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Thursday, 1 May 2008

Ten 100-word annecdotes involving food

I don't do lists. They are too trivial and pointless. Waste of space. So this isn't a list of ten one-hundred-word anecdotes involving food.

Definitely not.

1.Kyisimoss Dinner

Panchase Ridge, Nepal, Christmas Day 1993

The locals were preparing Christmas dinner for us. One of them accidentally kicked over the basket that the chickens were under and spent an hilarious fifteen minutes chasing them across the hillside before returning them to their prison to await dismemberment.
I looked away again, to stare at that view across the valley – at the twin peaks of Machapuchare.
I looked back. They were killing a goat for the curry.
And away. And back. They were baking a cake in a round iron pot in a hole in the ground.
They "iced" words onto it with jam.
"Happy Kyismoss 25thDac1393"

2.It's What Flavour?

Beijing, China, 1992

A hint for those travelling in China – don't eat the ice lollies.
Why not? What can possibly be wrong with an ice lolly?
At the delightful Yonghegong temple, I found out. After queuing for tickets in the blazing hot sun, I decided to buy one and cool off. From the selection, I chose one with a green wrapper, expecting it to be apple or kiwi fruit flavour. It wasn't. It was chopped green beans frozen in sugar water. It tasted disgusting. I gave it to a passing ten-year-old, who evidently didn't agree with my assessment, and went into the temple.

3.Just For The Tourists

Somewhere on the Amazon, Ecuador, 1999

Look! Absolutely no one really does this, right? It's like the sheeps' eyes thing. Made up to gross out the tourists. So here we are, a day out in the Amazon Jungle. See, there's our guide, over there, breaking a branch off that tree.
Urgh. It's covered in ants. He wants us to do what? No way! Wait. Dave's taken the stick. He's licking them off.
Why did he have to do that? No we all have to do it or look like wimps. I like fresh food but this is ridiculous.
No, I don't think they taste of lemons.

4.I've Had This Before

Austria, 1989

The morning, billed as a strenuous hike, was in reality a gentle, albeit uphill, stroll. Nevertheless we were ready for lunch and grateful to find such a delightful Alpine bistro. Now Donald was studying the menu. Most of us played safe with the easy translations. He declared loudly
"Ah, I think I've had this before." and ordered something unrecognisable before starting lecturing us on haut cuisine.
Fifteen minutes later a plate containing several pounds of almost raw, quivering white fat was placed before him.
"Oh," he said "That's not at all what I was expecting."
Everyone tried not to laugh.

5.A Smell Of Water Bug

Vientiane, Laos, 14 February 1998

Translated menus should be approached carefully. Things are not always as they seem. We sat in the restaurant. We ordered. The waitress brought food. My beef and peanut curry was bright red, astoundingly hot and very tasty. David's sticky rice was rice. It was sticky. Warren, more adventurous, ordered "Chilli with smell of water bug". A translation problem, he assured us. It was a plate of vegetables with little unidentifiable black things. One of them turned over, grew legs and escaped over the side of the plate. Translated menus should be approached carefully. Things are sometimes exactly as they seem.


Inari, Finland, 1995

I hadn't fancied the boat trip and that left me at a loose end in an especially uninteresting town. After a little desultory exploration I decided on a whim to try reindeer for lunch. It came as shapeless lumps of unappealing grey meat served with about two kilos of mashed potato. It was deeply unimpressive.
Afterwards I explored the shops which seemed to contain every conceivable reindeer part fashioned into every conceivable souvenir. If I'd bought them all I could have probably reassembled a complete animal.
Later, back at camp, Herman had prepared a treat. Reindeer stew. With mashed potato.


Chengdu, China, 3 August 2001

Misled, perhaps, by having already found a café that did bacon sandwiches, I felt optimistic about dinner. Hotpot. It conjured images of steaming potato-topped stew.
It was an upmarket restaurant but I was puzzled by the polo-mint-shaped tables. We were quickly seated and gas burners, built into the table, lit. A put was suspended over it, divided into two sections. One contained bubbling red lava, the other bubbling green slime. We were given plates of unidentifiable shredded meat.
"Drop them in," said my guide," "Then take them out with the chopsticks and eat. Be careful. The red one is hot."

8.A short treatise on literal-mindedness

Barcelona, Spain, 2004

Catalonian restaurateurs must be trained in literal-mindedness. Menus deliver precisely what is written on them in black and white. In a chic restaurant I ordered duck with orange, expecting perhaps duck in an orange flavoured sauce and a few accompanying vegetables. What I got was half a duck. And an orange. Whole and unpeeled. Others ordered peas and ham, which was a large bowl of peas and a slice of boiled ham. I was sorriest for the man who ordered the spinach. Two kilos of boiled spinach, unsullied by contact with other foodstuffs, would be more than Popeye could manage.

9.Keep Your Hands Off My Sausages

Various locations, South America, 1999

There are two main varieties of vegetarian – moral and practical. The practical ones don't eat meat because they don't like it, the moral ones because they prefer a more ethical treatment of animals. I don't understand either of them but I respect their views. The trouble is the third kind – the part-time vegetarians. When you are cooking at the campfire and you've prepared, at their request, a separate meatless option, it's annoying to have them nick your sausages because they "look nice". I'm sorry but vegetarians are like virgins. You is or you ain't. And keep away from my sausages.

10.As Sure As Eggs Ain't Eggs

San Jose, Philippines 22nd December 1995

There is something important that you need to be told,
So listen, listen well now, I beg.
Though it may look like one on the menu
"Balut" simply doesn't mean egg.
Oh, it's true it's an egg in most senses.
It came from a hen, can't deny it,
But you need to delve closer and deeper
If you think, "That looks great! Think I'll try it."
For a "balut", though an egg is quite fertile
And if it's closer to hatching that's more tasty.
It's a "boil in the shell" baby chicken,
So when choosing your lunch, be less hasty.

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