December 22, 2015
For many people, one of the most enjoyable aspects of travel is trying new and exciting foods – weird and wonderful local produce, a unique cooking technique, a fascinating flavour combination or a taste sensation that’s simply sublime. My backpacking days have a lot to answer for when it comes to my obsession with food. Here are just a few of my all-time favourite food inspirations and memories.
The MYO mega-man-wich – Perth, Western Australia
I lost a few pounds in weight travelling through Asia en route to Australia. So, when I
landed in Perth, the sight and availability of all kinds of western food was all-consuming. I gorged on sweet and savoury pies, feasted on fresh seafood and discovered a new way to buy a take-away sandwich.
Let me introduce you to the MYO (Make Your Own) concept. Launched in Perth in 1994, and coinciding nicely with my visit to Australia, the idea was simple: you made your own sandwich, roll, wrap or salad from the 72 ingredients laid out before you. The cost of your lunch then depended on how much your creation weighed.
I took MYO to the limit with a sub-roll that weighed in at over half a kilo and the mega-man-wich was born. I can still remember how the weight of that sub felt in my hands, and how wide I had to stretch my mouth to take a bite. That auspicious day has left me forever underwhelmed by regular pre-packed sandwiches.
Brown cheese – Norway
In Fiji, I met a lovely couple from Norway with whom I stayed in contact and later accepted an invitation to visit in Oslo. It was there that they introduced us to brunost (brown cheese), which differs considerably to any other cheese I’ve ever tasted. Quintessentially Norwegian, it’s incorporated into many dishes to add a depth of flavour, as well as colour. A slice of dense rye bread, and topped with raspberry jam, is surprisingly tasty.
Garlicy fresh fish – Gili Islands, Indonesia
At one of the few beach bars here, off the north coast of Lombok in Indonesia, the menu was as simple as you can imagine. A few curries, some stir-fried dishes and the main event – fresh fish of the day soused in the most delicious garlic butter. Over 20 years later, the pungent smell of the copious amounts of garlic, and the freshness of that locally-caught fish, remains one of my happiest food memories.
Tender lamb and sweet potatoes – New Zealand
Many regard New Zealand lamb as the world’s best. It’s also said that New Zealanders keep their best lamb and export the rest. I’m inclined to agree after a memorable roadside snack whilst driving up the coast of the North Island.
We were stopped by a sign, hand-written on a piece of cardboard box, saying ‘Hāngi – $5’. I already knew that a Hāngi was a traditional Māori method for cooking lamb in a dug-out pit, lined with fire-heated stones and covered with earth to slow-cook the food over several hours.
Wrapped in a tiny tin foil parcel, juicy pieces of tender lamb, succulent sweet potatoes and carrots infused with a smoky earthy fragrance, sat in a natural gravy made by the amalgamation of meat and vegetable juices.
Eight legged snacks – Cambodia
Now, it has to be said most of the food found across Asia is delicious – the melting pot of flavours created by blending fresh herbs and spices is nothing short of culinary alchemy. On the other hand, there are also some questionable snacks being touted by vendors sitting on street corners or pushed through windows as train carriages and buses wait to depart.
There I was, trudging across the Cambodian country side on a rickety old bus, when we pulled up for a lunch break at an unassuming roadside shack. We were greeted by a friendly local woman offering us platters of deep-fried tarantula! Needless to say, I declined her invitation…