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
‘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.