The best meals of 2016

The following article features five food experts and their favourite meals of 2016.


Tomé Morrissy-Swan, author of Appetite for Consumption food blog

2016 has been a pretty shitty year. Tragic terrorist attacks and plane crashes, political upheaval across the world, and a spate of celebrity deaths, from beloved musicians and actors to Johan Cruyff, one of the best footballers of all time, have continually shocked us. On a more mundane level, Cristiano Ronaldo winning the Champions League, the Euros and the Ballon D’or is particularly grating.

Thankfully, the culinary world has provided a much-needed tonic to the overbearing doom and gloom. When everything around us seems to be pointing to the end of the world as we know it, food continues to remind us of the more comforting things in life: home, family, travelling and the fact that we have more in common with each other than what separates us (hummus and falafel, after all, are equally as Israeli as they are Palestinian).

This year, I’ve been lucky enough to visit several gastronomically iconic places; indeed, I was so inspired by the cuisines of such far-reaching places as Israel, San Sebastian and Vietnam that I began to write about food.

In a year in which I was to sample such a vast array of superb and authentic dishes, it was almost impossible to choose a single highlight. In December 2015, I was blown away by shakshouka and hummus in Tel Aviv; in May, the pintxos of San Sebastian were a pleasant surprise, especially when washed down with the cheap and excellent local wine; staying with a local family in Lazio, central Italy, was a delightful introduction to the famous Italian homegrown and home-cooked food culture; in Vietnam, I ate arguably the best sandwich of my life; and green curries in Bangkok and Chiang Mai elevated the dish to favourite-curry status.

Choosing a single favourite, therefore, was an arduous task. Awards, for me, are always slightly dubious, based solely on subjectivity, particularly for anything artistic. How can a certain film be better than another in a completely different genre? How do you ascertain whether a hip hop album  is better than a rock one? Equally, how do you decide whether pho in Vietnam is better or worse than sushi in São Paulo?

My favourite meal, therefore, is one that gave me the most pleasure, changed my views on that particular dish, and partly influenced me to write about food. In August, I spent a day in Naples, southern Italy’s largest city, a baking, chaotic, vibrant place. I fell in love with the town, and that was before I tried the famous Neapolitan pizza. As we arrived at our chosen pizzeria, it was sadly closed. Luckily, a few doors down was Al 22, a traditional, no-frills pizzeria established in 1935. Less than five minutes after ordering, two piping hot pizzas, a Margherita and a Margherita with Salami, arrived. After our first bites, my mother and I stopped, looked at each other, and had to pause to reflect, it was that good. I was so inspired, my love for pizza reignited, that I subsequently began a quest to find the best pizza in London. Simple, cheap food, when made properly, beats any smart, modernist fare. The Neapolitan pizza, at €5, was the best meal I had in 2016.


Ben Preston, of blog.ZenEuro.com, a website specialising in travel and food

Picking my favourite food from this year is hard, mostly because I had the chance to do quite a bit of travelling and try lots of unique cuisines from different places. Some of my favourites would definitely be the pizza from Bonci Pizzarium in Rome, the churros from El Moro in Mexico City, and the tapas from Quimet & Quimet in Barcelona. But, if I could only pick one thing that stood above the rest, I think it would be the classic Greek food at Thanasis in Athens.

Thanasis is in the centre of Athens along a street of restaurants, and is known by tourists and locals alike for having some of the best Greek food in the country. For me, having been raised on souvlaki and tzatziki from Greek immigrants, getting to experience the foods from their origin was an other-wordly experience.

The simplicity of the food really amazed me: The tzatziki, creamy and fresh, drizzled with olive oil, and served with grilled pita dusted with paprika, was just perfect. The lamb souvlaki, succulent, juicy, and served with ripe Greek tomatoes and red onion, was everything I ever wanted a souvlaki to be. I would without question travel to Athens, and Thanasis, again just for the food.

Blog.ZenEuro.com

ZenEuro.com


Lucy Treganna, traveller and food lover

A strong contender for the best food I ate this year is at Pizza 4P’s, an Italian-Japanese fusion restaurant in Hanoi founded by Tokyo-born Yosuke Masuko. Although living in Hanoi meant I was able to enjoy some incredible Vietnamese cuisine, the craving to ‘go for a Western’ did sometimes set in, and on the two occasions I ventured to Pizza 4P’s it far from disappointed.

Thanks to the ‘half & half’ option they have available for most pizzas, between us my friends and I were able to sample a range of toppings: garlic soy beef, okonomiyaki and salmon sashimi being among the creative Asian twists which impressed. There are also more traditional Neapolitan-style pizzas on offer; on my first visited I opted for a classic margherita and a three-cheese option combining mozzarella, parmesan and camembert on a béchamel base, which was served with a side of honey to drizzle over and complemented the flavours surprisingly well. It was the perfect choice for someone as cheese obsessed as I am, especially as Pizza 4P’s uses its own homemade artisan cheeses produced in the Vietnamese highlands of Da Lat.

On my second visit I selected the anchovy burrata, and the ham, camembert and mozzarella served on a garlic mushroom sauce base. Not just the best pizza I’ve eaten in Asia, but amongst the best I’ve had in my life!


