The best meal I’ve ever eaten? I’m reminded of this travelling again, and eating new flavours in fun places (I’m in New York right now, doing publicity for my book which comes out here in April). Also, I’ve been asked this question so many times, but the story behind the answer is often too long for most. And deep. And definitely too gross. But I feel I can tell all of you here. Plus it has a point.
The story of my favourite meal is also the story of one of my favourite, and yet physically harshest, experiences. About seven years ago I rode across Vietnam, up to the town of Dalat, with my brother Pete. Pete and I had set off at 5am on our bikes. Dalat is way, way above sea level and we had to climb for nine hours, lugging two panniers of gear. Now this could be deemed a little too familiar – I’m not always so good at gauging such things – but let it be said:
I had food poisoning from an ice cream I’d eaten the day before. And I had my period. In Vietnam you can’t buy tampons, only pads. Have you ever ridden a bike in a gusseted pair of bike shorts with a pad? It’s somewhat “princess atop all those mattresses” in effect. Until it becomes dislodged. When you’re riding in supreme humidity, the thing just won’t stay in place. And so…
But first… back to the food poisoning. By 9am we’d stopped eight times for me to dash to some little hut or behind a roadside stall to use a toilet. Or more accurately, a hole in the ground. Pete was getting antsy. We had to get to Dalat by sunset. It was illegal to sleep in unapproved villages; stopping before Dalat wasn’t an option.
And so… I had to abort all civilised ablutative practices and let nature take its course. No stopping, no pads. We just rode and the sweat washed everything away, down my legs. Marathon runner-style. Got the picture?