Peking duck at Da Dong, Beijing, China
No comparison to any Peking duck I've had before, the original in Beijing stands out for the crispy skin dipped in sugar that melts away before you realise what hit you. The duck is then a grandly carved and plated in front of your eyes. The thin pancakes and the sesame pockets play the perfect second fiddle to the duck.
The Barley and Jowar salad at Bombay Canteen, Mumbai, India
It's going to be hard to find a better salad anytime soon. Besides being healthy (and that's not the reason I ordered this), this is one of the most refreshing salads you will ever taste. Bombay Canteen has been ranked India's no 1 restaurant at the CN Traveler India’s top restaurant awards 2018.
Suya at IBB Suya Spot Lagos, Nigeria
While Nigeria introduced me to a lot of new flavours, the Suya was a clear stand out. From the streets of Lagos, these deep fried, sliced beef sticks smothered with a Nigerian all spice kind of powder is served with chopped onions. The Nigerians swear by their Suya and this much loved snack is sometimes packed by the dozens by Nigerians who are home for holidays, to take back to wherever they are.
The Black Appam (hoppers) at Kaema Sutra, Shangri La, Colombo, Sri Lanka
What's even more amazing than the Appam itself? The fact that all you need is salt and cream to wash it down. Brilliant restaurant owned (or co owned?) by actress Jaqueline Fernandes with celebrity chef Munidasa behind the kitchen. It's location at the rooftop of Shangri La, Colombo makes dinner even more special.
Prawn Cheong Fun at Cuisine Cuisine, The Mira, Hong Kong
Cheong Fun, is a Cantonese specialty, a rice noodle case hosting 2 beautiful prawns with some soy, bursting with flavour and texture. Cuisine Cuisine, a Michelin star restaurant at The Mira serves a grand 18 course high tea. While it has some brilliant beef sticks and truffle dim sums, this is the highlight.
Banana Foster at Brennan's, New Orleans, America
The place where it was first created! A symphony of banana, ice cream, cinnamon and buttery caramel sauce created right in front of you, Banana Fosters’ live display is as exciting as the dish itself.
Chopped Smoked Brisket at Smoque, Revival Food Hall, Chicago, America.
Slow cooked for over 14 hours, the brisket is served with Memphis style sauce as an open sandwich. Want more char, go for chopped, else sliced. The Revival Food hall is one of the best food things to happen to Chicago with some of the city's best food destinations hosted under one industrial roof.
Tomato toast, at Theodre Rex, Houston, America
T Rex is one of America's exciting new restaurants. And their signature dish isn’t something that would evoke excitement when you hear it. A tomato toast, of all things. But once it hits your taste buds, it is extremely addictive. We ended up ordering three portions through the meal. I'm still wondering what was so good about a piece of bread soaked in tomatoes, but that is the brilliance of the dish.
Kudu Steak at Butcher Shop and Grill, Sandton, South Africa
The year also introduced me to new meats. The one that stood out was the super soft kudu, an antelope of South Africa. Done to medium and served with cranberry and barbeque sauce. The meat was so tender, I could cut it with a fork. The Butcher Shop and Grill's original Johannesburg outlet at Sandton has some great cuts of meat to choose from.
The Aish Baladi or the Egyptian bread.
The one bread that is stuck with me for life. Amongst all the breads (and soul food) I had this year, the Aish Baladi was the one that touched my soul the strongest. You can keep munching on it for ever. Depending on the mood of the baker and how much yeast he puts, you get super fluffy ones like this at Marriott Hotel and Omar Khayyam Casino's Egyptian Nights restaurant
And down to the last 5! I'm yielding to the temptation to rank them
5. Mango Salad at the Mango festival, Flying Elephant, Park Hyatt, Chennai, India
Thinly sliced mangoes on the sides, a bunch of veggies that hide thick mango cubes spiced with chillies that leaves a pleasant burning sensation doused by the cinnamon flavoured cream. This was a stunning creation out of the simplest ingredients by the chefs at Park Hyatt.
4. The Boti Kebab at Indian Accent, New Delhi, India
The father of moden Indian cuisine, Manish Mehotra’s Indian Accent is India's top restaurant and some of the dishes are truly top class. This Boti Kebab served with 4 different dips and flat bread is like having 4 different dishes. Soft and succulent, you can cut through the meat with a finger.
3. Upma and Lamb, Whiskey Samba, Gurgaon, India
When you've eaten a chef's food for more than 5 years, a sense of comfort creeps in and you kind of know what to expect. Not with Vikramjit. Not by a mile. Moving from Asian to digging out his grand mom's Bengali recipes might have been easy for him, but my mom would agree that making me eat Upma is even more difficult. This upma with lamb was so good that I, a chronic upma hater, was left wanting more.
2. Uthukuli Butter Chicken with Parotta, Avartana, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, India.
While the naan is the classic flat bread for the butter chicken, in Tamil Nadu the butter chicken variations are usually washed down with parotta. For someone who grew up on a variation of butter chicken and parota, the Uthukuli Butter Chicken served with crispy parotta brought a waterfall of memories while at the same time leaving all 7 of us on the table, 5 Indians and 2 Nigerians wondering what the chef did to the dish that left us gaping.
1. The Scallop Moilee, Eat at Gaggan's, Bangkok, Thailand
Meeting chef Gaggan was one of the highlights of 2017 and in 2018, I finally got a chance to, well, Eat at Gaggans! Gaggan is a genius who takes a bowl full of flavour and shrinks it to bite sizes, so while the food portion is small, which of course is made up by giving you 25 courses, the flavours are by the boat load. He shrunk the Indian curry into a blob of paste and placed on a scallop to reinvent the Meen Moilee, a fish curry in Kerala. Oh, the white blob is the curry. The curry coloured part is just the colour of the plate!
Wishing you all a very happy new year. I hope the next year brings opportunities to forge newer memories, and opens up newer horizons while bringing happiness to you and your families.
See you all on the other side of the new year!