Truly Magic Food Moments. Have any?
You know, the kind of food/flavor memories that are burned into your mind and will be with you until the day you die? Maybe after too, they're that good. I HOPE everybody has some. I suspect "foodies" must. It's our nature. A few of mine are:
Apricots off one specific apricot tree in our back yard when I was a kid. No other apricot tree on planet earth has produced fruit as delicious as that. It's what keeps me buying apricots.
Steak and red wine: We lived in Turkey, I cooked the meal, the beef was prime from Denmark, the wine was Turkish "Kavaklidere." The pairing was sublime. Absolute over the top magic!
One specific sea urchin. I've eaten tons of them. This specific sea urchin was eaten aboard the dive boat, my husband brought up a dive bag full of the purple spiny critters, climbed in the boat and we took out spoons and clippers to open them. After cutting away the critters mouth, I rinsed it out in sea water, then filled my spoon with the most incredible flavor of fresh flowers and urchin roe ever to be imagined. Every sea urchin I've eaten since then always starts with the hope for another taste just like that. Maybe there are no more?
I must include my first taste of Chateau d'Yquem. There is nothing in the world like a truly great sauterne!
And my first taste of prime, truly great beluga caviar. I don't believe there is any caviar extant in the world today to match that, but I am blessed to have the memory!
The thing I find interesting about my own great food memories is that none of them are of the complex, fancy, great chef creations I've been privileged to enjoy in my life time. These are all pretty singular "one note" (if you can use that expression in association with a great sauterne) flavors that burned themselves into my memory and my heart. Curious.
So how about you? Have any? What's your best and brightest?
All of mine are more about the context and rarely about the food itself. For this particular moment it was "just" Grappa and some bittersweet chocolate...
I can still clearly picture the moment, it was winter '98 in the Italian Alps, and at any moment the first snowfall would grace the Alto Adige town of Dorf Tirol (Tirolo). I was accompanying my Uncle and Aunt as the private guests of their friends in their 13th century castle, Brunnenburg Castle (Castella Fontana).
During dinner I had given to the family a CD of some Vivaldi concertos that was performed and signed to them by a friend of mine. (Our hosts were Boris and Mary, of whom Mary's mother, Olga Rudge, was the one who had "discovered" and popularized the works of Vivaldi for modern times.) After finishing dinner with the family I was invited with my Uncle up to their son's quarters to listen to the CD, quarters which Boris had recently relinquished to his son due to advancing age.
So having excused ourselves and joined him in his quarters he put on the Vivaldi and brought out some Grappa and bittersweet chocolate to share and we just quietly listened as he dimmed the lghts. With the sounds of Vivaldi and the winter moonlight outside filling the dark interior of the paneled room, we hardly said a word other than a brief shared observation of the timeless place and moment we were both enjoying at the time.
The moment was simple, but magical. Grappa, some dark chocolate, some Vivaldi, in the company of my Uncle and our friend "Sitzo" in the moonlit room of his 13th century castle in the Italian Alps.
I have 2 to share and they're both fairly recent.
In July 2007 I had the great good fortune to take classes with Diana Kennedy in Michoacan. On one of the days she took us to the market to get what we would cook. It was huitlacoche season in Mexico so the market literally overflowed with mountains of ears of corn with swollen with the fungus. Back at Diana's she demonstrated how to cut it from the cob and prepare it. Simply sauteed with some onion and I don't remember what all now, we served it in tortillas made from masa that had, in turn, been made from properly nixtamalized corn, then ground and made into masa. I will confess that up to that point I had not been a huge fan of huitalcoche, as it tasted pretty much like dirt to me. That single tortilla stuffed with simply prepared and virtually unadorned huitlacoche is probably one of the single best things I have ever eaten. Being recent I even took a photo. Now, I know that huitlachoche taco looks pretty disgusting in the photo, but it was pure nirvana.
