Monday, January 18, 2010

A foodies diary

My last posting got me to thinking about some of the best meals I have ever eaten. They pale in comparison to my globetrotting parents who have circled the globe several times and dedicated themselves to eating well in most of the places they have visited. They still have a menu from New Orleans's most famous fine dining establishment, Antoine's, which they have framed in their kitchen. Antoine's was the place where Oysters Rockefeller were invented, and named thus because of the richness of the sauce. My parent ate there in the 1960s and still remember the meal (they saved every penny for it). They have also paid a visit to Spain's oldest restaurant, Botin in Madrid where they ate roast suckling pig on my father's birthday.

I can't aspire to this level of fine dining but hope that my best eating years are still ahead of me! There is still the Americas, Russia, India, China, the Middle East and parts of the far East to explore. As well as places like Austria, Scotland, Germany and the Balkans.

AUSTRALIA has been a frequent destination and I enjoyed a memorable meal in a little French restaurant in St Kilda's in Melbourne with my sister in the 1990s. Daniels is now sadly no more but I remember the menu: onion tart, followed by a salade verte (Daniel himself stood over us and made sure we finished every scrap), then scampi which we picked up with our fingers and sucked noisily to great giggles. This was finished off by a slice of dense, dark and delicious chocolate cake dusted with sugar. No doubt about it, Oz is foodie heaven and boasts some of the best coffee in the world in Collins Street.

Another very good meal was at The Fisherman's Pier in Geelong a couple of years ago. The oysters were brought in from Coffin Bay and were the best I have ever eaten, accompanied by a vinaigrette sauce that was superb. I followed the oysters up with scallops ... would that the scallops in South Africa were so good. The maitre d' was Italian and very attentive, saying to my father when he arrived: "Would the gentleman like a Scotch?"

Sadly, I've been to PARIS only twice, and my mother tells me of the time we dined with the students on the Left Bank when I was a child. The proprietor was very nice, she said and sent out for milk for myself and my sister. We had steak followed by fresh strawberries but all I can remember are the striped candy canes which she bought us and which we were only allowed to have a bit of every day. I can remember the meals I had two years ago better. I was taken to Laduree tea room where I had macaroons and Marie Antoinette tea. I loved the wine, the pastries and the bread, and had a great supper at Kong and lunch at George's (salmon and mashed potato made with olive oil) near the Ritz. What heaven France is and what a dedication to pleasure they enjoy there.

In LONDON I was taken to Zuma (no relation) where the star of the show is the "age watarigani” or soft shell crab with wasabi mayonnaise. I also enjoyed some spicy tuna roll made with chilli miso and there were things like prawn tempura and grilled red miso quail on the menu. The place was full of Russians with girls who had had bad plastic surgery and who wore tiger-striped lame skirts but the food was really delicious. It was so busy that you had to wait to get into the queue but the people watching was worth it. We had a young David Bowie lookalike behind us who was also delicious.

In ITALY it is impossible to have a bad meal and I loved the food wherever I went. I had little lamb chops on arrival in Rome and got horribly drunk. Not because I drank a lot but because the alcohol content seemed to be higher than I was used to. So it was an aperitif then a glass of wine then a limonello, and a different tiramisu every night. It's nice to be a food slut sometimes. In Florence a sleazy pair of fellows tried to pick myself and a girlfriend up in a joint called Guido's and I really can't remember the food there. But I do remember Lobs, where I had a wonderful steamed seafood platter with different sauces and a wonderful restuarant where they made a sliced Florence fennel salad with Parmesan shavings that was so simple but just so good.

IRELAND was another great foodie place, because everything just tasted so good. The yummiest potatoes ever and the ham!!!! I brought packets of soda bread back with me even though I had my mother's recipe for fresh soda bread at home. I must have put on ten pounds there. It was the soda bread, the gorgeous smoked salmon and my mother's cousin's Chocolate Mousse (nicknamed "Eirish Mousse" and loaded with one-and-a-half pints of cream) that saved me when crossing the Irish Channel. It was a very rough passage and I had booked a berth in the bowels of the ship. All my neighbours were retching violently and I was a nano-second away from joining them, when a brainwave struck. Eat all the rich goodies which my godmother had given me and I would have something to line my stomach with. It was almost impossible but I got it all down and instantly discovered a cure for seasickness.

On the other side of the world a different kind of foodie heaven awaited me in SINGAPORE. Fragrant teas of every variety wafted to my nostrils in Tangs, from bergamot to chocolate, and the noodle dens were open 24/7. My taxi driver took me down to a place which was dim-sum den by day and red light district by night. There he introduced me to one of the island's signature dishes, Singapore chilli crabs. He also told me about the frogs in congee and laughed when he saw a picture of the frogs outside a building. Look, he said, "they are so happpeee, they are dancing". My private thought was that they were probably trying to get out of the pot, but maybe I will try a bit of frog next time. The Singaporeans have a love affair with coffee and funnily enough all that chilli and coffee had no effect on my stomach or sleeping patterns.

In GREECE and TURKEY I was introduced to the delights of baklava, yoghurt (dubbed the "Peaks of Parnassus" or "Parnassus pud") with pistachio nuts and strong dark honey, strong coffee and chai filled with two lumps of sugar, and rosewater ("Gul suyu" in Turkey). It wasn't so much the fine dining places as the quality of the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food which impressed. I loved the moussaka even when it was made with rough green olive oil that upset my tummy and I couldn't eat for a day. A weird feeling over came me when I was sitting on a stone wall outside my hotel in Rhodos and a boy called Poseidon was taking in the luggage for me. "Is this happiness, I feel?" I thought as a warm glow embalmed my very soul. Truly this was the food of the gods.

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