'Be my guest' is a regular Thursday series on E,d+bK. Here Brisbane author and foodie Mei Yen Chua shares three favourite food memories.
Mei Yen publishes Brisbane’s Budget Bites, an independent cheap eats guide to Brisbane. When she’s not out eating and researching, she works as a freelance indexer, proofreader and editor. She is interested in ethnic communities in Brisbane and loves introducing people to new and obscure food and anticipates publishing other food-related publications in the near future.
My most memorable meal
What is it about memorable meals? I thought this was an easy one when Kerry first asked the question. But when I pondered a little longer two more experiences kept popping up and wouldn’t go away. I realised that I’ve had several memorable meals in my life.
There have been so many pleasurable meals – all unique and memorable in their own right but three stand out. My very first memorable meal comes from a traditional Indian wedding. I think I might have been about 10 years old. I remember in bits and pieces but the most vivid one is sitting down at a very long, communal table with my family and hundreds of guests.
Empty pieces of banana leaves lined the table, there were stainless steel water bowls with flowers for hand-washing. Men then came roaming around the table with tiffins of food; this procession of tiffin-laden food didn’t stop for quite some time.
We picked what we wanted to eat. The waiters heaped mounds of rice onto our leaf plates, then came the chutneys and various dhals, briyanis, after that, meat curries. I don’t remember the specific curries but I remember asking for everything that came past.
I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed eating with my hands! The joy of digging into fluffy hot rice and burying my fingers in various sticky curry gravies; the satisfaction of tearing hunks of meat apart with my bare fingers! It’s the stuff childhood memories are made of I reckon. The wedding was an overload for a child’s visual and olfactory sensibilities. It was tactile, fun, loud and in the end, very memorable. Pity I don’t remember who the bride and groom were, I remember just the food!
My second memorable food experience is when I lived in Sydney. I had watched a food lover's program on SBS on picking wild mushrooms. I am a huge mushroom fan so I got very interested in this. I researched and found some pine forests at the back of Lithgow. I went for a long drive and went off into the woods to forage for wild mushrooms.
To my surprise, I found a lot of pine mushrooms or saffron milk caps as they are also called. I also picked a heap of wild blackberries. It was a very satisfying experience. I cooked the load of mushrooms when I got home with loads of garlic, butter, herbs and pasta – it is one of my most memorable home-cooking experiences. The flavours were so intense and earthy, the flesh was silky and yet so meaty, it was delicious. That was the start of my love for foraging and I always made a point to go mushroom picking every year. Now that I live in Brisbane, I am keen to find some places where I can pick wild mushrooms.
Third most memorable meal so far was having a degustation meal at Vue de Monde in Melbourne. In the course of the many dishes I had, the dish that stood out for me was the wild mushroom risotto - yes, there seems to be a mushroom theme happening here. They had some fresh truffles from Manjimup, Western Australia in that morning and offered to up the ante by shaving some over the risotto. I had to say yes. The smell that pervaded when the shavings of truffles settled on the hot rice! I remember that smell like it was yesterday. Every mouthful of rice was brilliant, the perfume of the truffles still linger in my culinary memory and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.
Mei Yen Chua