My life in travel: Yotam Ottolenghi

'In Tokyo, I spent nights sitting in bars, eating noodles, raw fish and fried foods'

Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi has launched a new online store which sells essential pantry items, wines, cookbooks and gourmet gifts (

First holiday memory?

Travelling to the Swiss Alps with my parents, brother and sister, and our extended family. We were a small tribe in a small apartment in Zermatt, at the foot of the imposing Matterhorn. The clear, bright air, small mountain lakes and knickerbocker-wearing Swiss seemed as exotic as panda bears for a little boy from a dusty corner of the Middle East.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

The Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland, close to where my in-laws live. Every Christmas morning, we go on long walks along Tyrella Beach and watch the peaks rising behind.

Best holiday?

The Greek island of Kea, where I recently rented a villa with friends. It isn't the most picturesque Greek island, but it is real, with a gripping mountain landscape and some perfectly secluded beaches. We had a blast, cooking together using wonderful local courgettes and tomatoes with tonnes of Greek cheese.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Three things: it's essential to do your homework before you leave; knowing a reliable local is priceless; and being shy gets you nowhere.

Ideal travelling companion? My good friend, the architect Alex Meitlis. With Alex, it's all about having fun. There's no agenda and nothing is a must. We were in Hanoi a few years ago, staying at the Sofitel Metropole. We'd go out in the mornings looking for adventures, food and antiques, without any plan whatsoever. We'd end up wandering into the most fascinating characters and situations.

One evening, we spent three hours watching a bunch of kids break-dancing in one of the city's squares. Another time, a sales assistant took Alex on the back of her rickety scooter for a ride around town showing him her favourite spots.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Gastro geek. I'd never go anywhere with bad food. I take any opportunity to come back with one or two stolen ideas for recipes. Otherwise, what's the point?

Holiday reading?

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal kept me gripped on holiday. So much so, I read it twice! I also get myself immersed in Scandinavian crime novels quite easily.

Where has seduced you?

Tokyo seduced me through my stomach. I spent days in food halls ogling pastries – the one inside Isetan is the bee's knees – and nights sitting around bars, being fed noodles, raw fish and fried foods that I'd never tasted before.

Worst travel experience?

Casablanca airport in Morocco. Our television crew had to catch a flight to our next location but we found ourselves wandering aimlessly in the terminal looking for an elusive customs office, being held there for two hours, before being released and made to run to the gate.

Worst hotel?

I tried roughing it in India a few years ago and the beautiful holy city of Haridwar was my first stop as a lonesome backpacker. My room had a ceiling fan that wouldn't turn, dirty sheets and a bucket for a shower. I lasted one sleepless night.

Favourite drive?

The west coast of South Island, New Zealand. Spectacular doesn't even begin to describe it. The ocean, the beaches and the cliffs are exhilarating.

Best meal abroad?

Hainanese chicken rice from a hawker stall in Penang, Malaysia. This simple dish of chicken poached with ginger and spring onion, served with rice and various condiments, is the best example of simple cooking.

Favourite city?

San Francisco for the stunning seascape and beautiful views. I spend most of my time in the Mission District, where I stop at Delfina Pizzeria, Tartine Bakery & Cafe and Bi-Rite Creamery.

Where next?

Sardinia, Corsica, Crete and Mallorca on a food-finding mission. I am looking forward to lots of wild boar, handmade pasta and tonnes of fish.