My top 10 memorable food moments of 2013
FEAST WITH ME - Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi (The Philippine Star) - December 26, 2013 - 12:00am

There was never a dull moment for me this year. From an epic bachelorette escape in Bali to our pirate wedding, our amazing sojourn to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, a dive trip to Tubbataha, from wedding chasing to work trips, it was a crazy, globetrotting 365 days where I never found myself just in one place in one month.

I got to meet Daniel Boulud, found myself in Paris three times, scaled the Great Wall and ate the most spectacular crab of my life. It was a complete year. The major downs (failed business) overshadowed by the fortunate ups (marriage and pregnancy!). Proving my theory that life is a cycle and everything is connected. Not one thing stands alone and more and more I realize that the best experiences in the food domain are not just necessarily relegated to eating the best thing. It is not confined to the mouth. There are so many other factors that are beyond the plate.

Nowadays we seem to be so concerned with awards, stars and ticking off names on the must-eats. To me, it’s not so much about having the best food but everything else that comes with it: who you were with, where you were, how you were feeling. This list is not supposed to represent the best restaurants nor the very best dishes; it’s not meant to be a universal truth but more sharing an intimate, beautiful experience. It’s a fleeting moment that becomes eternal in the vast mausoleum of nostalgic memories.

1  Barbecued octopus salad on the beach in the Maldives

Life just couldn’t get any better. We were young, in love and just married on a large pristine white beach on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian ocean whose location on Google maps had to be magnified 10 times before you could even see a dot. A barbecue grill set up especially just for us. The sun setting in the distance. A bottle of cold rosé. A plate of tender, char-grilled octopus dressed in a tart passion-fruit sauce.

Park Hyatt, Hadahaa, Maldives

2  Kap Ising’s molo soup in Molo, Iloilo, Philippines

We turned from the main street onto a narrow pathway, arriving at a haphazard collection of houses guarded by a few clucking chickens. A soft ray of morning sun shone on the open courtyard in the middle as we waited for our order. In a long, tight room, three ladies deftly made hundreds of little wontons — the same little nun’s hats stuffed with juicy pork and fresh kutsay leaves that would go into our broth. A steaming large casserole of that same aromatic liquid arrived at our table and was quickly poured into little bowls. The happy balance of meaty flavor and white pepper, soft slippery wontons bursting with richness, like your entire existence for a few minutes depended on that bowl of comfort.

Kap Ising’s Pancit Molo, Barangay South San Jose, Molo, Iloilo, tel: +63920 6758794

3  High tea on the Ceylon Tea Trails, Hatton, Sri Lanka

Our minds were in a cloudlike state, just woken up from a restful afternoon nap. The cool mountain breeze was damp and grassy. A young man dressed handsomely in traditional garb led us to a small gazebo in the distance with the promise of tea. The dainty clink of porcelain and silverware, a tower of delights, a perfectly brewed cup of Ceylon tea, expertly blended with a bloom of milk and a tinge of sweetness. We sat there. Not saying a word. Belonging to each other. A spectacular silence. Enveloped in that striking peridot, chartreuse green of the tall, eternal fields of tea, time was irrelevant.

4  Black pepper mud crab in the Ministry of Crab, Colombo, Sri Lanka

It’s no secret. I fell in love with Sri Lanka over our honeymoon. One week wasn’t nearly enough. The people, the landscape, the history, the food… From the gloriously paper-thin and crisp edges of breakfast hoppers to rich, thick black curry chicken, there was not one meal I didn’t go local, and not one I didn’t enjoy. But the star of it all was my intimate encounter with a one-kilo Sri Lankan mud crab. It was the first night of our honeymoon; the air was thick with humidity and excitement. The evening was bathed in the cinnamon light of the moon and my head slightly and pleasantly blurred by a cool, crisp sauvignon blanc. From the steaming hot bowl, dripping in a fiery ruby and onyx coat, he stared at me defiantly. Bit by bit, tugging, pulling slowly, caressing the sweet, white, cloudlike flesh. Sometimes yielding gently, other times a little more coy. The juices running languidly down to your elbow, your lips burning with peppery desire. The triumphant satisfaction of the perfect morsel. A hot crustacean mess.

