The first time I had the conversation, it was on a backpacking trip in the Green Mountains. We’d been subsisting on freeze dried camping meals and morsels of chocolate bar and as we closed in on day four in the wilderness, a member of the group I was hiking with asked, “What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?” We spent a happy couple of hours recounting home-cooked meals, restaurant meals, fast food meals, and street food. I still remember the Ben and Jerry’s Vermonster Sundae (ice cream and toppings for 20) we treated ourselves to once we’d come down out of the mountains as one of the best meals of my life.
Over the years, I’ve gotten more into cooking and I’ve found that I keep a running tally in my head of my best meals. They change from time to time, a new culinary experience bumping an old one off the list. It’s a fun way to remember important events, especially travel, and it makes me realize how much food and sharing food is tied up with relationships and life experience.
Two of my favorite meals were eaten on my honeymoon to Northern Italy and Croatia. We started off in Venice and ate a pedestrian, touristy dinner the first night. Determined that we were going to eat really well the second night, my new husband and I trudged all over the city, crossing and recrossing canals in some vague hope of finding the perfect, authentic Venetian meal. I gave up at some point, so hungry that I would have eaten McDonalds if it came to that. But my hubby persisted, saying he “had a feeling” that the right place was just around the next corner. He was right. We settled in at a tiny restaurant completely devoid of tourists. The waiter didn’t speak English. There wasn’t a menu. We told him, with hand gestures and terrible Italian, to bring us some dinner, whatever he wanted. What followed was a spectacular series of courses, mostly fish, ending with the best apple tart I have ever had in my life.
Later on our honeymoon trip, we were traveling around Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, a hilly region famous for two things – wine and truffles. We had been disappointed by a couple of the villages we’d visited and on a whim, wound our way up a narrow road to the hilltop fortress of Motovun. It was like something out of a fairytale, a grim-looking castle surrounded by winding cobblestone streets, houses and shops tucked into the sides of the hill. Enchanted, we stopped at a little café and had amazing white truffle risotto and pasta with truffles and oil, washed down with local wine. Best of all was the long conversation with the owner, a Dutchman who’d been a photojournalist during the wars in the former Yugoslavia and had fallen in love with a Croatian woman, and an American writer and the Croatian woman he’d fallen in love with while working in a refugee camp. It was one of the most romantic dinners I've ever eaten.
One of my favorite memories of a meal is the huge plate of my mother’s Mexican chicken casserole (piles of corn tortillas, chicken, chilies, and cheese) I ate the night we brought our son home from the hospital. Exhausted, sore, starving, I heated it up in the microwave and we ate at the kitchen table, never taking our eyes off the gorgeous, mysterious little being in the basket next to us.
Traveling alone in France as a college student, I spent a month staying with some friends of my parents in a suburb of Paris. Every day, I would take the train into the city and explore museums and parks. It was a lonely time, but a good time too. One of those first days, I managed enough French to buy a baguette and to ask the guy at the cheese shop for a recommendation. Sitting on a park bench, I made a sandwich and enjoyed it all by myself, the whole baguette, the whole wedge of Brie. I still remember the unfamiliar, tangy taste of the cheese and the way the bread was so crusty it cut the top of my mouth.
So those are a few of my best meals of all time. What are yours?
P.S. Thanks to the tarts for the opportunity to spend some time at TLC! It's been a blast.