The other experience also took place in Mexico but was completely different. Different part of the country and different approach to food. Laja is located in teh Valle de Guadalupe about 60 miles or so south of San Diego. It's an easy drive but all the violence has really cost businesses. A friend proposed we go to Laja as a show of support and I agreed with some trepidation. I'll travel almost anywhere in Mexico but my own back yard was awash in drug violence at that point (2008). It turned out ot be a day trip that I was so, so glad I took. Laja grows almost every thing they serve; the chef Mexican with a degree in Anthropology and a culinary degree from FCI.The meal began with sweet briny oysters raised in aquaculture pens just offshore of Ensenada. He followd that with "tripas" tripe done in the French manner rather than Mexican. I am not fond of trip but even I had to admit these were pretty tasty. That was followed by a lovely beet and apple soup and a salad of greens that weren't harvested until they were needed for the plate. Then came a fish course and finally a dish that will remain forever etched in my mind...rich, crispy pork jowl server with an luxuriously velvety soft boiled egg, I think it had to be one of the sexiest dishes I've ever eaten. The setting was perfect, my dining companions convivial and the food fit the day about as well as it possibly could.
Wow, that huitlacoche taco is pulling at my heartstrings and bringing back good memories. My ladyfriend when I lived in D.F had a weekend home in El Oro, and from there we would drive around in season to every little town in Queretero and even Michoacan to find the little ladies selling the huitlacoche corn on the sidewalks, and we bought all of it, usually for more than she was asking. We got a good deal and nice sonrisas.
For a few years, when I was young, my grandparents lived with us in a house in Arlington, Va. My grandfather had planted a cherry tree in the back yard -- when it produced fruit, I'd climb up in the tree, eat cherries and spit the pits out -- a very fond memory.
Street food in India can be really delicious.
Making Marcella Hazan's fresh pasta lasagna with her Bolognese recipe takes a lot of work, a lot of time but it's so worth it.
Hah!! I had that same apricot tree in the backyard of the house I grew up in. It was a beautiful tree, like a perfect umbrella, it had the deepest-red-skinned apricots I have EVER seen and the fruit tasted unlike anything I've ever tried. It was special to me. The previous residents or the original planters must have tried to graft on the normal apricot because one branch, about half-way out had a stem that would produce the kind of apricots you see/taste in the stores or local farms. They were not special.
Also, I have a strange tendency to taste and smell roses when there are none around. It only happens rarely and it can be after biting into an apple, a peach or a nectarine. Mostly it happens with apples but only once in a blue moon. I look forward to that taste and smell and know it well. Yep. I'll probably always remember that incredible surprise of roses forever.
Whenever it happens, I ask around, did you smell that? Does your apple taste like rose blossoms too? It only happens to me I guess.
The first time I had pho. It was good pho (I know that now). The day was cold and rainy. We'd come in from an anti-war protest in downtown Seattle. I still remember that feeling of deep warmth and satisfaction.
The salmon in parchment, with truffle salt and butter and some perfectly cooked veggies on top, so fragrant, with a swallow of a particular Winter's Hill pinot noir. One of those absolutely perfect mouthfuls of food. I had one of the last bottles of that vintage; when I went to get more, it was sold out, except for one magnum. I couldn't afford the magnum. I should have taken up a collection.
I too have the memory of true beluga caviar, eaten at the top of the Sheraton (now Intercontinental), in Istanbul, along with a caesar salad served table-side. Pure heaven. It's never been so good!
Also I had some mussels made in a tiny roadside cafe in the Florida keys, completely unassuming looking. They had a marinara sauce and it was so incredibly good we went back 3 times for them. The chef came out to meet us because we kept raving about them to the waitress. He had been taught to cook by his grandmother. I've yet to be able to reproduce them, or had them be so incredible! He also made a key lime tart that was one of the best I've ever had, and I lived in Florida for a few years.
Oh, and the mock turtle soup I had at the Court of the Two Sisters in New Orleans. That and the Po' Boy I had from a local corner store. That was the best sandwich I've ever tasted. Actually, there are a lot of foods from New Orleans that rank very high on my list of incredible meals.
Cheese Puffs at Fore St in Portland Maine ~ amazing, cheesey bar food
Bacon risotto at Craft, I could have bathed in a vat of that stuff
First time I had fried whole belly clams in Maine...so sweet and tender I was just in Maine for a week and think had them everyday!
Portuguese Shrimp at Peaks Inn on Peak's Island in Maine, they were so tender and the flavors were spot on and my husband is portuguese so they had to live up ... and they did
Stone Crabs the first day of Stone Crab season, fresh of the boat ...to the kitchen...super fresh super good.
Every year, shortly before Easter, Dad would buy a stack of bockwurst from a local Swiss butcher. These were plump little white sausages with the most marvelous fluffy texture and delicate flavor. Mom would steam them and serve with creamed spinach and buttered and parselyed new potatoes.
