With the year coming to an end, I have seen quite a few “Best Of” lists doing the rounds on social media, reminding me it was about time for my annual round-up.
I haven’t actually even got around to writing up most of these places, but I will certainly endeavour to do so now that my memory has been refreshed with all the wonderful dishes I enjoyed this past year.
In no particular order….
Just Cooked Octopus with Dzikilpak, Tostada with Escamoles & Espelon Beans, & Tropical Fruit with Chile de Arbol
Ok, so I’m cheating here, but only because I couldn’t give 3 of my top 10 dishes to Noma! Flying to Mexico for dinner takes a certain level of commitment but thankfully my meal at Noma was more than worth it.
The Octopus had been wrapped in corn husks then enveloped in a masa dough and slowly baked in the embers. It was unbelievably tender, my fork slid through it as if it were butter, and the intriguing “dzikilpak” pumpkin seed sauce (made with a fermented base they bought with them from Copenhagen & containing some 27 ingredients) was truly spectacular.
I’ve eaten Escamoles, or ant eggs, a few times in South East Asia but the Mexican ones were an absolute revelation. Rich & creamy, they worked beautifully with the freshness of the espelon.
One of the most simple dishes at Noma was also one of the most flavourful, I absolutely loved the Tropical Fruits with Chile de Arbol and it was a real highlight of the meal. Local seasonal fruits like red mamey, anonna, capulin berries, jiotilla were served alongside grapefruit, avocado, mango and starfruit, in a wonderfully tart tamarind juice flecked with fiery chile.
Tacos de Lechon & Cochinita de Pibil
Umm ok, yes, another cheat, but I really couldn’t decide if the Tacos Lechon or Cochinita de Pibil at Taqueria Honorio were better!
My hotel, beautiful as it was, seemed to think that their guests wanted to eat pancakes and waffles for breakfast instead of something more local (and at $15 for the hotel offering, it was cheaper to get a return taxi to Honorio and eat, then it was to stay there!)
This little street side Taqueria came highly recommended by the charming hotel staff, and I noticed it popped up extremely frequently in the instagram feeds of the Noma team who decamped to Tulum for their pop up, so I was sold from the moment I laid eyes on it, let alone when I actually ate there!
Cochinita de Pibil is a slow roasted pork from the Yucatan region, cooked with achiote spice mix & vinegar & orange juice (to help break down the fats and soften the meat) whilst the Lechon was a roasted sucking-pig, served with glass like shards of crackling. Both were served on freshly made flour tortillas and a choice of homemade chilli salsa to season as you wish.
I realised that whilst my initial order of 2 tacos was simply not substantial enough for breakfast, an order of 4 was perfect, and at around $1 each, you could certainly afford to splash out!
Tacos de Tripa
Last Mexican inclusion I promise! Whilst I tried a few tripe tacos in Mexico, the version we tried at Taqueria Los Cocuyos was so far superior to the others, it was hard to believe it was the same dish.
The tripe is cooked in boiling oil and then chopped very finely before being served with coriander & onion, on fresh corn tortillas and the resulting taco is one with just the right amount of “chew” owing to how finely the tripe has been diced, with the freshness of the coriander cutting through the strong tripe flavour for a dish that is surprisingly subtle.
Don’t visit Mexico City without trying them!
Guinea Fowl Jungle Curry
Whilst everything I ate at Somsaa was exceptional, the Gaeng khua khae gai baan (£14.50) a dry Chiang Rai jungle curry with guinea fowl, garlic scapes and kajorn flowers, was a monster of a dish! The level of spices coming from the jungle curry was just spot on, oh-so moreish, and the Guinea fowl had been cooked so gently it was just perfect.
Spicy Octopus & Pigs Ear Terrine
I ate ridiculously well in NYC when I visited with friends this past Autumn, but my meal at Mission Chinese is the one that stands out the most.
Chunky pieces of melt in the mouth octopus were served with chewy pigs ears * pickled okra (I could have eaten a bowl of these on their own!) with extra texture coming from a mixture of nuts and seeds, and a fiery, tingly Sichuan chilli oil doing the rest!
It somehow managed to be both delicate and yet intensely spicy at the same time, the salad leaves and pickles offering a nice cooling sensation against the chilli oil, and the different textures only added to the whole sensation.
Uncle Boons was another undisputed highlight of my NYC trip and these noodles really were something else!
Fried noodles were mixed with peanuts, dried shrimp, egg and little crisp nuggets of sweetbreads, in a tart tamarind sauce with what seemed like handfuls of fresh herbs.
The textural contrasts were one of the main reasons that this dish was so special, not to mention the wonderful creaminess of the sweetbreads once you got through their crisp, golden exterior.
Bee Sting Pizza
Roberta’s signature pizza, and one we almost missed out on ordering as it is an “off menu item”, was without a doubt my favourite of the pizzas we tried at Brooklyn Pizza institution Roberta’s.
The wood fired pizzas are best described as “Neapolitan” in style, yet the irreverent toppings would probably give your average Neapolitan Pizzaiolo a heart attack!
The Bee Sting is topped with tomato, mozzarella, slices of spicy sopressata sausage and a spicy chilli infused honey that pulls the whole dish together. Do try this at home!
“Yum Kippered” Baked Salmon Board
This should really be labelled “best hangover cure of 2017”, I can’t put into words how truly terrible I felt when we arrived at Russ & Daughters, and how much better I felt when we left!
I have an irrational hatred for smoked salmon and so was not really sure what to expect when we were given the menus, but the Yum Kippered bagel board with baked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, capers and red onions was absolute perfection, and I pretty much danced a little happy food dance the whole time I was eating it!
There is a reason Russ & Daughters is considered an NYC institution, be sure to make breakfast there a priority when visiting!
Shan State, Myanmar
A Home cooked Shan Feast
I think it must be impossible to eat badly in Shan state, it’s certainly true of every meal I enjoyed during my week-long Thingyan trip in April of this year.
We were taken to the house of a cousin of one of our friends in order to enjoy a truly local home cooked meal and whilst I’m afraid the names of most of the dishes we ate escape me, the incredible variety of ingredients and flavours will stay with me for years to come!
This photo just shows a small selection of the dishes that were laid out for us on the floor of their house for us to enjoy. Once finished, we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying copious quantities of homemade spirits with our new friends, one of the best afternoons I have ever experienced!
Mum’s “Going back to Myanmar” Roast Pork
I’ve said it here before but my Mum is truly one of the best cooks I know, and her Roast Dinners are legendary.
We sat outside in my parents beautiful garden (of course the weather changed from almost none stop rain, to none stop sunshine the day I came back to Myanmar!) and enjoyed a wonderful supper of roast pork from their local butcher with crackling, roast potatoes, stuffing, carrot and root vegetable mash, broccolini, cauliflower cheese and ratatouille (my sole contribution to the meal!) paired with a bottle of good red wine, absolute perfection and one I look forward to repeating in 2018!
What were the most memorable meals of 2017 for you? I can’t tell you how hard it was to narrow mine down, I’d love to hear yours!