Life in the big smoke

I might not remember you, but I will remember the meal

So here is the thing. I’ve realised what hooks anything memorable in the vast and messy attic that is my brain is food. If I think back to any travelling I’ve done in my life, the first thing that pops into my head is what I ate.

I went on a holiday to Cyprus with my family when I was eleven or twelve (more than twenty years ago!) and I still have a really clear memory of sitting in a small neighbourhood restaurant with plastic garden furniture tables on a shaded patio, the tables had a white and red checked waxy table cloth, trying dolmades for the first time. I can even recall the taste of the slightly sour and salty vine leaf wrapped around a chewy rich filling. I remember the bread, white, sweet and fluffy, soft and dense at the same time.

What set me down on this particular path was realising that Gerry and I are travelling abroad fairly soon. And thinking about travelling made me think of the food we’ve eaten on our travels.

There was Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village. We lived in an Airbnb nearby and walked over almost every day to pick up a salad, cheese and a few beers. There was this one blue cheese, so salty and tangy that it tasted almost like salty liquorice. OMG. If I lived nearby I would probably spend all my money on cheese.

There was also Tensuke, a tiny tempura place in Koenji in Tokyo. Every lunchtime there was a queue outside. The restaurant was just a bar disk, big enough for about half a dozen people. The chefs stood in front of a vat of boiling oil. The head chef chopped various vegetables at lightning speed, dipped them in batter and threw them into the oil. We were presented with piping hot, crispy and freshly fried dish after dish. The best one was the starter. A quickly deep fried egg, melting over some sticky rice and served up with an almost chocolatey and salty broth.

Then there is the Oyster Shed on Skye, this cold barn on the hill above Talisker Distillery where you can purchase all the shellfish of your dreams. I remember ordering some scallops, struggling to get my freezing fingers to pierce them with a miniature wooden fork. They were hot, sweet and tender, served with scalding chips and a sweet chilli sauce. Just perfect.

So there we are. I pretty much use nice meals as bookmarks in my life. They help me remember where I’ve been and what I’ve done and these memories are so vivid. If I think about a good meal I’m transported back to that place, to the smells and sounds, I can even recall the taste. It’s an odd skill, considering I make a living as a reporter I’m incredibly bad at remembering names and faces. But I do remember food.

*I also seem to get so engrossed in actually eating that I hardly ever take photographs of food. And that’s why I’m sharing this lovely photo of some beaujolais on a messy table in the cute, but tiny apartment we stayed in in Tokyo. You’re welcome.