Archive for category Food

Forbidden pleasures…..

My old workmate, Chinny, headed off a number of years ago to seek fame and fortune in the bright lights of London. I have to say he has done quite well for himself actually and is now a professional pig walker. Sort of like a gym personal trainer, but for the pigs of the wealthy of London rather than for the wealthy themselves. Still its a rung on the ladder to mixing with the rich and famous.

Now before you throw in your Otago University Exam Supervisor’s job and buy a one way ticket to London, I have to warn you that it may not, in reality, be quite as glamorous a job as it first looks. Upon further inspection of the ‘first day on the job” photos that he proudly sent, I noticed his tools of the trade included a strong lead, a trowel and a plastic bag.

I suspect, given the weight and centre of gravity of the pig, that the job involves the pig dragging Chinny all over the manor so that he can scoop up pig poop whenever the pig feels the inclination to poop. The wealthy of London may think owning a pig is all jolly hockey sticks, but one cannot have one’s pig manure lying around the estate. I don’t know if you have ever been intimate with pig shit (apologies for the vulgarity but if any poop needs to be called shit it is that which extrudes from a pig’s arse) but it is the very sloppiest and most vomit-inducing brand of shit you will ever know.

The trowel may also be required to repair lawns and gardens as he goes. A neighbour of mine decided to grow a couple of Christmas hams a year or two back, they got out of his property and rotary-hoed my lawn. They are destructive little beggars.

Anyway, our email conversation about his latest career move led to the speculation of how it might taste with a couple of poached eggs on the side. That, for some reason, (our emails always take odd and unexpected twists) led to a discussion on the unique practices of some Jewish people he knew. Oh how we laughed at the irrational phobias of the Israelites, like denying themselves of bacon sandwiches and cutting off the ends of their cocks as though Moses had been told on the mountain ” by the way, Moe, when I wrote up the dna formula I accidentally  left a bit of surplus skin on the end of  your knob; sorry about that, but would you mind tidying up that little flaw every time a boy is born?”

But before I condemn an entire race for what appears to be an irrational fear of enjoying the delights of a plate of crispy fried streaky bacon with eggs and tomatoes, I should actually check up on their rulebook to understand the full story.

And it’s all in Leviticus 11. Sort of like the Israelite Ministry of Health’s “Good Eating Manual”. And it’s not just pigs that are targeted.

Sons of Israel can only eat animals with both a divided hoof and which also chew cud. (Just one or the other doesn’t work, its got to be both criteria). And beasts that walk on paws as well as beasts that crawl along the ground are also off the menu. Chewing cud is a double processing of food and I applaud the ancients for recognising the health science benefits of maximising nutrient extraction by cud chewers. The cloven hoof criteria is a little more difficult to understand.

So forbidden meats included camel, rabbit, hyrax (like a rabbit with short ears) and pig. Also lions and snakes, I presume, and horses whose hooves be not cloven. I would have thought that Moses was angling towards saying you can only eat herbivores and not carnivores, which I would understand. But excuse me? Rabbit pie is not kosher? May I ask why?

Rabbits eat their own dung………Oh……point taken.

Now, not that I have ever eaten a camel, but I know it is a cud-chewing, two-toed herbivore so I think camels get a very rough technical red card just because having two toes and respective toenails is not, strictly speaking, a cloven hoof. But you can see Moses’ point in getting the camels on the no-eating list. Imagine him wandering past one of his little tribes as he is planning his next big march to the Promised Land to see them all enjoying a camel roasting on a spit. “oy yoy yoy, if you keep eating the camels it’s going to take us literally months to cross this bloody desert.”

Actually when I think about it, there may be a truth spoken in jest. Whatever the reason, while I am not going to die in a ditch over the right to eat camel meat, a cloven hoof is one of those skinny little pointy hooves designed for agility in scrambling around rocks rather than the type of footwear needed to usefully transport a heavy load like a human across a desert. Sort of like the difference between ice skates and snow shoes. 

So maybe Leviticus is saying exactly that, don’t eat the animals we need to carry us, our tents and tabernacles across the desert; the camels, donkeys, horses and elephants. Especially when you consider the gestation of a pregnant camel is 13 months and it takes about 7 years for a male to reach maturity (female 3 years) and you can get 50 years work from a camel. Whereas by contrast sheep  have a gestation of less than 5 months, reach maturity between 5 and 12 months, goats about the same; bulls reach maturity at 12 months and cows 18 months. The original fast food option.

Makes sense, it’s nothing to do with being unclean, just practical farm and transport management. Don’t eat the bloody camels, it takes too long to get another one to replace it. Lesson learned after the Moses desert crossing and now we know why it took forty years to get from Egypt to Israel instead of the 11  days it would have taken by the direct route.

As for seafood, the sons of Israel may only eat that which has both fins and scales. So that rules out oysters, crayfish, prawns and crabs. Bugger. Well I suppose in our hearts we know crustaceans are the bottom feeders of the sea, scouring the seabed for food amongst the turds of all the fish that swim above them.

Also banned are insects with four legs with the exception of a few permitted species like grasshoppers and locusts; well that was never going to be an issue for me.

There is also a list of forbidden birds including eagles, kites and gulls.

