Most Memorable Meal: Siobhan Hanley

29 Mar

A fellow Bolton lass, (they’re the best), I have known Siobhan for a good few years now, since I made my debut on the food writing circuit for Taste of Manchester. Having stayed in touch and bumped into each other at many a Manchester event, not least the Manchester Food and Drink Festival which Siobhan heads up (and happily afforded me the privilege of being last year’s official event blogger), know her to have had one or two fun food experiences under her belt.

Perfect fodder for most memorable meal, no?

Life Doesn’t Get Much Better Than Eating Noodles Off A Crate…

I hadn’t ever thought about my most memorable meal until Lauren asked me to write this. That was ages ago and at the time I thought ‘I know exactly what I’ll write about’. Then all sorts of things got in the way, and now three months later, lots of changes have occurred in my life, but that hasn’t altered which meal stands out in my memory as the most special. A memorable meal provides a story you can keep safe forever in a world where you never know what’s coming next.

It was in New York City. I went there last year with my then partner and it really was an amazing experience.

It wasn’t just about the food, but the once in a lifetime adventure that went with it – the city, the surroundings, and the sharing of a unique experience with someone you love. You wouldn’t swap it for a lifetime’s Michelin-starred tasting menus, (as lovely as they truly are).

We decided to keep a list of food and drink destinations to visit based only on recommendations from strangers – locals who lived there, rather than people who were paid to write about it.

By the end of the trip the document was a scrawly, torn, tequila-stained rag, but quite early on in the trip we visited a smoothie place in Brooklyn on our way to Manhattan, the paper still intact, and asked a guy who worked there where, in his opinion, the best place was to eat in China Town.

He basically goes…

“Do you like hot noodles & do you like them hand pulled?”

and we go…

“Yeah”

… and he noted down something on our paper called X’ian Famous.

We accepted this as our food mission for the day, and traversed the Brooklyn Bridge, walking all the way over to Manhattan in unexpected glorious sunshine. It was the first time I’d seen the Manhattan skyline (except in films) and it took my breath away.

The ‘meal’ started with cocktails at a bar near Ground Zero, where lots of recommendations in China Town were added to our list. We decided to stick to the plan of finding our Xian Famous, ignoring the China Town based suggestions that were made to us by the new friends we met in the bar.

We headed off with our little map, full of liquor, to find the not-so-famous venue – no one seemed to have heard of it except our smoothie guy. What started out (in my mind) as a somewhat pretentious ‘gastro treasure hunt’, turned into a two-hour walking tour that exciting as it was, eventually became tiresome and futile. We went ALL OVER THE PLACE.

You couldn’t have written it – every time we were told it was right in front of us (either by a local or Google maps) it would be a barber shop, or an ear piercing salon, or a dry cleaners. It was a scooby-doo ish repeating backdrop of incredible fish, spices and vegetables as we passed through market after market.

Darkness was falling and we were actually pretty starving and deliriously tired. As the stories tend to go, ‘we were just about to give up’ (but we really were!) when one of us (can’t remember which) saw this tiny hole in the wall place with the words XIAN outside. That was enough for us. It was a counter restaurant with stools for about five people in the whole place, and there wasn’t lots of English being spoken. We ran in like a pair of simpletons, noticed there were loads of pictures of people like Anthony Bourdain on the wall, realised it was what we’d been looking for, and ordered a haul of goodies called things like ‘tingly face lamb hand ripped noodles’.

The weather was still great for the time of year and we didn’t feel like cramming in next to the others patiently waiting for noodles, so we staggered outside, found some disused crates that (no word of a lie) worked as a perfect makeshift table and chairs, and scoffed the most amazing food to the sound of the trains going over Manhattan Bridge.* We were sweaty, drunk and tired (and it later turned out really quite penniless too), but it was kind of perfect.

* Possibly could have been a different bridge.

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