Thursday, 14 August 2008

Perfection

I lay the blame squarely at the door of Anthony Bourdain. If it had not been for this man I could be a normal, fully functioning member of society by now, complete with a regular job and a steady income. Instead I am a food obsessed jobbing writer desperate to eat my way around the world, indulge in endless gastronomic experiences, try anything and everything and hunt for the perfect meal. And then write it all down, naturally.

On second thoughts, maybe blame is the wrong word. I think, perhaps, that what I mean is that I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. If it had not been for this man I might have a regular job and a steady income. I could be a jobbing account manager by now (whatever that means). Instead I am a food-obsessed writer carefully eating my way around the world and cataloguing the growing collection of gastronomic experiences I am revelling in. My boundaries are limitless, my palate adventurous. I am happy to try anything and everything and am hunting for the perfect meal. And writing it all down, naturally.


When it comes to food I have an uninhibited sense of adventure. I’ve said before that what excites me most about travel isn’t the weather or the beaches or the galleries or museums or the views and vistas. It is the food. I don’t even have to leave the country to get excited. I am planning a trip to Colchester to feast on native oysters and a sojourn to Cromer to gorge on crab. Theses are no further than an hour from my house but the prospect excites me to the point when I can think about little else.

There is a culinary adventure wherever you look. A recent trip to Cardiff and Bath resulted in some superb lamb and (officially) the best sandwich in the country (more of those later).

Thailand was, of course, an almost non-stop gastro-quest. We had some incredible food and some amazing experiences – not all of which were food related, it may surprise you to discover. The heaving throng of Chinatown with its myriad smells and mind-blowing selection of streetfood. The iced coffee we supped surrounded by a thousand and one cars billowing out acrid fumes. The sweetly infamous durian fruit, munched clandestinely in the hotel room. The century eggs that ended up in a napkin. All were truly, truly incredible.

But, as is customary, I felt that I should save the best for last.


Feeling a little claustrophobic thanks to the slightly sanitised and staid feeling of the hotel I went searching for something a little more traditional. We had succumbed to room service once and also endured a deeply average meal in the hotel restaurant (hot tip – if something on the menu makes you utter the words ‘oo, that sounds interesting’ then avoid it at all costs. Or you may end up with deep fried duck with sweet espresso flavoured sauce) but once again I was hankering for something real, something with soul, something made on the side of the road.

After walking south along the beach for an hour I came across a lone taxi driver waiting for any passing trade. He asked me if I wanted a taxi. No, thank you, I replied but perhaps you could tell me where I could get some food?
‘Thai food?’ he said
‘Thai food.’
‘Local food?’
‘Local food.’
‘400 metres down the road is a motorbike and food stall,’ came the glorious reply ‘I give you lift.’
My spirits soared. I could not have crafted a better scenario. It transpired that there was a substantial amount of construction work taking place just along the coast and builders need feeding.

I told him that I would have to go and get my girlfriend but I promised to be back as soon as I could and set on my way, as fast as it is possible to go on banked sand whilst wearing flip flops that are two sizes too big. I hesitate to think what I looked like but lithe and athletic are two words that probably wouldn’t be used in this context.

By the time I got back to the hotel I had been gone almost two hours but I was too eager to take notice of the gentle reprimand I received from my girlfriend, no doubt slightly anxious that a fifteen minute stroll had taken a little longer than expected.


And then it began to rain. It rained harder than we had seen since we arrived. We really were in our own version of The Truman Show: ‘We have confirmed reports that two guests are attempting to escape the complex and eat elsewhere. Turn on the storm. Repeat, turn on the storm.’

Our hunger began to press and we toyed with the idea of postponing. But just as the pain in our bellies began to take over rational control of our heads the clouds parted, the rain ceased and we were able to start the pilgrimage.

The taxi driver was waiting and displayed delight on seeing our return. As promised, he drove us the short distance for nothing and as I saw the destination an uncontrollable smile spread across my face. Not one but two hastily cobbled together motorbikes with rudimentary stalls attached, each with a gas burner and an array of exciting foodstuffs available. I asked our driver to order for us. He declined my offer of a meal but duly rattled off an order to the waiting hawkers.


Within minutes we each had a cob of corn, a plastic tray heaped with freshly cooked fried rice, topped with tiny chillies and a plastic cup full of sweetened Thai iced tea. The driver offered to take us back to the beach so that we could eat within sight of the sea, a proposition we couldn’t resist.

We ate sat on a large piece of driftwood within metres of the rolling waves. Grey clouds loomed close to the horizon and a soft breeze rattled the palm trees. The food was the best I have ever tasted.

I was in a place I love, with someone I love doing what I love. This was perfection. Thanks, Tony.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Best post ever. :)

Patrick said...

What a delightful account of a memorable meal! I almost feel like I had been sitting beside the two of you. I'll keep reading.

Foodycat said...

Brilliant post! What a nice taxi driver.

And you really must put the Cromer crab plan into action. I was there last September and bought an amazing number of dressed crabs, off the boat that morning, for no money at all. Made living in god's waiting room seem almost appealling.

Tom Aarons said...

What an absolutely glorious story! Thank you!

Alex Rushmer said...

anon - thank you!

Patrick - So kind of you to say so. That's why I write, to recieve feedback like that.

Foodycat - thank you very much. Looks like we are off to Cromer this weekend. Very exciting.

Tom - thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

bee said...

that sounds like a great adventure. love both your blogs thanks for dropping by.

kittie said...

Great post! And what a wonderful taxi driver. Isn't that just the kind of set up the foodie travellers wish for?!

I'm planning my Thai trip now... can't wait!

Su-Lin said...

What a fantastic experience! It's always little ramshackle places like these that have the best food, eh?

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I AM SO WITH YOU!

Alex Rushmer said...

bee - thanks so much. Great to hear that you enjoy the blogs.

kittie - I know, what a wonderful chap. It really is the sort of experience that you dream of.

su-lin - I completely agree with you, the best food is almost always found at the most run-down places.

Jenn - Thank you!

Kathleen said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

Writer I am not, but traveler, food hunter I am.

I look forward to reading more of your adventures Alex.

Am headed to Spain in a few weeks on a similar trek...hungry for more we remain yes?

Kathleen said...

p.s.

you give good photo as well as scribe.