With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about memorable meals of years past. Tucker and I have been extremely fortunate with all the incredible food we’ve been able to enjoy around the world, but what exactly is it that makes a meal memorable? The quality of the food? The location, the company, something else? I was curious, so I decided to delve a bit deeper by asking Tucker to reminisce with me about the meals we’ve shared over the years. In particular, the ones that, even years later, still stand out among the rest and why that might be the case. Here’s what we came up with:
Thanksgiving Feast: Crater Edition (Ecuador)
Likely because this was a recent experience, and it has a connection to the upcoming holiday, the first meal to pop into our heads was the Thanksgiving dinner we had after hiking the Quilotoa Crater in Ecuador. There are so many reasons this meal stands out in our minds. First, we had just hiked several miles into and out of an incredible caldera at elevation in the rain, so to say we were hungry would be a massive understatement. Then there’s the fact that all the hikers ate together in pretty much the only little restaurant open there, which made for a very festive meal. And finally, the food itself was incredible. I had a perfectly grilled steak with chimichurri and ají, boiled potatoes, corn on the cob – just an impeccable holiday meal; Tucker had a whole seasoned and grilled fish with homestyle fries and a plethora of interesting sauces, and, of course, we shared several ice-cold, local brews. It was absolutely perfect and extremely well-earned.
Weird Valentine’s Day Tradition (HK)
The next thing we thought of has actually become a sort of strange tradition over the years. Since we first moved abroad in 2015, we’ve spent the vast majority of holidays away from family, friends, and all that was once so familiar. Usually this means we get to learn new ways of celebrating the holidays, but sometimes we just miss all that familiarity and ease. Cue the international (yet super American) restaurant chain: Outback Steakhouse. One year, we were in Hong Kong over Valentine’s Day, and we happened to see an Outback in a mall there. We joked at how lame it would be to go to an Outback while in one of the best food cities in the world…alas, the molten chocolate lava cake called to us. We’ve now celebrated Valentine’s Day at an Outback in four different countries.
Odd Finds at Anatewka (Poland)
Sometimes what makes a meal memorable are the surprises that take place there. For this, Anatewka, an amazing Jewish restaurant in Łódź, immediately comes to mind. Anatewka packed in the surprises for us starting with our bowl of czernina, which we later found out was duck blood soup. The surprises kept coming when we got complimentary shots at the end of the meal (for digestion, of course). And as if that wasn’t enough to keep us guessing (and definitely ensuring our return), we were each gifted a tiny clay figure holding a grosz or the equivalent of a Polish penny. We were absolutely not expecting any of the little treats we got that night, and even though I won’t be ordering czernina again anytime soon, our dining experience at Anatewka was without a doubt both surprising and, indeed, memorable.
Simple yet Spectacular: St. Hubert’s (Quebec)
Surprises can definitely make us remember a meal, but the next meal that we kept thinking (and talking) about really had no discernible reason other than the fact that the food we had was incredibly simple and delicious. On our month-long initial expedition to Ottawa (and the surrounding area) in 2019, we happened to eat at a place called Rôtisserie St-Hubert’s. It’s a fairly nondescript restaurant, clearly a chain, with nothing particularly showy or remarkable on the menu, but what it lacks in flair, it seriously makes up for in homey goodness. Roasted chicken is what St-Hubert’s does, and they do it better than anywhere. It really brought to mind the qualities often associated with French cooking: fresh, buttery, light, and uncomplicated. Simply put, it was the kind of meal that just hit the spot. Of course, this was also the meal where, much to my chagrin, I first learned what clamato juice is, but even the surprise of finding seafood in my drink couldn’t detract from the rustic deliciousness that was this particular meal.
Once in a Lifetime Experience: Dining in the Dark (Malaysia)
Another meal that will obviously live in infamy (according to us anyway) is our experience at Dining in the Dark. If you’ve done one of these events, then it will likely be on your list as well because not only is the food extremely delicious and exciting, but the challenge and subsequent glimpse into a different way of living is eye-opening (see what I did there). For those who don’t know, Dining in the Dark allows you to experience a meal in complete and startling darkness. The servers are all visually-impaired and help you navigate what is a surprisingly scary and difficult set of tasks: everything from finding your chair and sitting down to re-finding your glass or fork somewhere on the table. For me, having my attention drawn to all these little things I took for granted was the most memorable part, but there are other aspects that made this meal stand out. Namely, our complete failure at guessing what we were eating. At one point we had a dish of steamed egg, mushroom, and tofu, and we guessed it to be “savory bread pudding”. What?!
