Memorable meals from a time when the world was our oyster

24 May 2020 - 00:00 By Hilary Biller
Stumbling upon a lok lok stall on a busy Malaysian street is a real treat for adventurous eaters.
Stumbling upon a lok lok stall on a busy Malaysian street is a real treat for adventurous eaters.
Image: 123RF/thamkc

A group of Sunday Times Lifestyle’s intrepid travellers share food memories that take them back to the days when globe-trotting was a doddle.

LOK LOK IN MALAYSIA

I ate many beautiful dishes on my visit to Malaysia a few years ago, but one of the most fun food experiences I had was a lunch of lok lok — a fondue on steroids with a delicious Asian spin on it.

You're served an assortment of skewered ingredients, cooked and raw, to dip into a pot of delicious simmering stock followed by sweet, peanut-flavoured and spicy dipping sauces. Odds are you won’t even work your way through all options on the food cart: I was offered mushrooms, stuffed banana leaves, fish balls, meat strips, tofu squares, hard boiled quail eggs, leafy greens, dumplings, seafood and all sorts of strange things I had never seen before.

Lok lok is a popular street food. There are always plenty of fellow diners to chat to, making it a very social way to get a taste of Malaysia's food culture.

I can’t wait until it's possible to visit this food-loving country again so I can literally dip into more of the many local delicacies to be enjoyed. Just the thought of doing so is enough to warm my aching travel-loving heart. — Sanet Oberholzer, Travel writer

STREET FOOD IN NEW YORK

I feed myself wherever I see food on my travels in New York: salted pretzels from pavement vendors; cream-cheese bagels from corner cafes; spicy minestrone on a wooden bench under Grand Central Station.

And once I sit in a real diner, the famous Viand Coffee Shop on Madison Avenue, and eat a vegetarian burger. I am hungry; the Italian owners are divine. Nectar from the gods, they say, as they place a glass of tap water on my table.

I love everything about this city. I love the old Chinese man bowing and saying "you're welcome" when I thank him for a meal of lemongrass and noodles. I love the soprano-singing  Italian who seduced me into eating a lemon sorbet my mouth will remember forever.

The sun is shining as I walk through Central Park and jump over puddles of rainwater and kick the piles of autumn leaves so that they fly back up into the trees. Sparks come out of the resident gardener's eyes: he's fed up with whirling leaves and fattened squirrels eating discarded doughnuts, but I just laugh. I'm a tourist in the Big Apple on a beautiful day. — Peta Scop, designer

Spaghetti vongole is a classic that can be found on menus throughout Italy.
Spaghetti vongole is a classic that can be found on menus throughout Italy.
Image: 123RF/katrinshine

SPAGHETTI VONGOLE IN ITALY

I thought I'd had my best vongole (spaghetti with clams) ever in Milan in my early 20s while travelling around Italy with a friend. The restaurant was on a little secret square I'll never find again, with a church bordering one side. After a delicious lunch we went to explore the church, and a ray of light shone from the ceiling onto my full belly as if the angels were endorsing my choice of meal.

But the best vongole I've eaten was in Sicily on a family holiday to celebrate the patriarch's 80th. Because there were 32 of us, it was decided we'd stay at the Club Med Kamerina for convenience and ease. The resort has four restaurants. One of them overlooks the sea and specialises in seafood. As in many family resorts, the food is served at stations and you can walk around and see what appeals.

At one busy station a chef was flinging simple ingredients into a pan — the perfect proportions of garlic, parsley, olive oil, white wine, a touch of sweet tomato, clams in their shells and spaghetti. In a heavy Italian accent, the chef said they were local clams, plucked from Sicilian waters that day. Paired with an ice-cold glass of crisp white wine, it was a meal I'll always remember. — Andrea Nagel, Lifestyle editor

RAVIOLI IN ITALY

Whenever I am in Milan for their annual design fair in April, I stay at the Hilton Hotel on Via Luigi Galvani. My first stop after a long day jostling with crowds of fellow design fundis is a little Italian restaurant a block or so away. I can never remember its name, but I kind of know my way there, and it's the only restaurant with an outdoor courtyard with tons of plants you can spot from the sidewalk.

The host is a charismatic man with kind eyes and a charming way about him that always makes me feel at home whenever I walk in — a rare thing when you’re asking for a table for one.

My favourite dish, their fresh ravioli with sliced truffles, cream and a light drizzle of the best olive oil, truly tastes heavenly. I always order it with a large glass of Tuscany’s best red wine, Montepulciano, which the host loves to top up while making delightful small talk.

There is always a great atmosphere within the courtyard, and I've often struck up an interesting conversation with another solo diner that refreshes my tired mind after a day of walking long distances through the city. — Leana Schoeman, Home editor

Sticky rice and mango is a Thai sweet treat.
Sticky rice and mango is a Thai sweet treat.
Image: 123RF/Natthapon Ngamnithiporn

STICKY RICE AND MANGO IN THAILAND

One of my favourite travel destinations is Thailand, and it’s mainly because the food is so delicious and affordable. I adore the freshness of Thai cuisine and its addictive mix of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours.

My husband and I spent our December break on Koh Samui, an island off the east coast of the mainland. It was lovely, but really hot and humid.

Of all the wonderful things we could chose to eat, we opted for a traditional cold dessert: sticky rice and mango. It was like no rice pudding we'd ever tasted before — a mound of sweet, but not overbearingly so, softened rice topped with slivers of cool fresh fruit.

We loved it so much that when it came to choosing what we’d like for our Christmas lunch in Thailand, we both picked that same dessert and felt thoroughly satisfied with our choice. — Bela Stander, Lifestyle business manager