(picture courtesy of Melissa of travelerslunchbox)
You know I am not one for memes... but this actually isn't one. Melissa labelled it her "joint project" of compiling a list with the true food lovers' favourite foods, asking everyone to contribute their "Five things to eat before you die". Having been tagged twice, this one was actually a challenge I couldn't resist and it was incredibly hard to put together - but here we go:
Tasting menu at a true "grand table" with accompanying wine.
It doesn't really matter whether it's the French Laundry or El Bulli, as long as the food is top and their sommelier knows what he's doing. I know many establishments (especially in France) sadly do not actually offer this, which is a crying shame. You wouldn't believe what a difference a perfectly matched wine makes to the food you're having. Austrian gourmet restaurants do this very well, especially at Obauer's. Joerg Woerther who has sadly given up his 19/20 (Gault Millau) restaurant even used to do it the other way round and adjust the dish to suit the wine as well. Having been to the Fat Duck last weekend to finally enjoy the tasting menu, I know that they are currently doing a perfect job at it as well - I wasn't drinking, of course, but for my dear husband it was pure excitement with every course. He was indulging in the happy marriages of wines and food and he insisted he couldn't understand how I could have enjoyed the menu without the wines. It is unbelievable what perfect harmony between the head chef and the sommelier can achieve!
Austrian white asparagus (from the Marchfeld).
No, do read on. I know many people who loathe asparagus, not matter what the colour is, and I know even more who think white asparagus just tastes bland. But it doesn't, I swear.
First, steer clear of asparagus preserved in glasses. I know the season is very limited (June, and that's it), but preserving doesn't do it any good.
Second, I have tried asparagus in many different countries and it never tastes quite as good. Austrian asparagus is perfectly tasty, has a slightly nutty and caramelly note, if that makes sense, that is unmistakable and incomparable.
Third, buy from the Marchfeld region in Austria. There are only a dozen producers, but it does make the vital difference. There's a shop called Solofino (Linke Wienzeile 72, 1060 Vienna) in Vienna, on one side of the famous Naschmarkt, which is only open for 4 weeks a year, during the asparagus season. You have to go very early to avoid disappointment!
Fourth, choose the right kind of asparagus. It doesn't come cheap, but "Solospargel" is really the only way to go. They are prefectly shaped, thick stalks with an approximate diamater (at the bottom) of 5 centimetres and with thick, glossy, deeply yellow tips which are incredibly meaty (though perfectly suitable for vegetarians).
Fifth, the simpler the preparation, the better. Try with brown butter (butter melted in a pan and carefully caramelised) and freshly grated parmesan, or a simple warm vinaigrette of hazelnut/walnut oil and sherry vinegar.
Austrian bread basket (aka "Das Körberl").
Having been an expat for most of my adult life, I have got to miss Austrian bakeries a lot. Although I make do by seeking out continental bakeries (and I have found them to be available in London as much as in Mexico City) - but wonderful as a fresh, crusty baguette may be, it doesn't beat the selection of rolls available in an Austrian bakery. Loaves aside, the variety of single bread rolls we have available is astounding: you won't believe the range of shapes (round, oval, sticks, tied in plaits, twists, crescents, plain tops or with incisions of various formats... the list goes on. But the most amazing thing is that the difference between them doesn't just lie in the shape or the topping (poppyseed with or without salt, pumpkin seeds, sesame, nuts, cheese, tomato, herb, linseed, sunflower seeds, etc), but each and every one of them has a very different dough as a base as well. Some are made with yeast, others with sourdough, some contain various seeds (see: toppings) and seasoning, and the dough is different depending on whether it's milk or water that's used, whether there's butter or oil, how long it's been resting and rising etc... a science in its own right. Seriously, if you ever go to Austria, seek out a good bakery where they make their own bread (supermarket chain Merkur or the gourmet emporium Meinl Am Graben in Vienna are great alternatives) and feast on a basket of breadrolls. You won't need anything else. Then go back and taste the loaves, danishes, cookies, cakes and patisserie...
Fresh ceviche overlooking a secluded bay, preferrably in Huatulco, Mexico. There's something about fresh fish that makes many people shudder. I think it's one of the best things, but only if the fish is just caught, so make sure you eat it at the seaside. Nothing beats fish that comes straight from a boat or oysters shucked right there and then at the farm... My first experiences of ceviche were also the most divine: leaving Huatulco (a port on the Pacific coast in the state of Oaxaca which I am sure has become quite touristy by now) in a tiny boat to seek out one of the many spectacular beaches tucked into the tree/bush-clad rocks that line the coast and settling down at the mini-kiosk that is run by the wife of a local fisherman. The fresh fish (any white fish will do, tuna, salmon et al will taste nice, but not be such a pretty sight) chopped up with a knife, then cured in lime juice for under an hour and mixed with heaps of onion, tomato, chilli and cilantro (coriander leaf)... unforgettable!
White truffles. Why are the best things in life always the hardest to get? Vegetables and fruit that don't travel and are in season for only a fraction of the year (see white asparagus), beef that is stroked to death rather than being sent to an abbatoir, icecream that is handmade by a tiny producer, actually tastes of fruit or whatever it says on the label, doesn't have "funny" names and is definitely not sold in colourful tubs at every other supermarket... and truffles, of course. I am not talking about the vile and tasteless black mini-truffles they sell at every supermarket which come preserved in some liquid, rather than fresh, and therefore have the texture of a leathery gherkin and taste of cardboard... oh no, I am talking about the real thing. The thing you can smell across the room when it's being shaved (in the tiniest quanities) onto a plate at some fancy restaurant, the thing that looks like a deformed potato, is encrusted in soil and needs hours of careful brushing in order nor to lose its aroma, the thing that makes you gasp every time you see its price per gram. If you can get your hands on one, don't waste the taste on some fancy cooking, cook a bowl of pasta with butter or a light cream sauce, or a simple scrambled egg - shave the truffle over and be mesmerised. Scrap Prada shoes and a yacht in the Caribbean: fresh white truffles are the only thing the lottery is worth winning for...
And of course, I have to tag five blogs who are not yet featured on Melissa's list (which is now rapidly approaching 500 tips):
Nicky of Delicious Days in Munich/Germany
Pille of Nami-Nami (Estonian) in Edinburgh/UK
Niki of Esurientes in Melbourne/Australia
Angelika of TheFlyingApple in Vienna/Austria and
Zsofi of Chili & Vanilia (Hungarian) in Brussels/Belgium