Our First Foray into Fancy Food (Disney’s Remy)
Fun fact: Tucker absolutely loves tasting menus and fine dining because it allows him to try a greater number of usually quite unique dishes, which is all he ever wants in life. And for that reason, another meal on our list has to be Remy, a fine-dining restaurant on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship. Remy offers an eight-course menu of super fancy dishes, which at the time we had never had before. This experience was like stepping into another life. The dress code, the cheese cart, the flowers given to me at the end of the meal – it was all very different to anything we’d ever done. And then there was the experimental quality to the food. We had “tomato essence,” which was a completely clear liquid served in a champagne flute that tasted exactly like you just bit into a vine-ripened, heirloom tomato. There was also the “tomato soup cube”, which is pretty much as described, and countless other curiosities that have definitely kept us talking over the years. Honestly memorable in so many ways!
Making It Our Own: Cooking Class (Thailand)
Another meal that stands out is one we happened to make ourselves. Because we went to Thailand as part of a large group, there were lots of things that stand out about our time there, and one thing in particular was our first (and quite possibly only) cooking class. I personally loathe cooking, so I’m not sure I was really looking forward to this one or that I was very comfortable throughout the experience…but in the end, like everyone else, I was extremely proud of the dish that I made (and the certificate we all received lol). My pad thai was honestly delicious and Tucker’s khao soi was even better! Plus, the process of doing everything ourselves (from shopping in the market to grinding down the various chilis we needed) really gave me even more appreciation for all the chefs of the world. Thankfully this one turned out to be memorable for all the right reasons and not because I ended up burning myself or someone else!
Being Set on Fire (China)
Speaking of burning…the next meal that without doubt must be on our list was the time we almost died. Of spiciness. Tucker and I actually love spicy food, and usually we handle any level of spiciness pretty well. However, Chongqing and Chengdu take spiciness almost beyond human capacity. One of the most renowned dishes of Chongqing is the infamous nine square hot pot, which, of course, we had to try. Unlike the hot pots we were used to, with the nine square, there is only one flavor: spicy. We weren’t really concerned though because when we ordered and chose our spice level, we played it safe with the 1 chili pepper rating (they went up to 5). Turns out, there was no “safe”. Everything was extremely spicy, the meat, the noodles, the hot pot, the sauces…and it was all compounding! I’m not sure we’ve ever sweated that much in a restaurant or drank that many beers that quickly. The craziest thing was, despite our watering eyes, it tasted so good! I would definitely do it all again.
Just What We Needed at the Time (Sweden)
As it turns out, even the timing of a meal can be what ends up making it memorable. On one of our worst travel mistakes to date, we failed to set an important alarm, waking up after only a couple of hours of sleep with only 16 minutes to make it to the bus that would take us to the airport in time for our very early flight. Needless to say, we had a very panicky, rushed morning with no shower or breakfast, and when we arrived in Stockholm, all our thoughts were on a nice shower, a snack, and a bed. Unfortunately, our hostel said we’d have to wait until after 3 to check in. So we, dirty, tired, hungover, and by this point, very hangry travelers, set off to wander aimlessly around the city for the next 7 hours. Obviously, our first stop would have to be food, but finding a place to eat at this time of day was actually a little tricky. Luckily, we finally stumbled upon a restaurant that served their whole menu of Swedish favorites all day, and we happily chowed down. Now Swedish meatballs and plankstek will forever be remembered as our most rejuvenating meal.
A Whole Lot of Whimsy (Mexico)
And last but not least, a happy dose of serendipity mixed with whimsy in the form of dinosaur quesadillas. As you can imagine, a lot of the ads I get have to do with Mexico, travel, and food (hmm, I wonder why). Well, one night last year I saw a little video ad about a restaurant in Mexico that served dinoquesadillas, and I thought to myself, “aww, that’s cute, but I bet it’s nowhere near us.” And I was right. The restaurant was in Saltillo about 440 miles (705km) from Guadalajara. Oh well, no dinoquesadillas are worth that long of a drive! However, it turned out that a few months later we randomly had to make a return trip to the border through none other than Saltillo. Through a crazy coincidence, we ended up in the really cool city of Saltillo, and, of course, we went to the kitschy little restaurant for some dinoquesadillas. A great example of what I call travel fate.
So, it seems there are actually a great many reasons a meal might stand the test of time in our minds. Could be great food, surprising circumstances, or even when exactly you get said meal. I think for me, the common thread is really when something is just a little bit outside the norm, when there’s something that stands out as “different”. Maybe we should all run with that idea and get a little weird this Thursday – I’m definitely willing to give it a try! Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! ¡Buen provecho! 😉