When driving down the coast, we would stop at a place in Astoria which did their own smoked fish. A bag full of smoked salmon mades great car food. Looking out and seeing and hearing and smelling the ocean while enjoying the bounty makes for a total oceanside driving experience.
I accidentally stopped at Lexington # 1 while driving aimlessly through North Carolina. Having never had anything resembling true barbecue before, that was the greatest random lunch ever.
In 1985, I traded a dry, long sleeved shirt to a cold, wet guy in a concert parking lot. In return, I got three Anchor Steams. My previous experience with beer was limited to the Macros. That's probably enough said.
* hunters stew -little meatballs, carrots, onions, potatoes in a foil packet over a campfire at a boy scout overnight outing with a foot of snow on the ground, in my last virtuous year before I discovered girls, liquor, drugs, and explosives at age 12.
* Thanksgiving chicken dinner at Angel Falls in Canaima, Venezuela
*Thanksgiving dinner of cheese stuffed strawberry grouper in Ambergris Caye, Belize
*Thanksgiving dinner of Morten Bay bugs in Sydney
*Thanksgiving dinner of boar, venison, and blood sausage in Bavaria
* my ladyfriend's huitlacoche casserole in Polanco D. F. Mexico
* a picnic with Lola
We were in France at Michel Guerard's little place, not the 5 star. My partner, who is vegetarian, asked what she could eat. They said they could steam her some veggies. She told me she didn't want that, but we went ahead and made the res anyway.
When the veggies came, in one of those chinese steaming baskets, she ate a carrot and said "Oh my God!" Those veggies were the best ever!
Once, when riding from my hometown of Sonora down here to the valley with my grandma, we happened to stop at a corner where a farmer was selling his apples. I don't know what kind they were, but they were big, sweet, and wonderful. We bought two big boxes, and they held up to storage really well. Those were the defining apples for me.
In Jamestown, there is a little place called The Smoke Cafe, and there they have these puffy flour tortilla chips, and the best garlic soup you will ever encounter. I've been eating there for as long as my memory stretches, and those two things never fail to disappoint.
I was lucky enough to go on a tour of Europe when I was in highschool through one of those tour programs for students (so it was a lot cheaper than going independently). We weren't well off, mom and grandma sacrificed a bit so that I could go. I'm ever grateful to them for that. While there, I had some wonderful food.
In England, I had no idea that mayonnaise could taste so....... well it could have taste! It was tangy, and wonderful, and I first tasted it when it was given as a condiment to the fries I had ordered. Up until then, mayonnaise was just a bread moistener and sandwich binder. I've never since met a mayo that holds up to being a stand-alone dip.
In Holland, we stayed at a small inn. Somehow in all my years, I had NOT chanced to have tomato soup (not for any aversion, it just somehow never ended up in my bowl by circumstance). Their tomato soup, it didn't shout TOMATO! in your face. No, it cordially introduced itself as the essence of tomato, and caressed my tastebuds. It was a light, wonderful, creamy affair. I ate it both nights we stayed.
Also in Holland, we visited a dairy farm that made great cheese. It was some very light yellow cheddar-textured unpasteurized cheese that I risked.... well whatever the penalty for importing unpasteurized cheese is to bring some home.
We also spent a day in Venice, where Sayaka (a foreign exchange student) and I wandered off on our own checking out all the teeny tiny streets. We stopped for lunch at some little restaurant. I simply ordered the spaghetti, but dang that was some good eats. It was right near there that we were offered a free gondola ride from a cute blonde slightly sloshed driver. We actually would have taken him up on it did we not have to meet our group in 10 minutes in one of the main squares.
I also risked penalties when I decided to bring grandma home a bottle of unpasteurized red wine from Dijon (to go with the venetian wine glass I had picked up for her). Not only was it unpasteurized, but I never declared anything I brought back and I was underage (I REALLY didn't want them taking my unpasteurized cheese and wine)
We were at Lespinasse, the restaurant that used to be in the St. Regis when Gray Kunz was chef. It was our anniversary, and we had the tasting menu, otherwise I would have never ordered this cold dessert soup. It was clear, but as you moved your spoon through the liquid, it turned pink. Pure culinary magic.
Years ago: oysters on the half shell at Jasper's in Boston, picked one up, thought WHAT, can't they clean the bit that holds the oyster to its shell? Looked closer, it was a 1/4 inch section of a filet of peeled lemon (and was wonderful eaten with the oyster).
