For as long as I can recall, my life has revolved around food. As a child I far preferred to sit and watch my mother cooking our family meals than to accept the invitation to be part of the rough and tumble of the soccer games of my school friends.
As a student, I spent more time in the kitchen than I ever did down at the pub and my humble but creative dinner parties soon became the stuff of undergraduate legend.
As a working adult I climbed the greasy pole to achieve a relative degree of comfort and success in publishing. However, my happiest times were always spent either at home pondering over my collection of cookbooks or scouring my adopted hometown of London to find the latest restaurants.
Now, I have what I and many others consider a dream job. I get to eat for a living and well-known chefs from across the country listen to my opinions of their food as I pass judgment on television shows like Iron Chef America.
It is unsurprising, then, that most of my fondest memories are of terrific meals and that is meals that have marked the signposts to the significant points in my life to date.
What follows are the top 10 meals that changed my life.
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Location: Guadalajara, Mexico
Given how abysmal Mexican food is in London, I always thought that it was a cuisine made up of remains from the back of the fridge. However, the tastes and textures of my first taco de tripa, sampled in Guadalajara, changed all that forever. Crunchy deep-fried pig strips, fiery hot salsa and a dripping of lime juice is an almost unbeatable combination for any jaded palate. I urge you to try one, you can thank me later.
We all have preconceived notions about certain cuisines, and until I dined with polymath Claude Tayag in 2007, I was convinced that Filipino cooking consisted of little more than pork, deep frying and deep fried pork. This writer, artist and gourmand produced a series of dishes at his home in the Pampanga region of the country that managed to transform my opinion of Filipino food from dismissive to hugely respectful. It is still arguably the best meal of my life.
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
There are not many times that a person can say they have eaten a world-famous dish prepared by the man who created it. In 2009, while researching my second book, Eating For Britain, I met with Ali Ahmed Aslam at his restaurant, The Shish Mahal in Glasgow. There he prepared for me a dish of chicken tikka masala, to which he has strong claims to be the inventor. It was as delicious as I imagined and one of my most memorable dining experiences.
Location: New York, New York
I thought I had eaten steak before, but I was wrong. My first bite taken from a slab of medium rare porterhouse at Peter Luger, the world's most famous steakhouse, made me realise what I had been missing. That was in 1992. I have eaten many cows' worth of great beef since that day, but that first taste in Brooklyn changed my life forever.
Location: Marrakech, Morocco
Great meals are not just about good food. They are also about context. A simple meal shared on a train ride from Marrakech to Fez in Morocco was the perfect example as my carriage companions insisted that I share their meal of roast chicken, dried fruits, cheese, and flat breads. As a stranger in a strange land, the hospitality was very welcome and made me determined to be the same to all I met from that day forward.
Location: Extremadura, Spain
If you have not eaten Jamon Iberico from Spain, you have not eaten. It is to my mind the finest food product on Earth, and in 2009 I was lucky enough to be invited to meet one of the greatest producers of this delicacy in the Extremadura region of Western Spain. Tasting slivers of the incredible acorn-flavored ham with its silky ribbon of fat at the source of its production remains one of my greatest-ever eating experiences.
Everybody has a meal they think of when they are homesick, and for me it is traditional British fish and chips. Nowhere is this meal prepared better than in my hometown of Rotherham in Yorkshire. You'll find big slabs of flaky haddock in a beautifully crisp batter with finger-thick chips to help soak up all the vinegar that tradition decrees you should douse over your meal.
Location: Quinta do Noval, Portugal
It was while sitting on the terrace of this famous producer of port that I received a call to say that I had been selected as a judge on the hit Food Network series, The Next Iron Chef. Hearing the exciting news while sipping on white port, nibbling on almonds harvested from trees on the estate and looking down at the expansive Douro Valley marked this simple meal as one of the most memorable of my life to date.
This famous restaurant in the St. Regis Hotel is long gone, but a meal there in 1997 still lingers in the memory as one of the very best of my life and one particular dish, of rabbit and lobster in a Gewuztraminer sauce, still rates as one of the best I have ever eaten. It was accompanied by my first glass of Canadian ice wine--a life-changing taste.
Location: London, England
This classic dish of red lentils is the Indian equivalent of chicken soup and is the go-to meal whenever body or soul are in need of nourishment. In 2006, when life and career pressures had brought me to the brink of a nervous breakdown, it was to this dish I turned for rescue and it was while making it that I decided to quit my career of 20 years and head on the round-the-world adventure that became my first book, Eat My Globe.
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