By Paolo Shaoul
It has to be one of the most delicious phrases in the English language.
Even as a spotty 11 year old growing up in East London, being informed that a trip to the new McDonalds that had recently opened in deepest Ilford was on the cards, left you with an excitement so tangible you could make a sandwich with it.
Now, while a trip to the golden arches is still an exciting prospect for some, admitted younger folks, I didn’t come here to sell you burgers. I came here to pitch the greatest foodie experiences known to man. Well this man anyway.
I’m not interested in the best restaurants or the greatest chefs. No this has to be about the human experience. Pure, unadulterated pleasure so intense that Dionysus himself would struggle to cope with its existence. From takeaway heaven to marvellous market stalls, eating out to gourmet travels, sandwiches to posh grub – here are my personal foodie moments to (sweet and) savour…
1. The Street Market: Mexico City, Mexico
Who doesn’t like a taco? Mercado de San Juanis one of several downtown food markets that serve up freshly made, delicious tacos unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. Frequented by local workers, in London it would be considered trendy and cost the earth but over here its simple street food, done the way “mama told us”. And best of all it’s always washed down with a coconut and straw.
2. The Backstreet Dive: London, England
Ali Baba is London’s only authentic Egyptian canteen – and the nearest thing to entering a teleport. Located in the back streets of Marylebone, don’t be fooled by the “kebab shop” appearance – a curtain hides one of the big smoke’s best kept food secrets. Step through it and sample gorgeous lime green falafel discs the size of soap bars and sweet Arabic bread priced at 20p a portion.
3. The Pizza Shop on the Corner: Lake Garda, Italy
Forget pizza as you know it. Yes, Manhattan knows how to make a pizza, that’s for sure. But not one that tasted as good as the panorama its doorway led out into. Imagine the softest, sweetest, oiliest dough, the ripest blood tomatoes, mozzarella so enticing your ears tingle…and the toppings, oh the toppings. Supplement your manna from heaven with Italian salami, garlic, sugary red onions, gorgonzola and you have heaven in a bite. Then go hire a Riva speedboat and pretend you’re in a Fellini movie.
4. The Dragon Fruit Tree: Vietnam
OK, so Dragon Fruit is the orange of South East Asia. But unless you’ve been to Vietnam in particular, hand-picked this amazing star-shaped gem from its tree, you will never know what it is like to taste fruit as God intended it to taste.
5. The Cheesesteak Shack: Scranton, US
Cheesesteaks are to Americans are as kebabs are to us Brits – part of our life support system. And forget the Subway nonsense. If you’ve never had a cheesesteak made for you the “proper way” (provolone cheese, rear cuts of shredded prime beef etc) by a native Pennsylvanian then you haven’t had a cheesesteak. So get on a plane now and experience the fast food version of an orgasm.
6. Churros & Chocolate: Torremolinos, Spain
The food equivalent of Messi & Xavi. A match made in heaven that will leave you craving more. Churros is the Spanish version of our fritter – but without the stringy apple bits. And their hot chocolate is not some insipid, watery foulness – but thick and velvety, dark, sweet and nutty. The real explosion comes when you dip your churros into your chocolate – and if this sounds a little explicit then you’re right. It’s better than sex.
7. Wild African Safari on a Plate: Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is famed for its great restaurants and while Mama Africa is more of a safari than a meal, the overall experience makes the Fat Duck look boring. I mean why bother with bacon and eggs ice cream when you can try ostrich eggs marinaded in an impala steak sauce. Quite possibly the greatest “theme” restaurant in the world.
8. The Chip Shop: Mons, Belgium
Us Brits think we know our chips. Let’s get one thing straight, we don’t. But the Belgians bless em, do. And the pride they take from their chips, their potatoes, their salt, their frying, their mayo, washed down with the best beer in the world, is something else. You may be wondering what on earth chips are doing on this list. But then I guess you’ve never been to Belgium.
9. The Smorgasbord: Moss, Norway
OK, so the women are bloody gorgeous but their food’s not up to much right? Well their breakfasts certainly are and if you are lucky enough to stay with a Norwegian family you will see how it is possible to spend three hours around a breakfast table – and still get very excited about repeating the process the next day. The word “smorgasbord” has been stolen by anglophiles to become a generic representation of a feast for the senses and to be fair that is what breakfast in Norway is like. Every conceivable type of meat, cheese, vegetable, bread, juice, fruit, paste, spread, pickle….I could go on but I’ll just get hungry.
10. South Pacific Treehouse Restaurant: Vava’u, Tonga
I’ve left the best till last. Well it’s definitely the best location. There are thousands of desert islands across the south pacific archipelago so trying to find this one is needle in haystack time. Still, if you do (and don’t expect me to provide a map) you will know you’ve arrived. After anchoring your boat/dingy/RIB and walking barefoot across the golden sand, you come to a huddle of trees that form the centre of the island (which in itself is only about 30 metres squared). In front of one of the trees is a small wooden staircase. Climb that and you are in a tree house that seats about 50 people, has a gorgeous rum cocktail bar, serves up the freshest seafood and has 360 degree views of the world’s most beautiful stretch of jade coloured water. Stunning.
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