Thursday, March 7, 2013

Past pursuits

I’d like to give some background to the opening photo collage of my first post.  It collates some, but not all, of my food photos from meals past.  From Mexico, to Japan, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), Hanoi, Beijing, Paris, New York and Wellington, New Zealand - this celebrates a handful of sites where I have enjoyed both great and not-so-great food. 

While I hope that I will encounter nothing but the best, I have on occasion found myself making bad food decisions after following dated advice or wisdom from those who don’t share the same cravings as myself. One such regretful breakfast was at Mama’s SF in, you guessed it, San Francisco. A spot renowned for its breakfasts, I had seen this name pop up in many San Francisco guides so thought it was a must-do.  After waiting in line for over an hour, during which I remembered I wasn’t big on ‘traditional’ breakfasts, I hoped to find something tantalisingly savoury on the menu.  For whatever reason, I chose the blueberry pancakes.  Bad decision.  Long story short: Lively vibe, okay pancakes, standoffish service and a feeling that they want you eaten and out asap.  After all, there are 50 people waiting outside.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  But I’m learning.  

Mama's SF blueberry pancakes, San Francisco
Pho Bo, Hanoi, Vietnam

Green tea soba noodles and tempura vegetables, Shizuoka, Japan

Epicurious tourists live by the common adage that you don’t know a place until you eat with the locals and on every trip I learn again and again that it’s certainly true. The character of the food often parallel’s aspects of a region’s culture and this is what I find so enthralling about travelling by eating.  For example, I found that Mexico is a place of flavours over texture whilst Japan is pure and fresh or an adaptation of foreign cuisine.  Hanoi has bite, kick and lively hits while Paris is a stronghold of tradition and best enjoyed with another (there are too many petite bites that one could possibly consume on your own).  

Observations easily equatable to an understanding of place, I feel. Perhaps less exciting than the there-and-then, the unarguable experience of authentic flavours means it’s easier to attempt their recreation at home.  Of course, Google and region-specific cookbooks help jog the memory or unlock key combinations as well, and this is something that I love.  The ability to allude to those memories of travels past by eating and tasting the same flavours as you did when… sitting low to the ground on a plastic chair, under a makeshift blue tarpaulin roof opposite locals as you slurped up a pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) made zingy by a squeeze of lime, and spicy with a big spoonful of chilli sauce swirled into the rich clear broth; or, sitting outside the Musee d’Orsay amongst hungry pigeons and chatty teenagers, while loading a baguette tradicional with terrine de canard (duck) and a local Camembert cheese the guy at the deli recommended, and chomping into it as bread crumbs dropped inevitably to the ground. 

I'm constantly awaiting the next opportunity to either recreate the memories or create new ones to be remembered in future meals.  Hopefully I won’t have long to wait.  In fact, tonight I will be visiting a local Japanese restaurant where I’ll hope to be brought back by the chimes of “irrashaimase” (“welcome, please come in”) by the restaurant staff to all of my experiences of dining in Japan.

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