The stupas strung with prayer flags, snow-streaked slopes of the mountains and skinny air of the Kunzum La cross stole our breath away – actually, given the altitude of over 15,000ft – nevertheless it additionally stimulated our urge for food.
Midway via the gradual, winding descent into Lahaul, India, our information stopped his battered Land Rover at a mud-brick home topped with rusty sheets of corrugated metal. Full of the scent of spices scorching in ghee, this rustic abode doubled as a roadside restaurant – or, not less than, the one place for miles round serving meals to passersby.
The menu was acquainted: dal, variations of which we’d eaten maybe a dozen instances on the Kinnaur-Spiti loop, a detour en path to our vacation spot, Ladakh. Remarkably, the dish by no means palled on the palate – and this explicit instance, served as we sat on a threadbare couch within the cook dinner’s entrance room, stays arguably the very best meals expertise of my travels thus far.
Meals = tradition
‘Arguably’ is vital in that sentence; rating the very best meals experiences we’ve had on our adventures is an everyday pastime in our home, as it’s within the houses of many different folks, I think about. And with good purpose. Meals, as is usually stated, displays tradition – so no surprise it’s such an vital a part of a visit for anybody with a real curiosity within the folks they meet and the locations they go.
There’s much more to it than that, although: meals additionally anchors itself within the thoughts in a method that different experiences don’t, permitting us to recall a particular meal intimately lengthy after different occasions begin to lose definition. (Maybe it is because our most primal sense, odor – which mixes with style and contact to supply flavour – performs a serious function in reminiscence.)
Consuming dal in India options on Lonely Planet’s Final Eatlist, a rundown of the world’s prime 500 meals experiences, so it’s not simply me who has discovered greatness on this humble dish (globetrotting foodies from far and vast nominated their favorite experiences, which have been ranked by a panel of specialists).
You gained’t discover any of the world’s 50 greatest eating places within the record, nonetheless terrific they’re; the truth is, in some methods, these experiences occupy the opposite finish of a culinary spectrum that doesn’t run from good to dangerous, however from formal to casual, stage-managed to spontaneous, and repeatable to unpredictable.
For all of the aptitude and ability on show, there’s, certainly there needs to be, a uniformity about eating places reaching for a Michelin star; with out it, such a ranking system couldn’t exist. Few, if any, punters would pay the premium for haute delicacies and not using a assure of high quality, which is what such awards characterize.
After which, in fact, there’s the social dimension. You’re far much less prone to chat with a stranger on the subsequent desk in a spot the place you reserved a seat weeks or months upfront, however you could have loads of alternative for such informal interplay whereas queuing for a preferred road stall or fabled meals truck.
Grass-roots consuming experiences like these typically change into the proving grounds for the Subsequent Massive Factor. They take a look at dishes that generally catch on, evolve into staples of an area, regional or nationwide delicacies, and are then reworked, deconstructed – or, in the event you’re cynical, merely repackaged – for the enjoyment of effective diners. Consider the upward mobility of tapas, ceviche, bibimbap.
Michelin acknowledges as a lot by awarding an growing variety of Bib Gourmands – accolades which recognise locations promoting good meals at eager costs – to road stalls. And you can too see how one finish of the spectrum influences the opposite in that hallowed hang-out of foodies, San Sebastián.
Consuming pinxtos in its backstreet bars is, in Lonely Planet’s estimation, the world’s greatest meals expertise. And you’ll wager your backside greenback – or euro, maybe – that these small, easy snacks are getting a molecular gastronomic makeover at Mugaritz and Arzak, each of which characteristic among the many world’s prime 50 eating places.
I’d like to pattern the daring creations on provide there, ought to I ever get sufficiently organised to snag a desk and save sufficient money to pay the invoice. Within the meantime, nonetheless, it’s heartening to know that the very best meals experiences are something however unique. The truth is, you would possibly discover one in essentially the most democratic of environment – a locals’ favorite, a road nook or a roadside shack.