti or macaroni pudding - a fellow traveller asked for egg and chips. I was horrified at their lost opportunity to sample new cuisine. I have nothing against egg and chips but when in Rome…

My food journey has taken me from my first French breakfast at age 14, when I was given a bowl of the most delicious hot chocolate, to so many other places: the best Peking Duck was fittingly in Peking - now of course Beijing, but Beijing Duck doesn’t sound quite right. Beijing is also on the list for braised donkey. Perhaps, though, at the top of the list is my introduction to Indonesian Rijstaffel in Amsterdam, where we could barely leave the table having gorged on the most delicious selection - possibly around a million selections - of delightful dishes.

How can I choose between langoustine and potato stew eaten in a cosy Iceland restaurant in a freezing February, or fresh Capitaine fish from the river Niger, cooked on the river bank and eaten in lamplight beneath an enormous moon with shooting stars overhead? A rich stew of goat served by a Tuareg in his home in Timbuktu or a plate of reindeer stew served in a Sami tent in the Arctic Circle? Cuba, not known for its five star cuisine provided the best spit-roast pork in the world. They say appetite is the best sauce and certainly we had trekked a good few miles up on the mountains to reach it. Lobster and crocodile were also on the menu here so who cared if bread often ran out owing to short supply?

Local fruit and street snacks are just as memorable. I’ve often eaten fruit that does not have an English name and has never been seen in our ethnic shops. There were the world’s best apples in Kashmir, along with walnuts dipped in a little salt, and in Thailand, durian, the world’s smelliest fruit, and fried insects. Competing for mention are the sugared doughballs cooked in oil that looked as if it had been drained from an old bus engine, in Djenne’s Monday market in Mali, the spicy samosa from a street stall where we queued behind locals in Sri Lanka, and the plateful of borek, brought specially in from the next door restaurant for us in Istanbul where the baklava rivalled that in Jordan.

Coffee at Caffe Florian or CafĂ© de Flore? Mint tea in a Marrakesh Souk or overlooking Petra? New York’s deli breakfasts and baked cheesecake that defies the largest of appetites, or the sparse menu on the local Trans-Siberian train which dwindled day by day as stocks ran out. As prices on the menu were erased indicating the item was no longer available, we always managed to find something and supplemented it with berries sold by locals on the station platforms. And talking of platforms, there were the wonderful restaurants of the Indian Railways back in the 70s, where poor service or food was soon righted by mention of the Complaints Book. An entire meal would be re-served to avoid an entry in that! Dhal curry has never tasted so good as at the end of a twelve hour train journey in crowded third class.

It’s debatable whether I’ll gain membership to the TCC but I’m still trying and I’m up for eating my way round the world in London as well as the actual world. Egg and chips will only be on the menu if my fridge at home contains nothing else.