My blogger friend Tamara from confessions of a part-time working mom organises a weekly Top Ten Thursday Challenge. This week’s topic is ‘top ten happy places’. I’m mad about food and traveling so I got quite a bit excited about this one and really wanted to take part. Here’s my top ten list of happy places I’ve eaten a meal!
One: Breakfast and lunch at Wat Doi Suthep, Thailand
My husband and I spent three weeks in a large Buddhist monastery in Thailand doing a 21-day silent Vipassana retreat. Vipassana retreats are seriously tough meditation retreats – no talking, no reading, no music, no phones, no writing, no looking into other people’s eyes and only two meals per day; breakfast at 7am and lunch at 11am, after that only tea and water. And contiuous meditation practice with only short breaks, daily starting at 4am in the morning (or does that still count as night?) until 9pm in the evening. These were some of the emotionally toughest weeks I’ve ever spent in my life. But the place was magical – we lived in the same compound as the monks, were allowed to attend their daily chantings and to be part of the Buddhist celebrations, and the temple – one of the most important ones in Thailand – is simply stunning. At first the monastery’s vegetarian food tasted quite bland but after a while when all the distractions of the mind were gone and I was able to completely focus on my meals, it tasted so delicous. During some meals I was in an emotionally very bad place, but some I spent in the pure bliss only hard and contiuous meditation can achieve.
Two: Alfresco dining at our friends’ vineyard in Umbria
We have two wonderful friends, Claudia and Ev, who once bought a very old, derelict house in rural Umbria, Italy. They refurbished it and created a little paradise which includes a vineyard, many olive trees, a vegetable garden and lots of animals. My husband and I met them when we went to work there in exchange for food and a bed. I have the happiest memories of our evenings on their terrace, after a hard day at work in the olive trees or the vineyard, enjoying a homecooked Italian meal, drinking a bottle of wine and laughing with Ev and Claudia while the sun was setting. Writing this reminds me of how much I miss these two guys. Oh, and after many years of hard work and trials, they’re about to bottle their first wines for sale as we speak. Look out for the wine labels of Cantina Terra di Santi!
Three: Curry night in Tooting, London
My husband and I lived in South London for five years, two of them in Tooting. Tooting, a vibrant London town where a very diverse mix of nationalities and religions peacefully live together, is London’s curry central. The small area is home to 40 South Asian restaurants, ranging from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India to Pakistan and Afghanistan; there’s a restaurant for every South Asian region. Tooting’s food is cheap and delicious, so forget Brick Lane and head to Tooting when you’re in town next time. We had many happy meals in Tooting’s curry houses, either with our much-missed London friends or with visitors from back home. We moved back to Zurich 18 months ago, but Tooting is still where my heart is. Happy memories indeed.
Four: Banh Xeo in Hoi An, Vietnam
On our year long journey through the world my husband and I had an intense love-hate relationship with Vietnam. Vietnam’s such an amazing country, both historically and culturally, but also a pretty rough place if you’re traveling outside the tourist bubble. After a few difficult weeks on our journey from Ho Chi Minh City heading further north we arrived in Hoi An, for me the most beautiful town in Vietnam. As a former international port both architecture and food were influenced by many countries, and it’s just such an interesting, amazing and beautiful place. There we sat, one evening, on the first floor verandah of a tiny restaurant, overlooking the Thu Bồn River at candlelight, eating one of Hoi An’s famous dishes, Banh Xeo, accompanied by a Bia Hoi, Vietnam’s beer that is made fresh every day. This was one of those perfectly magic evenings.
Five: Fondue Chinoise at Cape Range, Australia
It was the first month into my husband and my planless journey through the world (we didn’t have any return date, no plans for the journey, and no jobs or flats to go back to) when we spent Christmas Day in the middle of nowhere at a secluded beach in Cape Range National Park, Western Australia. All we had was our Troopie, our beloved Toyota Troopcarrier which was our vehicle, our bed and our kitchen. We didn’t want to break with our family traditions cooked an impromptu Fondue Chinoise (a Chinese hot pot which is one of the most popular Christmas dinners in Switzerland), cooked on our camping gas stove. There we sat, behind us the Australian desert, in front of us the sea and the setting sun and all around us wild kangoroos going about their own business.