A couple of years ago: a chestnut mont blanc (hard meringue with chestnut purée, whipped cream, and a candied violet, bought in the swell food court in Tokyo Shinagawa station and taken on the shinkansen to Kyoto, opened at my seat and found there was a little bag of dry ice corralled in the corner of the (very attractive) box and the mont blanc was still perfectly chilled. (This was at the start of a trip to Japan, Taiwan, HK and China that was full of mindblowing food.)
This summer: the chilled corn soup at The Modern - arrived under a cloche, which was taken off to reveal a puff of hickory smoke, perfectly evocative of summer night cookouts.
Looking forward to ones to come!
moleche - tiny little softshelled crabs in Venice, fried, with a squeeze of lemon. divine.
linguini cozze - at a little town in northern Italy
my first goat cheese on mesclun salad in Paris
fried trucha in La Paz, from Lake Titicaca
Any of the several preparations I had of foie gras in Paris, but the best was one served seared with tiny little squares of gelled Jurançon.
MacDonald's fries - i loved them so much as a kid that i used to save their small paper bags, as "mementos".
my first bite of ankimo.
a tahitian vanilla milkshake shot, with a grassy olive oil slick on top, from Coi in San Francisco.
anticuchos - grilled skewered beef heart - which i had regularly at a peruvian restaurant in L.A. as a child.
a fantastic simple fresh fried egg i had for breakfast in Merida.
my first bite of a juicy sweet/tart loquat, off a tree, when i was about 12.
I have a few that I can think of right now:
The first time I went to a Pakistani Restaurant. I think I was looking for other places to try that night before I went to bed.
My first Nehari. Bliss. Pure Bliss. Cold, rainy night in January. Got home late. Stopped by the cheapest Pak place in town. They had it as a special for like 3.00. Pure, beefy, bliss. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
First time I had sushi in LA. It was in a strip mall next to a Rose Records. It was an eye opening experience. I thought it was gonna be strip mall sushi ( in a bad way.) It turned out to be the best sushi I had in my life up to that point.
The first time I had real Jerk Chicken from a real Jamaican restaurant. I almost felt depressed because I had been missing out for so long. Heavenly stuff. I make my own jerk paste now, and smoke chicken parts. The stuff is simply insanely good.
The first time my Father brought home Belgian Chocolates after traveling to Europe. I had no idea how truly awful Hershey is. I can still to this day barely eat Hershey chocolate.
The first time I had REAL MAYO. My parents were miracle whip ppl. I went to a friend's house when I was 9 or so. We made sandwiches for lunch. They had a jar of Hellman's. I had no idea a sandwich could be so good.
I also remember vividly the first time I had Gatorade when I was a kid. I thought it was the best thing in the world. Might be a guy thing.
OOOH here's a good one. The first time I had a really pristinely piece of saba at a sushi bar. Blew my mind.
The first time I made a really good batch of green chile at home. YAAAAY MEE! No more pining for it.
My first taste of Texas brisket at abbq place in Dallas. My oh my oh my.
I was up in Maine for reunion & wedding and one night out got a seafood platter with haddock,fried whole belly clams, scallops and shrimp. OH MY OH MY! I am now craving the clams in particular. Living in a small town in western Md. there aren't any seafood options.
I may have to mail order for Christmas gift to myself to make the clams at home.
It was 2 months ago-but still day dreaming about it.
While I don't actually have much of a sweet tooth, the first thing that leaps to mind is a chocolate revelation: I was a North Dakota college student spending a year abroad in Germany in the late 1980s, and someone gave me some Belgian chocolates (Leonidas brand). They blew my mind: I had no idea chocolate could be that rich and complex and delicate.
And I was amazed to find the concern for freshness there: the chocolate shop got a delivery or two per week and (so I was told) actually threw out all chocolates from the previous delivery. Back in the USA, I wouldn't have thought twice about eating a chocolate that fell under the sofa three months ago!
Oyster and Pearls at Per Se.
That first bite of a McDonald's Filet O Fish washed down with a big gulp of Vanilla shake after a long run.
Pistachio rum ice cream at Scoops (Los Angeles)
My first experience of duriam. Love at first taste.
Fresh sugarcane juice in Taiwan
There are probably others, but those spring to mind right now ...