London - Food is, for me, a quintessential part of any holiday. Where people eat, when they eat, and what they eat can give much more of an insight into a place than ticking off the must-see sites. And food will trigger memories for me in the same way photographs might for others.
The steaming bowls of noodle soup in the middle of the night by a roadside in Burma after 16 hours on a bus. Eating flying ants in Mozambique just after the end of the civil war (when there was no other food to be had).
Finally discovering the appeal of foufou, the thick, maize-meal porridge that looks and tastes like wallpaper paste, after a long, gruelling day in Cameroon.
And then there was the trip to Sicily and the café in the village of Palazzo Adriano. With its red plastic chairs and tables arranged in scattered groups on the grey linoleum floor under bright neon lighting, it looked like a low-grade fast-food joint. However, it was the only place to eat in the village, it was late and we were in the Mafia heartland of Sicily. This was not a time to be fussy.
The trip to Sicily was, like many of our trips, last-minute and unplanned. We booked a flight, hired a tiny Italian car and – clutching Peter Robb’s marvellous book Midnight in Sicily with its tantalising strapline Love, Food and the Cosa Nostra – we set off down the Sicilian motorway.
It was a carefree, make-it-up-as-you-go-along week: a night in a funny little B&B by the sea; walking in the foothills of Mount Etna; eating pizza in an atmospheric alleyway in Palermo; driving through the mountains to Corleone, wondering if everyone who passed us driving a new, shiny Alfa Romeo had a horse’s head in the boot.
Beyond Corleone we found Palazzo Adriano, a picturesque village with an elaborate fountain in the square. Past the cluster of houses, there were allotments with olive and almond trees, and neat rows of already ripening spring vegetables. We walked for hours, through the village and out into the surrounding countryside, arriving back exhausted and hungry. The owners of the café also did B&B, the bedroom as dark and gloomy as the restaurant was bright and overlit. “Do you want dinner?” she asked. Slightly apprehensively, we nodded.
This was some years ago. I have been to many places since, but Palazzo Adriano remains fresh in my mind. Not only did we discover that evening that it was the place where one of my favourite films Cinema Paradiso was filmed, we had what was, and remains, one of the best meals I have ever eaten. It started with fresh pasta and sweet fragrant tomatoes and ended with a bowl of sharp, creamy homemade ricotta and a basket of almonds from the allotment.
What more evocative holiday memory could you wish for? – The Independent on Sunday