Restaurant in Honfleur, France
What’s the best part of a holiday for you? Lounging by the pool with a cocktail? Swimming in a perfect sea, on champagne sand? The spectacular view at the top of a canyon, or the rush of adrenalin as you ski down snow-capped peaks?
I’ve been lucky enough to experience all of these, and more, and still have a bucket list I could never hope to complete. But you know what all of those pleasures have in common? Food.
Whether it’s a thickly-buttered warm baguette, oozing strawberry jam, after a long hard day on the slopes, or the fresh aroma of coriander and spice from an Asian street-food vendor, every great travel memory I’ve ever made has involved food.
Ethiopian street food in Brick Lane
My Travels Inspired Menu
I decided to come up with a 3-course menu inspired by my travels, and I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled to pick. Not for want of inspiration. Gorgeous dishes bounced out of my memory in quick succession. Probably the most compelling was this one:
Aged 22 I travelled on a shoestring to Australia, via Hong Kong. Whilst staying on Kowloon, we wanted to visit the New Territories, and boarded a bus to Lau Fau Shan, a then tiny village built on a beach of oyster shells. It was a fascinating experience, which lasted all of 30 minutes, before we’d seen and done everything there was to see and do. There were 4 hours until the bus came back…
I’ll never forget the primitive alleyway in which every villager was shucking oysters on the street. They refused to have their pictures taken, and we felt guilty for intruding as tourists on this very simple way of life.
We began to grow hungry, and wondered how on earth we were going to fill the time. Then the weirdest thing happened. Out of the vast expanse of dust appeared a large, shiny, black Mercedes Benz. It turned a corner and disappeared down a dirt track. Then came another one, and another. We followed them.
It was my first taste of real Chinese food – not the lurid red-coloured takeaway dishes I’d seen my parents eating, but steaming dumplings, fragrant slivers of beef, glistening in black bean sauce, something called sticky rice which I’d never heard of, and yes – some of those oysters, fresh from the sea. It was the cheapest meal I’ve ever ordered, and it was the start of a desire to ‘eat local’ on every trip I’ve ever made since.
Sadly, my camera from those days predates the digital age, so I couldn’t share photos even if I wanted to. My holiday food highlights are numerous – freshly-made Gazpacho in a Catalan vineyard, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to wash down slivers of tuna on the terraces of the Napa Valley, and rich, earthy game dishes in the Kruger National Park. But when it comes to choosing a menu, I’m a purist, and I wanted each course to flow into the next. For that, I had to go with my French connections:
My starter: a fresh plate of Crayfish.
There’s nothing better than fresh seafood, and we happened across this glorious platter in a stunning restaurant at Les Sables d’Olonne, on the western coast of France. I remember the sun beating down on bright, white yachts in the harbour, the medium-cooked steak and green beans in garlic that my children both request whenever in a French restaurant, and the dew on our carafe of house white.
But what this dish really reminds me of is my son’s adventurous tastes. At 7, his favourite food is still chilli squid; he tasted lobster thermidor this Christmas, and requested it for his New Year’s Eve dinner; and he shared this plate with his Dad, learning to peel off the shells and remove the heads to taste the delicate pink meat of crayfish and langoustines. He’s a mini-gastronome and I love it, despite the restaurant bills of future family celebrations!
Main course – Fondue Savoyarde.
We took our first ski trip as a family this year, and I wanted the children to sample some of the gorgeous flavours of Savoie food. When I think French skiing, I want cheese. Raclette melting onto hot potatoes and cured meats, the sheer indulgence of Tartiflette, and a hot crêpe on the slopes, steaming with lemon juice and sugar. A cheese fondue is not a weekly staple; there’s just way too much fat in there to make it a healthy option. But we had shellfish for starters, so I can justify filling up my family with cheese once in a while. Besides, they’d learned to love skiing, and that deserves a treat in my book!
Macarons – a tiny treat to finish.
Wherever we go in France, my daughter begs me for these bite-sized bits of heaven. She can spend hours choosing the perfect combination of colours and flavours (while I can’t resist photographing them). Little nuggets of almond-filled meringue, sandwiched together with jams and creams, caramels or ganaches. We found these in Honfleur, in Northern France, during a wander around the shady food market on a hot day. One for now, one for later, just enough to finish a rich dinner.
Macarons will always be our thing, me and my girl. I bought her a recipe book one Christmas, so we could share the pleasure of creating our own. We haven’t managed perfection yet, but we keep trying, every New Year’s Eve, and enjoying the mistakes together. One day we’ll manage it. Until then we’ll keep going back to France for our special treat.
They say smell is the sense most strongly linked to memory. I say food is at the heart of every one of my travel memories. Is it the same for you?