Six: Sichuan food in Lijang, China
Lijang is a small, stunningly beautiful town in rural China’s South West. I have countless happy memories of my 6-week journey through China with my husband because we just loved every bit of it and the food was simply amazing, so it isn’t easy to pick one happy food memory. But this one was probably the best; in Lijang, Sichuan province, we stayed at the beautiful, traditional Chinese house of a New Zealander. In return for a bed for a few nights we helped our host with his vegetable garden. One night, many of Lijang’s couchsurfers met for a meal at a local restaurant. We were about 12 people from all continents, meeting for a delicious meal in a remote, rural part of China. It was weird and just absolutely heart warming to see how well the real people of the world do get on with each other, regardless of race, colour or religion. And the food, I love Chinese food in China (which can’t be compared to Chinese food in Europe or the US), but the spicy Sichuan food is my personal favourite.
Seven: Burgers and fries at Southern Beaches, LA
Before kids, my husband and I spent several happy holidays in California. We just love everything about California. It’s so laid-back, you can have everything whenever you want, people are happy and smiling, it’s a great outdoorsy lifestyle and there’s just so much to discover from beaches to mountains to desert. The one meal I remember most was in one of Los Angeles’ southern beach towns (Manhattan beach probably), when we had lunch at a beach café. It was a sunny Saturday spring day, lots of families and other people were out eating, drinking, playing, and everyone was in such a happy mood. For a short time we dreamt about moving to Los Angeles to soak up the beach life (I’m still dreaming).
Eight: Corn fritters at the Skylark, London
Those who know me well know that I still miss my London life incredibly. One of my happy places I just have to go and visit whenever I’m back in town is my beautiful former local park, Wandsworth Common, and its park café, the Skylark. It’s such a pretty location, the café is cosy and the food delicious and always has to be followed by a coffee and a slice of one of their amazing British cakes. My happiest memory from the Skylark is when I had lunch there with my very good London friend Kate, her two boys and my girls when I visited them last time in January this year. We ate corn fritters with avocado, sour cream, a poached egg and a delicious chilli sauce.
Nine: Family dinner at a floating house at Khao Sok, Thailand
Apart from the Doi Suthep temple in northern Thailand, the Khao Sok National Park in southern Thailand is my other personally deeply spiritual place. This national park was once a dense rainforest. When they built a dam one or two decades ago, a large part of the forest flooded and became a peaceful lake in the middle of the rainforest, away from all roads, traffic and hustle and bustle. Some families who used to live in the forest built simple floating houses on the lake. We stayed in these houses twice. The only way you can get there is on a long boat ride, and once there you’re rewarded with wild monkeys and birds waking you up in the morning and the total calm. To keep yourself clean you jump into the lake, straight from your floating bedroom. Sometimes there’s electriticy in the evenings, but not often. During the days we used to go on hikes with our guide to see elephants, water buffalos and many other animals, and the evenings we spent with the local family, sitting on the floor sharing their delicious meals and laughing together despite not speaking each other’s language.
Ten: Family lunches as a child at home
I’m blessed that both my parents are still alive and that they’re still living in the same house with the same kitchen as when I was a child. There’s nothing better than the warm, fuzzy memory of being a child, eating lunch with the family (we Swiss tend to eat a warm meal for lunch and something cold for dinner, which is why I’m writing about lunch here). I remember many lunches, but for some reason the one I remember most is a grilled paprika chicken from the butcher which we used to eat together with Zweifel paprika crisps. I probably remember it best because this meal was by far the most unhealthy one in my mum’s repertoire – she always went to great lengths to cook balanced, healthy meals for us.
These are my top ten happy places I’ve ever had a meal. Where was your happiest meal?