I know I say it every year but this time it was almost impossible to narrow the list down. I did a stupid amount of travel this year and ate an even stupider amount of food, but I think I just managed to pick my favourites.
There are so many more dishes I wish I could have included but, without any further excuses and in no particular order, here are 16 memorable things I ate this year (that I didn’t cook myself).
And if you want to keep more regular tabs on what I’m eating and cooking you can throw me a follow on Instagram @liawadam.
1. Pastéis de Belém, A Chique de Belem, Lisbon, Portugal
The far-more-famous Pastéis de Belém down the road is accepted as the home of the Portuguese tart, but it can feel a bit like you’re on the conveyor belt of a tourist factory. At A Chique de Belem they’re still “fabrico próprio” (made on premises) and excellent quality, and you can even sit, have a coffee and actually enjoy yourself while eating tart or four (or six). I honestly thought the tarts were better here, too.
2. Foie gras and marmalade, Ganbara, San Sebastian, Spain
A pintxos crawl in San Sebastian is probably one of the best food experiences in the world, and doesn’t even matter that the food isn’t always that good. Don’t get me wrong – there are some exceptional pintxos around, but there’s as much boring/bad as there is interesting/great. This foie gras and marmalade from Ganbara was one of the greats.
3. Francesinha, Bufete Fase, Porto, Portugal
You could start a civil war in Porto on the question of where has the best Francesinha (“Little Frenchie” – it’s a Portuguese evolution of a Croque Monsieur) but after much wailing and gnashing of teeth I settled on Bufete Fase. The sound you hear when you eat it is your arteries weeping.
4. Confit goose wing and Salardaise potatoes, La Tupina, Bordeaux, France
Some say La Tupina has become an affectation of the rustic French cookery that made it famous but really, its only crime is aggressively staying the same while the food world evolved around it into something that can be overly critical, cynical and opinionated at times. If that’s an affectation, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
5. Caffè freddo and pastries, Andreotti, Rome
My little brother lives around the corner from this place and brought me here on a searing hot Roman day. The caffè freddo is made with a base of espresso granita topped with more chilled espresso and a touch of milk. Now it’s the gold-standard for every hot summer’s day I’ve experienced since. A+ pastries, too FWIW.
6. Birthday cake, by Katherine Sabbath, Sydney
I’ve been a fan of Katherine’s on Instagram for ages and she so very, very kindly made this for my son’s first birthday. Often the trade-off for cakes that look this good is taste, but this was one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten. Caramel mud cake with freeze-dried raspberries and toasted coconut plus cream cheese icing. The ice-cream cone is full of cupcake. Show-stopper.
7. Negitoro temaki, Sushi Shinnosuke, Kanazawa, Japan
Negitoro temaki (minced akami with Japanese leeks) is one of those salaryman sushi pieces that Japanese food snobs would never order in a fine-dining omakase. At Shinnosuke, though, the attention paid to the texture of meaty tuna and sharp leeks made it stand out, which is why it’s on the list instead of the more celebrated cuts like otoro nigiri. In fact, the whole meal at Shinnosuke was amazing. Completely different to somewhere like Sukibashi Jiro (which I guess since the doco has become the default benchmark for sushi restaurants everywhere) in the sense that the taisho’s style is some of the most contemporary stuff going around, but if this was in Tokyo you’d be paying three or four hundred dollars for it. In Kanazawa the whole meal was just a smidge over a hundred bucks.
8. Avgotaraho, capers and rakomelo, To Psarakis, Santorini, Greece
For such a tourist hotspot, the food on Santorini is incredible. Particularly in the somewhat-less-overrun towns of Vlychada and Ammoudi. This was my first time trying avgotaraho (semi-soft cured mullet roe) but it was like a more delicate, yolky version of karasumi or bottarga. These thick slabs were a perfect match with rakomelo (raki sweetened with honey).
9. Bacon and Prune Pave, Du Pain et Des Idées, Paris, France
This was just about the most perfect savoury snack I’ve ever eaten. I’m not kidding. Perfect smokiness of the farmer’s bacon, the right mix of crunchy, chewy and milky lactic fermentation in the dough, with a subtle sweetness of prune.
10. Native Australian ingredient tasting, Indian Pacific, somewhere on the Nullarbor Plain, Australia
For a long time native Australian ingredients have suffered from associations with gimmicky attempts to force “Australiana” into a modern Australian cuisine that has never really paid it much attention. I don’t really think much has changed. The gimmick has become the flavour of the month in fine-dining and chefs are now throwing native ingredients around with a shrug and wink, but I still haven’t really thought they’ve make much impact on how Australians really eat. Enter Mark Olive – and I say enter even though he’s being championing native foods for the best part of 30 years. His native ingredient tasting on board the Indian Pacific took place somewhere on the Nullarbor Plain during my 3-day journey crossing Australia from coast to coast and it has, at long last, opened my eyes to the possibilities of the incredible and unique flavours we have here.
11. Crayfish and chips, Nin’s Bin, Kaikoura, New Zealand
The Clark family live and breathe crayfish, and there’s a reason their’s is the best crayfish in New Zealand. Johnny catches them and cooks them in an old copper washing machine and his brother Ricky makes the chips (fried in dripping, no less). The secret to preserving the crayfish flavour is cooking them sixty at a time so that the water doesn’t dilute the flavour. Something to bear in mind if you ever have sixty crayfish lying around.
12. Toast Skagen, Hotel Diplomat, Stockholm, Sweden
This is a fantastic spot for lunch in Stockholm. Well-heeled and impossibly attractive Swedes of all ages in crisp-pressed shirts dining on Swedish classics with a bit of swank. Toast Skagen is lightly grilled bread topped with fresh prawns, dill, crème fraiche and vendace roe. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more civilised while eating toast.
13. Bain moke, Sone Kone Village, Myanmar
I’d just visited a rural health centre on a trip to Myanmar with UNICEF, and in Myanmar “rural” means we’d been crossing rivers in four-wheel drives for about 4 hours to get here. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and for a snack I bought a piece of this giant leavened pancake of peanut and coconut from a local seller. Ten cents a piece.
14. Ploughman’s lunch and a cloudy cider, The Mount Inn, Cotswolds, England
Anyone who still subscribes to the old trope that English food is terrible or boring is woefully out of touch. And it’s not that just magically got better a decade or so ago. It’s always been great.
15. Nasi campur, Warung Something Something, Bali
That’s not the name of the warung. I just can’t remember it. I’ve spent hours and hours in Bali on previous trips trying to track down some famous babi guling (usually great) or some new and popular fancy-casual restaurant (usually not-so-great) but this trip I just decided to eat from the local warung and sit by the pool. Maybe I just got lucky but the simple nasi campur from the place at the end of the street was different every day and as good as anything I’ve eaten in Bali, anywhere. Oh, and it cost a dollar a plate.
16. Pork jowl, abalone and fermented grains, Peter Gilmore, MONA, Hobart, Tasmania
This was one of the big fancy dishes at Tourism Australia’s big fancy dinner in Hobart. It was the best dinner I’ve ever been to. I wrote about it for The Wall Street Journal here.
Well, thanks for reading. That was a list of stuff I didn’t cook this year. If you want to have a look at some stuff I did, your best bet is here.