Sarah Vaughan, 33, events manager, London
After a gruelling six-hour journey from Penang to Krabi in an overcrowded minivan, my then-boyfriend and I stopped off at Mr Krabi, a restaurant run by a Jamiroquai-loving Italian gentleman and his Thai wife. For my first meal in Thailand, I ordered krapow gai, and it was the perfect antidote to the trauma of the trip. The bird’s eye chillies combined with succulent chicken mince and holy basil and topped off with a fried egg were heavenly. I fell in love with the dish there and then, and vowed to learn to make it as soon as I got home. The dish reminds me of the trip, the exhaustion and stress of the journey to get to it, but also of the pure comfort it gave me when I ate it.
I recreated the dish soon after my return when I asked my close friend (who is half Thai) if she had a go-to recipe for this, which she did. The recipe itself is very straightforward. I can even dictate it from memory to my boyfriend in the kitchen while I lie on the sofa nursing a hangover (which this dish always helps me get through). The hardest part about making it is finding holy basil. The Asian supermarkets rarely stock it and it’s much easier to get your hands on Thai basil, which is sweeter. Normal supermarket basil is a more acceptable substitute.
Ian Hay, 60, retired engineer, Dalkeith
I was in a bar in Bilbao a few summers ago. As soon as a tray of these arrived, they disappeared, and when we asked for some more, we were put on a waiting list. We had three helpings, and never found them on offer anywhere else, so just went back to the same bar every day for our fix.
My Spanish evening-class tutor came from Bilbao and gave me the recipe. To recreate it, we cooked the mussels, chopped them with onions, garlic and white sauce, put the mix back in the half shells, then topped them with breadcrumbs and deep-fried them for a minute or so. It was easy and although it had a different texture from the originals, it was very tasty nonetheless.
Reena Vasavda, 45, Care Act advocate, Leicester
I’d always wanted to go to Athens, but, unlike with other city breaks, I wanted to visit for longer, as I didn’t want to be rushed. So I decided to find a voluntary project to teach English to refugees.
At a taverna on the beach, I had my first taste of gemista. I was famished, and, alongside a fellow volunteer, tucked into the most satisfying meal. I close my eyes and am transported back just thinking about it.
I made it several weeks ago in lockdown. There is lots to prepare, and I was apprehensive because I have never cooked rice in the oven. But it was delicious. I sent a photo of my version to a friend in Kos and he said it looked perfect. I have promised to make gemista for him when I can travel to see him.
Frank Coyle, 60, accountant, Macclesfield
On our honeymoon, my wife and I had landed in Pisa after a delayed flight. We made our way to Florence and spotted this dish being served in the central train station. It was presented as a peasant dish, with strips of fried or roasted polenta, served with spinach, white beans, tomatoes and olive oil. I was delighted to find a vegetarian dish so easily in the heart of Italy.
I have never seen it in a cafe or restaurant since, and don’t know what it is called. I have made it many times at home, for meals and parties; the ingredients are easy to come by.
I make it by cooking the polenta and allowing it to cool and set. I cut it into strips, wider and a little longer than a modern polenta chip. I roast these in a sprinkle of olive oil, along with some tomatoes, onions, garlic and some salt and pepper. At the end, I will mix in the beans – whatever we have … cannellini, butter, pinto or borlotti.
Caterina Artelli, 56, project manager, Warsaw
A few years ago, I went on a tour of Jordan. My host family prepared this dish for me and I fell in love with the mix of lamb, yoghurt, rice and spices. It is a very rich dish, always prepared for weddings and other ceremonies. It is so famous in Jordan that you can easily find T-shirts that say: “I Survived Mansaf”.
Unfortunately, I haven’t made it during lockdown as most of the ingredients are not available in the area where I am isolating. But I have prepared tons of homemade hummus, which also reminds me of my trip to the Middle East.
Lucie Hallsworth, 32, campsite worker, Sevenum, Holland
Upon arrival in Bogotá, Colombia, in December 2016, my travel companion and I went in search of an ajiaco. We were not disappointed. We knew right away that we wanted to recreate the hearty stew of chicken, potatoes and corn.
Our friends were teaching in Bogotá at the time and gave us a gift of the herb guascas when we left. Apparently it is not really an ajiaco without guascas or papa criolla (Andean potatoes).
We first made it back in the UK in early January 2017. The very first obstacle was the lack of Andean potatoes. I’m sure lots of Colombians would disagree, but it can be made using a variety of potatoes available in your area. One of the things that makes this dish fun – and delicious – are the bits that you add to it. Topped with capers and a swirl of cream, avocado on the side – and cold beer. It is on the menu tomorrow night – when the avocado will have ripened – and we can’t wait.
Marise Lehto, adult education teacher, Finland
I had eaten the dish at the fabulous brasserie Aux Arms de Bruxelles, and when we got back I just simply had to taste it again. It took a few attempts to get the sauce right, as the mussels held too much salty water, but I played around and finally got the consistency and flavour just right. This dish speaks to me of friendship, laughter, beautiful memories and dear friends. On a recent trip to Brussels just before lockdown, we ate at the same restaurant, and they sat us at the same table as we had sat at several years earlier on our first visit.
Sean Crawford, 48, civil servant, Wales
I have made this dish on a number of occasions, but the best was probably one long hot summer when I lived alone in a cottage in a village outside Cambridge. I cooked it over charcoal, in a genuine tagine pot I had picked up for a song in a local market in Marrakech. I had eaten this dish in a remote cabin, which an old bus had stopped at while crossing the Atlas mountains. Just there, high on a mountain pass, with the smells of tagines cooking, and snowmelt streams running by, it tasted amazing. I am no stranger to cooking, and had studied carefully how tagines were being cooked in Morocco, so it was not difficult to make.
Simon de Lotz, 50, graphic designer, London
I first made it after coming home from an amazing trip to the deep south. One of the best things about seeing new places is discovering the food and how that connects to the wider history of where you are. New Orleans has an amazing story where a cocktail of different cultures combined to create not only jazz but an incredible culinary history. Jambalaya is very similar in many ways to paella, but spicier, with the addition of creole spices. I make paella a lot, especially on holiday, so it was pretty easy to adapt it to make jambalaya. My secret tip is to make a shellfish stock using chicken stock as a base to really pump up the depth of flavour when you cook the rice. I try to break up the lockdown week by cooking more holiday-inspired dishes on the weekend. Whether that’s a chicken laksa soup or some smoked Memphis-style ribs on the barbecue. Jambalaya is a Friday night special alongside some chilli-infused grapefruit margaritas.