Food for thought- Part 4

Food for thought- Part 4

I’ll close this piece (wow, haven’t I gone on?) with a few restaurant stories.
First, Maseru, in a fine Portuguese restaurant the name of which I’ve forgotten. I went for lunch with two Basotho, one of my adopted sons and a colleague. The former warned the latter I would probably order “squigglies” (shellfish) and not to look, if he didn’t want to feel ill. True to form, I ordered squid stew (the restaurant does a delicious Mozambican version of this) and it arrived very blatant, sporting lots of tiny tentacles.

My colleague disobeyed instructions not to look at my dish and asked me, aghast: “Ntate Chris, are you really going to eat that?” I popped a piece of squid into my mouth, leaving some tentacles hanging out, and then sucked it in, saying “yummy!” If it were possible for a Mosotho to turn green, my colleague would have done so, and not from envy. Shortly after, the then Vice Chancellor entered and greeted us and, as he was a buddy, I invited him to join us, my treat. He took one look at my food and said “thanks, Chris, but another time.”

The second memory is of a restaurant called Latin Brothers in Lima, Peru, a place that served wonderful fish and shellfish (Lima is on the Pacific coast) and that had a dance-floor and a sixteen-piece brass band, with solo singers, performing salsa music. I went there one lunch-time with a British friend, Susan, and we asked for and looked at the menu, then decided to start with a couple of beers and to dance a bit (those were the days!) Afterwards we felt quite hungry and wondered where our food had got to. We called the waiter over and he said: “But Sir, Madam, you haven’t ordered anything!”

Here, then, is one of the useful tips this four-part column on food has been serving up: if you go to a restaurant and expect to eat, don’t neglect to put in your order.

While we’re in Peru (and why shouldn’t we be? In the last analysis, as I pointed out some weeks ago, everyone is a Peruvian) here’s another useful tip. One of the national dishes is ceviche, that is, raw fish and shellfish marinated in lime juice and chili. It looks as squiggly as you can get (my son would throw a fit), but tastes very good. Only to be eaten in a reliable restaurant; it is also served from streetside stalls as a snack, but, as the hygiene in and around the stalls ain’t too great, in that manifestation it’s responsible for frequent outbreaks of typhoid and cholera. Another national dish is cuy, roast guinea pig. The guinea pig, which as one wit remarked does not come from Guinea and is not a pig, is in fact a large rodent, native to the Andes; I’m told they make very sweet pets. The one time I tried cuy the waiter brought it in on a big platter encircled by sweet potato, yucca and salad. The dish as a whole looked wonderful, but there was the poor beast, roast, in the middle, with its head removed and its four little legs sticking up. I felt like a real rotter.

Another snippet from Lima, in Latin Brothers again. I went for lunch with a group of British friends; at another table was a group of courtesy-visiting Argentinian naval ratings. This was at the outset of the Falklands War between our two countries. The two singers on duty (mother and daughter) were hugely amused by this and announced to everyone there were Brits and Argentinians at adjacent tables and prayed there wouldn’t be hostilities. The two tables joined together and we all agreed that both Thatcher and the Argentinian dictator Galtieri were complete thugs, and we had a wonderful time getting to know each other. It breaks my heart to realise that any one or more of those young conscripts may have been killed when Thatcher ordered the sinking of the Belgrano.

Finally, a story from my home town in the UK. A new restaurant opened, called Nativ (thus spelt). I checked it out and discovered it was Nigerian, yippee! Over a meal I made friends with the Nigerian owner / manager (and, on a later visit, with his family) and we got to talking about the challenges of opening a Nigerian restaurant in Bournemouth, South-West England, which is a very conservative sort of place. He explained they used very little chili by Nigerian standards, which are thermonuclear. Also they didn’t have on the menu Nigerian delicacies such as fried flying ants, giant land-snails, python, and the like. “Pity about the python,” I said, “I really like that and I’m sure customers would go for it once they discovered how tasty it is. And, after all, it looks sort of like chicken. But,” I added, “which butcher can you go to in Bournemouth to get a really good length of python?”

Chris Dunton

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