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Food, Travel, Memories: Turpan 美食,旅游,回忆: 吐鲁番

Sometimes when travelling you eat a meal that is so deeply memorable you think about it for months or even years afterwards.
I can still taste the exact buttery flavour of fresh-fried fish sandwiched in a half loaf of crusty white bread, eaten on the banks of the Bosphorous in Istanbul on a frozen, blustery winter’s day. I can still hear the sizzle of oil as the fish hit the makeshift griddle on the back of an old wooden boat tied to the dock, and see the wind whipping the flames and sparks sidewards. That was twenty years ago now.
What makes such a meal so memorable? How does the experience of food in foreign places enhance the richness of our recollections of travel?

Surprisingly, when you break it down, it’s not just the food that forms a lasting memory, although the food should be superb. The food should reflect the place and the people, and be something you can’t reproduce elsewhere (although goodness knows you will try, and try and try).

It’s not just the place, although it helps to be outdoors where you can see and hear and smell the essence of everything around you that’s foreign and different.

It’s not just the people, although it helps if the guy on the back of the boat touts for business loudly and cheerfully as he cooks, or if your traveling companion turns out to be your future husband.
It’s the wonderful alchemy of all of these together – the atmosphere, the flavour, the company – that stays in your mind.

有时,在旅程中,你会品尝到一顿让你回味数月甚至一生的美食。
究竟是什么让一顿饭让人如此铭记于心呢?
食物应该很丰盛,但不仅仅是食物本身。食物应该反映风土人情,也应该是别的地方无法复制的东西(虽然老天知道你会一直不停地尝试新的食物)。
饭店的位置让你能身处户外,能看到听到闻到四周充满异域风情的一切元素,但是地理位置也不是决定因素。
留在你脑海中的是氛围,味道,同伴这些因素的完美结合。

A year ago I visited Turpan, on the Silk Road, and mid-afternoon happened to walk past a rundown outdoor restaurant just as two men were lowering an entire saffron and yoghurt covered sheep into an outdoor charcoal oven. They threw in two saucepans of water after it for steam and moisture and then tightly sealed the heavy iron lid with cloths and blankets.

That lamb was going to be so tender and taste so good when it was cooked. I asked them what time it would be ready and came back two hours later, family in tow, with big appetites.

It’s not a place that might immediately catch your eye – an outdoor shanty wedged in the furthest corner of the Bazaar against the back wall of the mosque. In the front of the restaurant sit two large tandoors side by side, fuelled by a constantly glowing wood fire, enveloping the whole restaurant in a faint cloud of smoke. There are several raised platforms covered with patterned carpets, in Uyghur style, and several ordinary tables covered with coloured linoleum.

我一年前去了丝绸之路上的吐鲁番,在一个午后偶然路过一家年久失修的户外饭店,有两个男人正在把一整只涂满藏红花和酸奶的羊放进一个户外炭炉。然后他们倒了两炖锅的水进去,接着用布和毯子把厚重的铁盖子密封好。
羊羔做好后该是多么嫩滑可口啊。我向他们询问了羊羔出炉的时间,并在约定时间回去了。




The ‘mother’ of the restaurant, in a long floral dress and headscarf, sits us down and pours tea from a tin pot into chipped cups. She is perhaps my age, with a young daughter nearby and two older sons helping, but she moves with the body of an old woman, slowly and tiredly. 

The tea, from such a humble pot, is fragrant with rosepetals and lavender, cinnamon and saffron.

饭店的老板娘穿着长长的花裙子,戴着头巾,她招呼我坐下后,用一个黄铜茶壶给我缺了一角的茶杯倒上茶。茶散发出玫瑰花瓣,薰衣草,肉桂和藏红花的清香。




She brings the only meal the restaurant serves – a tin platter of round, soft fresh nan bread, left whole or cut into triangles with a giant pair of scissors, piled high with chunks of tender, juicy lamb.

Just meat, and bread, and tea.

然后她端出了饭店仅有的食物——一小盘圆形的,松软的囊,切成三角形,配以大块大块嫩滑多汁的羔羊肉。这顿饭只有肉、面包和茶。



Sitting in the early evening light, the smell of charcoal and roast meat in the air, watching men coming through a doorway from the next door mosque at the end of evening prayers and eating that delicious lamb alongside many of them remains one of my favourite food travel memories.

This week I had the chance to visit again. Mother was preparing small cuts of lamb this time, marinated first then hung on metal hooks before being dipped in vivid yellow saffron yoghurt then hung in the outdoor oven to cook.

Her daughter was at school, but her sons were there, busy as ever filling orders and skylarking with each other. The meat was succulent with a crisp outer and juicy layer of fat, and the nan bread soaked up any extra flavor. It was smoky, and salty, and sweet.

It’s not often as we roam across this big world that we get the chance to relive our best food memories more than once, but do you know – that bread, lamb and tea was just as good as it had been a year ago. I hope I can still recall the taste in twenty years’ time.

清晨,我坐在铺着毯子的低矮平床上,毯子上饰有维吾尔风格的花纹,看着做完祷告从隔壁清真寺出来的人们,吃着身边可口的羔羊肉,这些都成为我美食之旅中最美好的回忆之一。
我这周又去那里吃了一顿,你知道吗?——就和我记忆中的一样美味。


What are your best food memories from your travels? I’d love to know…