Culinary tours of duty
EVERYfood lover has a list of must-do restaurants, his or her holy grail of dining out. That list might feature award-winners such as Nomain Copenhagen, San Sebastian’s Mugaritz or local stars such as Melbourne’s Attica and Sydney’s Quay. All are sure to be singular experiences, worthy notches on an ever-expanding belt.
Often, though, it’s a touch of serendipity rather than a budget-busting, pre-planned meal that creates the most enduring of food memories.
Atotally unexpected delight — such as an impromptu picnic with friends in an exquisite setting or a simple bowl of noodle soup eaten while on the hop — can be a defining experience.
I will never forget the lunch — as unplanned as it was utterly delicious — that myhusband and I ate in Italy’s Le Marche region several years ago. We’d been driving through the winding Sibillini mountains for what seemed like hours and were famished. But with no sign of civilisation for the past few miles, we were about to head back the way we’d come when an old farmhouse, with a handful of cars parked at its doorstep, came into view.
Inside this outpost we discovered a room full of Italians eating lunch; a joyful scene of laughter and conversation, of plates piled with pasta, and carafes of the local wine being refilled and plonked down on tables.
Onseeing the two tourists at his door, the owner of this agriturismo ushered us in and sat us down to enjoy what would be a procession of wonderful regional specialties — cured hams, pastas with porcini mushrooms, grilled meats and more — punctuated by a glass or two of the local Montepulciano wine. There was no menu— our host simply ascertained at the start that we’d arrived with a healthy appetite — just dishes freshly prepared, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. It was the best meal I’ve had, not just for the incredibly good food, but the sheer exhilaration of finding such a gem in the least expected place.
I’ve had many similarly significant food experiences in mytravels since — the battered scallops bought at a roadside cafe and eaten on a windy Tasmanian coast; the breakfast at a tiny street stall on the periphery of Bangkok’s Lumpini Park; the most amazing seafood market stumbled upon while lost during a port stop in Cadiz. Each cost next to nothing, but were worth their weight in gold as unforgettable travel moments.
There’s a lot to be said for a Big Night Out, the opportunity to lose oneself in the artistry and skill of a Michelin-starred chef in a glittering dining room. But we shouldn’t underestimate those unexpected discoveries — the pit-stop at a tiny Hanoi pho stall run by a womanwhohas honed her craft over decades, say, or the triumphant return from a neighbourhood market in Lyon laden with local delicacies — when it comes to establishing a true sense of place. Intrepid traveller Frank Bures casts his mind back to some of his ownmost memorable meals on P4.
Susan Kurosawa is on assignment.