Nicholas Hsien, food blogger, http://www.rockabitebaby.com

Frog legs as a famous culinary delicacy may be one of the few things the French and Chinese have in common, aside from perhaps both governments’ attitude towards the United States. Having eaten frog legs in their Chinese incarnations – usually stir fried or stewed with ginger and spring onion, or cooked together with rice congee – my gastronomical highlight of 2016 was the French take on frog legs, or cuisses de grenouille.

I tried this dish on a recent trip to Lyon, France. The frog legs were lightly battered, and pan fried over a skillet containing butter, garlic and some herbs (including a generous dose of parsley). Et voila! That’s pretty much it, simple as it may sound. The frog legs were supple and juicy – and for anyone undecided about trying, the meat’s texture is like that of a perfectly done quail without any trace of gaminess and evidence of animal fat beneath the skin. Even my dining partner who had never eaten frog legs previously was pleasantly surprised when tasting it. Soaked in garlic butter with fresh parsley, and lightly salted, it was not too heavy or saturating despite the richness experienced in one’s first bite, and goes well with either wine or beer. C’est parfait!

Josh Dell, journalist and co-creator of Fried Culture, a documentary focusing on London’s fried chicken scene, to be released in February 2017.

The best food I’ve had this year was the truffle polenta at Machneyehuda in Jerusalem, widely considered to be the best restaurant in Israel. Nothing makes me smile more when eating out than the phrase “we’re going to need another” the second you have your first mouthful of a dish.

The polenta was one of those dishes. Creamy and gorgeous, the tastes that emerged with every bite have stuck with me throughout the year. Want to try it in London? Look no further than Machneyehuda’s sister restaurant (or at least some kind of sibling), The Palomar on Rupert Street, W1. Almost exactly the same dish is served there, and from experience I can tell you it does not disappoint in the slightest.

Mexico City

The best food near the Angel of Independence, Mexico City

By Ben Preston

The Angel of Independence is the symbol of Mexico City, and the country as a whole. It’s a must visit while traveling in Mexico, and it’s likely you will end up near it, hungry and tired, at some point while traveling here. Luckily, there is some great, authentic Mexican food just a couple of blocks away, if you know where to look.

Tacos El Caminero

Less than a five-minute walk from the Angel lies Tacos El Caminero. This is a classic no frills Taqueria. Don’t expect attentive service, workers who speak English, or a charming ambience. Do expect a simple meal of flavorful, authentic tacos, spicy salsas, and thirst-quenching local cervezas.

El Caminero has a mix and match menu. Fill your taco with choices like chicken, pork and beef and top them with cheese, bacon, onions, or chorizo. My personal favorite here is the Mexico City classic Al Pastor taco with cheese. The Al Pastor meat is local pork spit roasted like shwarma, making it both succulent and crispy. The Taqueria is also known for its Rib Alambre, a fry up of steak, peppers, onions, and cheese which becomes the filling for make-your-own tacos. Alambre, a local specialty, inspired the spread of fajitas in the southwestern United States, and is a must try.

tacos-el-caminero
Tacos El Caminero

 

Salón Ríos

Salón Ríos is hard not to love. Excellent tacos, appetizers, Mexican craft beer, cocktails, attentive service, and a clean, hip atmosphere. Go here if you are looking for a slightly more upscale experience than a typical Taqueria. Start with a classic appetizer of guacamole, which is hand ground with a mortar and pestle and served with crunchy Chicharrón (Mexico’s version of Pork Scratchings) as well as fresh, warm blue corn tortillas. For your entrée, you can’t beat the Fried Fish (Pescado Frito) Taco, which is served on a warm blue corn tortilla with creamy chipotle sauce, guacamole, and crunch cabbage. I’ve heard the desserts are great too, but I’ve never saved enough room to try!

salon-rios
Salon Rios

 

Cafebrería El Péndulo

Cafebrería El Péndulo is a confusing as it is delightful. It’s a restaurant and a bookstore with a bar on the second floor. The clientele is a mix of business people, tourists, and freelancers using the area as a co-working space. Cafebrería El Péndulo has an outside patio perfect for a long, peaceful lunch away from the hustle of Mexico City. The menu is extensive and varies between cultures, but I recommend sticking with the Mexican fare.  It’s comforting, flavorful, and authentic. If you can’t decide what to get, the dish of “Typical Mexican Food” has quesadillas, tlacoyos (oval-shaped fried cakes made of a Mexican corn-meal known as masa), and tostadas (fried corn tortillas topped with meat, sour cream, avocado and cheese). Pair it with a Michelada (local beer with lime juice, and assorted sauces, spices, and peppers) and enjoy a perfect, leisurely afternoon.

cafebreria-el-pendulo
Cafebrería El Péndulo
michelada
Michelada

 

The Perfect Ending

The combination of sightseeing and eating big meals generally makes one pretty tired. Fight those post-meal Z’s with a cup of Mexican coffee and hot chocolate from Tierra & Garat. The combination of the bitterness of the Mexican coffee and the sweetness of the local chocolate will make it your new favorite drink.

Find Ben Preston, of ZenEuroTravel, at:

blog.zeneuro.com

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Facebook.com/ZenEuroTravel

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