Among my gastronomic memories a meal we had 13 years ago stands out – I often remember it and smile. This is my report at the time, published in the Cyprus Mail.

Around the dinner table this week we got to talking about memorable meals and one of our sons said of such occasions that he remembered the people and the conversation and that the food was good, but he remembered more of the former than details of the latter. I think there’s a lot of truth in this. I fail to recall the menus of many a fine meal I have enjoyed. Most of the repasts I do remember are those in extraordinary places or where the food has been uneatable or close to it.

One of the more bizarre occurred just a few months ago, in the spring of this year. A very old friend of my wife, whom I shall call Jean, was widowed a couple of years back and could not stand life alone. At a singles club she met up with a divorced chap, whom I shall call George, who was about as different from her very well-educated and academic/professional deceased husband as chalk is from cheese. But she needed the company and married him and, in the spring, brought him to Cyprus, where they rented a small holiday apartment in a service block.

They hired a modest car, drove around the island, and accepted our invitation to lunch. It was a lovely sunny day and we sat outside with a Salad Niçoise and a French Apple Tart, together with a couple of bottles of chilled dry white wine.

Our guests were appreciative of the meal and, after passing a compliment or two, George said: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s easy to produce good food. I can knock together a good meal is less than half an hour,” and further comments in the same vein.

In the afternoon our guests went on their way saying that they would like to entertain us at their service flat, where we could expect a simple meal because of the rudimentary equipment.

An evening was fixed and we trolled down from the village to Limassol, complete with a couple of bottles of wine. We found the flat and Jean opened the door.    On the left was a small cooking area with a tiny gas stove and small kitchen units, but no evidence – sight, sound or smell – of cooking. On the right was a very small Formica table with no decoration whatsoever: no cloth, no flowers, no knives, no forks, no plates.

Would we like a drink? George enquired, producing a half-full bottle of what appeared to be slightly warm medium Cyprus sherry. Politely we accepted a drop or two and presented our wine. A search revealed no corkscrew, so Jean went down to reception to get one, which she had to return as soon as the bottles were opened.

After about 20 minutes of conversation, during which George had moved from time to time to the stove and the theme of the ease with which good food could be cooked reappeared, he said: “Well, I think it’s ready.”   He then went to the cooker, got four plates from the cupboard and gave us one each. He produced from one saucepan some boil-in-the-bag rice and from another some boil-in-the-bag chilli con carne. Nothing else. No pickle. No salad. No bread. He carefully doled out four small equal portions and we took them to the Formica table and munched away at a quite edible concoction, during which we were treated to a paean of praise for food, good wine, good company and the statement that this was indeed a memorable meal.

Of course, in just a few minutes, the plates were empty, whereupon Jean entered the fray. “You’ll never guess what we’ve got for pudding,” she said. We couldn’t.

In some triumph George went again to the cooker, where a small saucepan was bubbling, and pulled out a red plastic mixing bowl. Inside, still wrapped, was a junior size Robertson’s Christmas pudding.

“Christmas pudding!” Jean exclaimed. “We found it on special offer in Woolworths  this morning.”   They had actually bought a small carton of UHT cream to pour over the small portions of Christmas pudding, which was just warm.

No tea, no coffee, no brandy, just more conversation about what a memorable evening it was.

Memorable indeed.

Burmese BAR-B-Q – or a Munch in Mynanmar


Well-travelled and experienced trencherman, Francis Geldart, who is resident in the foothills of the Troodos, Cyprus, from time to time wrote for me about pleasures of the table at local eating places.  But he loves far-eastern food and he is prepared to travel some distance – well beyond Limassol, for instance – to get it. Burma is now a regular destination and he reports on a recent meal.

Noodle House 1There is a lot more to an enjoyable meal than just what’s on the plate. The place, service, atmosphere, company and appetite, all play vital roles. I was making my third visit to Burma, or let’s call it Myanmar, which has after all been the country’s official name since 1989. We had just completed a mammoth one-day 750 km drive from Mandalay to Yangon – nothing romantic about The Road to Mandalay these days, it’s mostly a four lane super highway. My driver, who, by this third visit, has also become guide, minder, and good friend, asked what I would like to eat.  Chinese, Indian or Barbecue were suggested. I decided on the latter, dismissing memories of Aussie barbies of overcooked steak and rather nasty sausages (aptly known as snags). Anyway, I was famished – anything edible would do!

The Bar-B-Q restaurant was not impressive, looking more like a warehouse. The tables and chairs wereNoodle House 2 basic – nevertheless, the huge room was full of chatter and smiling faces, whilst the delicious aroma of cooking food emanated from a smoke and flame filled corner, which bode well for a  satisfying end to my hunger.

The system for selecting the food to be cooked was simple. Skewers of different meats, fish, prawns, tofu and a huge variety of baby veggies are displayed on a counter. We helped ourselves, putting our chosen items in a plastic basket. A final selection of any additions we wanted for the stir-fried noodles completed our meal.  The plastic basket of ingredients was then handed over to the chefs.

Back at our table, we sipped fresh lime sodas and waited for the food to arrive. My driver, whose family Noodle House 3came from Bengal in colonial days, is super company and we chatted about our trip, his family, and so forth, whilst the cooks did their thing. Discreetly, he made sure a waiter brought a bowl of my favourite sauce (soy sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, chillies and coriander). Then came a procession of delights. Plate after plate of tasty, tender delicacies, all enhanced by my sauce concoction. It was a very satisfying meal in every way; a credit to all concerned, particularly those labouring away in the smoke and flame filled corner. They got the cooking just right.

I asked the waiter about the staff. 80 in total, he told me, working in two shifts. Two teams, in other words, two bosses, two sets of cooks, cleaners, waiters, security, etc… Why so many? He grinned. “We start early, finish late, people like it here”. Having enjoyed the food, I can’t say I was surprised.

The cost of a meal for two was around US$12.00. If you’re planning a visit to Mayanmar, ask for Shwe Li Barbecue, there are three branches in Yangon.



  Detail of Dionysus and Ariadne seated in a vineyard. From a vase depicting the god and his retinue in the Museum of Modern Art, Toledo, Spain An Email from friends in Cyprus arrived this morning as I sat looking out of the window where I write. It described an evening at a local restaurant […]

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  Detail of Dionysus and Ariadne seated in a vineyard. From a vase depicting the god and his retinue in the Museum of Modern Art, Toledo, Spain An Email from friends in Cyprus arrived this morning as I sat looking out of the window where I write. It described an evening at a local restaurant […]

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MEMORABLE MEALS – The Nubian Desert


In 1982 my company was hired to plan a Land Rover Safari route through the Nubian Desert, up and across the Nile Valley to Khartoum, to plan an itinerary that would take seven days, starting at Aswan in upper Egypt, across Lake Nasser and then through Sudan. The plan was produced but sadly only a […]

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Memorable Mealtime Moments, and a classic recipe for Stuffed Cabbage


  In writing these notes, I realised that all the items I mention are still as popular today as they were 50 or more years ago. As the French say: “Plus ça change…” I was a kid during World War 2 (WWII) and, like everyone else, first endured and then made the best of the […]

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