5  A bacchanalian feast in the hills of Ajaccio, Corsica

The sky was as blue as the sky could get. Joyful celebration was clinging to the cool summer breeze as the gentle Mediterranean sun kissed our skin. Perched on the olive-green stony hills accompanied by the dramatic strains of old Corsican love songs was a simple yet abundant feast fit for Bacchus himself. Arcimboldo-ian displays of artisanal charcuterie and cheese. A cornucopia of vegetables and fruits bountifully falling from large baskets on the table. The display of glistening, slow-roasting meats with marble potatoes greedily soaking up their juices. The rosé that never stopped flowing.

6 Clam chowder, steamed mussels and fish and chips in Barbara’s Fish Trap in Half Moon Bay, California, USA

The weather was absolute perfection, the sparkling sun offset by a bitingly cold wind. We drove out to Half Moon Bay for an easy lunch by the water. We ate at a kitschy little restaurant that’s been there for years done up in fishing nets, faux shells, all sorts of nautical memorabilia and dusty old photos. The fare was not fancy but it was good. You knew that Barbara knew her stuff. A thick clam chowder made fresh; a super-crisp-on-the-outside, fluffy-white-heaven-on-the-inside fish and chips, and a giant casserole of steaming tiny mussels, the sweet orange flesh swimming in simple buttery white wine sauce. The pelicans and seagulls outside eyed us enviously.

7  The Nomad chicken, The Nomad Hotel, New York, USA

And so I was told, “The chicken that will change your life.” That’s a tough title to live up to, and yet reality did not disappoint. A decadent paste of foie gras and black truffles is layered under the skin of a whole chicken that is then slow-roasted to an amber-golden heaven. After its ceremonious tableside presentation, it is then taken away to be served two ways: the breast and crisp roast skin on a bed of white bean puree with a truffle pan jus; the dark meat as a warm salad in a sizzling cast-iron dish, with a truffled dressing and a lusciously oozing poached egg.  Daring and flamboyantly indulgent as only a chicken can be in New York, triumphant in the face of roast chicken purists, washed down with a specially crafted spicy dark beer, even the skeptics would pause in awe of the perfect match.

8 Roadside eateries by the Great Wall of China, Mutianyu, Beijing, China

While the spectacular fine-dining experience in the Temple Restaurant in Beijing was really one to remember, nothing beats the surprise of tasty fare at unassuming roadside eateries. Hungry from our climbing exploration, we sat down on dingy plastic chairs, eating with less-than-sanitary plastic chopsticks some of the yummiest dumplings, tasty noodles and beef fried rice I’ve had in a while. The food was fast, cheap and really satisfying, washed down by cold Tsing Tao beer and served with a side of humor and local ambience.

9  La Cremerie in Paris

It was well into June but the summer sun seemed to have forgotten the City of Lights. Braving the cold, bone-dampening veil of crachin rain, we meandered through familiar streets of our usual quartier. Hunger slowly crept up on us and as the climate was not apt, we had decided to forgo our usual rosé-soaked terrace lunches. The growl in my stomach had started to reach my lips and the mauvaise humeur was eminent. By providence we chanced upon a quaint storefront, framed in bottles of wine, lush big cheeses, everything a l’ancienne. A handful of empty tables and a sign of dining hours that was extremely restrictive in the typical French manner. The prospect of dining was only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 12:30 to 1:30p.m. And, well, pretty much whenever else they felt like it. In luck, like entering a wizard’s gastronomical emporium, we were in the witching hour. In this late 19th-century establishment that we had never encountered before despite passing the street a multitude of times, a world of fresh, tart and creamy goat cheese layered with a divine apricot saffron jam opened to us. A planche of the finest artisanal charcuterie.  A glass terrine of rabbit and Armagnac served with hot, crusty bread. A cool bottle of Brouilly that slid down the throat like a Dionysian water. The pure pleasure of simple perfection, made better by the magic that Paris never ceases to surprise.

La Cremerie, 9 Rue des Quatres-vents, 75006, Paris, France

10  Makeshift grill by the ranger’s island in Tubbataha, Philippines

In the middle of the ocean, on an island with nothing but white sand, crabs and a sturdy shack, they had set up a makeshift grill. The fare was simple and classic. Chicken and pork marinated in the iconic Sprite and soy sauce, tomato-stuffed squid, red hotdogs on a stick. We had beers and wine from plastic cups.  As the sun slowly set, the world turned into a Rothko-esque painting of glorious blue. We ate with our hands, friends sharing adventures and laughter under a canopy of stars.

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