Julia: The first “meal” I remember was when I was a baby. My mother leaned over the railings of my cot and put a strawberry in my mouth. The flavour was so different from anything I’d tasted before that the sensation seemed to take me over completely. (Hoi Yee can’t believe I can remember that far back!) In northern Spain, it was a tender goose-necked limpet that made me tingle with pleasure, and in France it was the astonishing succulence of a joint of lamb, cooked with herbs in a pressure cooker.
Perhaps my most memorable meal was a curry we had on the mountains of Kashmir. After each day’s trekking, when my husband and I returned to camp, the cook would be sitting in a tent preparing dinner in the light of a Kerosene lamp. Around the lamp fluttered dozens of moths. We wondered how the moths survived the intense heat. One day, the packed lunch we carried with us was cold curry from the night before. Sitting at the edge of a beautiful glacial lake, we looked at our meal – and discovered that, indeed, the moths had not survived. Rather, they had fallen into our evening meals – and we had eaten them.
Another unforgettable dinner was in Mandalay, Burma. In the 1980s, travelling around Burma was a bit of an adventure. On arriving at the hotel, we were told to hurry through dinner in order to get to the pagoda in time to see the sunset. With another couple, we rushed to the restaurant and ordered chicken and rice. This was promptly served, and we were delighted that black pepper had been generously sprinkled on the rice. Just as we were about to eat, our French companion noticed that each black granule of pepper had legs. It took us only a moment to agree that it was better to eat boiled ants than to go hungry. We quickly finished our dinner and, feeling replete, raced up the steps of the pagoda to watch the stunning sight of the red setting sun casting its rays on brick pagodas that dotted the valley below.
Hoi Yee: I really enjoy room service in hotels. It is one of the highlights on any vacation. The crisp, white table cloth, the clanging of ice cubes in the glasses, and the big silver domes that are raised to reveal a bowl of congee, or a 2-scoop ice cream sundae, or a Caesar salad. Somehow, these simple meals become memorable when my family and I eat them, dressed in our robes and disposable slippers.
My husband loves to cook. Ironically, few of his dishes become memorable for me. You see, by the time the dish is perfected and ready for our future guests, the recipe has been tried and tested by me . . . several, several times. I have seen too many failed crème brûlées drying up in our fridge, stews that were finally thrown away, teriyaki salmon that had to be returned to the pan one, two, three times until it had the texture of fish jerky, and cookies that were rock hard. My hubby’s meals seldom make it to my memorable meals list, but I’m thrilled that they make it onto our guests’ lists.
Of the really tasty meals that have tantalized my taste buds, the sashimi breakfast at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, the crunchy green veggies and lamb at a roadside restaurant in Yunnan, and the amazing balance of what seems like 100 spices in a dal in Jaipur, come to mind. When I yearn for those tastes, the memory of the places, the people and the thoughts that were with me at that time, come flooding back.