I’ve been reading so many end-of-the-year “bests,” I’ve started to compile dozens of my own in my mind. Best novel. Best beer. Best view. Best trip. Best child I grew and birthed (ha ha). Of course, I couldn’t help but think of the best food I ate in 2010, which brought back many good memories, including my birthday dinner—bo sam with homemade kimchi that Tony made from a recipe in the Momofuku cookbook. And there was my first encounter with injera at an Ethiopian restaurant in Washington D.C. And the pan-fried razor clams we pulled from the sand during a coastal storm.
But my number one eating experience happened on a cold day in Tokyo. The night before I’d taken a flight from the southern part of Japan back to the big city in a gigantic jetliner, the kind with double aisles and six seats in the middle (forgive me for not knowing my airplane types). Even though the flight was short, we had to nose through a nasty storm. I was seated next to a member of a high school baseball team—a pack of cute boys wearing suits and ties—and as the plane started to bounce through the storm, I had to look past him to see the wing of the plane outside our window. The jostling grew more intense. People started crying, praying and puking.
Yeah yeah, every traveler has a story like this, and usually I handle serious turbulence with a cool mind. But I felt out of control that night. Sweat rolled down my stomach and the back of my neck. I felt clammy and was convinced I was about to watch the wing of the plane rip off into the dark storm. I wanted to grab the baseball player’s hand and tell him we were too young to die. He just stared straight ahead with a petrified look that convinced me he too was contemplating our demise. Finally the plane landed in one piece. I departed with shaky legs to find Tokyo getting a dumping of spring snow.
The next day I walked to a little ramen shop and ordered one steaming bowl. The simple combination of chewy, thick noodles, rich pork broth and slices of fresh bamboo seemed to hold a life force that I’d lost on the plane. Each slurp restored hope to my being. Isn’t that what comfort food should do? I don’t know about you, but no piece of fried chicken has ever made me feel that way. So there it is. The best thing I ate in 2010.