So can’t a chap even have a seagull sandwich now?

And even if it is a clean food source but it dies (presumably of natural causes rather than being butchered by an Israelite) then it becomes unclean.

I certainly don’t argue with most of their forbidden foods on the list. Carnivorous animals that eat dead, rotten food or raw, still-functioning organs, including livers, bladders and intestines, are obviously full of nasty parasites that are quite inappropriate for the delicate human digestion system. Although I am starting to wonder what a roast camel might be like.

Gulls and hawks are scavenging birds, with roadkill being a particular favourite and I certainly wouldn’t want to re-digest anything that they originally digested. And yes, yes we know shellfish can contain high levels of toxicity, and true enough, the  crab-cakes you get at a Jewish deli are in fact made out of pulverised flesh of a fish that has fins and scales, which is a bit deceitful but probably no less so than the prawn sticks I get at a Chinese takeaway. Personally I am prepared to take the chance when it comes to Bluff oysters and prawns, albeit I accept that I may live to regret it. I certainly regretted it the day I didn’t quite cook the prawns well enough. That was the most violently ill I have ever been in my life. I still break out in a sweat remembering it. It was not a case of fearing I might die, but rather praying that I would. And yet I still can’t resist a plate of garlic prawns. And if anyone suggests that salt and pepper squid may have neither gills nor scales, I just don’t want to know. Fingers in ears, eyes shut tight, ‘nahnahnahnah…”

But what is the problem with pigs? Are they saying those cute little farmyard animals are indiscriminate eaters? They do have a divided hoof so is their only crime not chewing their cud? Seems harsh. Well, as it turns out, I have just finished a book about some rather unpleasant criminal types in southern Italy who decided to throw an unsuspecting (and innocent as it turns out) chap who they believed to be a snitch, to the pigs on a farm, comfortable in the knowledge that by morning there would be nothing left of the chap but his teeth in a pond of pig shit.

So pigs, as I learn, are classified as omnivores. They eat anything and everything.  I have recently taken a moral high ground and now only eat free-range pig meat. But now that I think about it, allowing them to wander about freely probably just increases the odds that the pig I am about to eat has already recently eaten a dead hedgehog, a plastic coke bottle, a trowel, a bag of its own shit and a professional pig-walker. No amount of smoking of the beast actually makes eating them sound any better. I think the Israelites have got this one dead right.

And I am reliably informed that the Israelites chop the skin off the end of their cocks to stop the irritating sand getting under their foreskin. Even back in the Biblical, desert-crossing days I would have thought wearing undies and peeing downwind might have been a less dramatic way of solving the problem. 



I Love Fish&chips

So how far would you go for a really, really good paper parcel full of fish & chips?

Best cafe discI was raised on fish and chips, and oysters that I watched being shucked by my dad just before being dipped in batter and deep-fried; and whitebait that I would scoop out in big handfuls from a sterilised kerosene tin; and crayfish (I was the one breaking off and eating their legs, as I stacked them for my dad, just seconds after they had emerged from a boiling copper). I just took it all for granted back in those good old Best Cafe days.

But fish&chips sort of fell out of favour when the Americans came to town to convince us that fried fish was bad for us and that fried chicken, mc burgers and pizzas were the all new healthy and ‘cool’ diet for a take-away treat and so, since the eighties we have sort of sold out our heritage. And with the declining popularity came, to my mind, declining standards in good old style fish and chips. It has become much harder to buy some fish and chips and, hand on heart, say that the fish was fresh, the batter crispy and golden and those chips were just yummy.

2016-05-10 17.00.49But when I happened upon the Akaroa Fish& Chip shop a couple of years ago, my taste buds were transported back forty years. This was true old school fish&chips. Located right on the Akaroa harbour-front, the fish were almost jumping out of the water straight onto the table. And this guy knew how to make a very, very good batter that did what it was supposed to do: crisped up quickly and encased the fish to protect it while cooking in super hot oil and result in it coming out of the pan as just ‘melt in the mouth’ delicious seafood.

So, in answer to the opening question “how far would I go for a really really good feed of fish and chips?” The answer is 900 kilometres round trip as it turned out. We got the craving again this week for a feed of fish and chips and so set off for Akaroa. Actually it’s a good thousand k’s when you take in a bit of running around. Throw in a bit of accommodation and, to many people, that would possibly seem an excessively expensive meal. But look at this parcel; I can just see your mouth-watering.

2016-05-10 17.08.38And knowing what you would say about a 900km return journey for fish and chips, I began to think of all the places I might want to go in the world and what I might like to experience. I roughly calculated how many tens of thousands of dollars it might cost me to buy a souvenir T Shirt at Niagara Falls, to take a photo of the Colosseum in Rome and to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. 2016-05-10 17.03.25Where, amongst all these experiences, would I put eating that parcel of fish and chips, washed down with a beer from the local Four Square and looking out onto that view? To be honest I would put it well up there and no contest for best value for money, even with 900kms driving. Then just to show that I can think on my feet, we actually had two meals there, so that really halved the cost on a per meal basis. By the way, that was an excellent sausage as well, no doubt hand-made by the little butcher shop around the corner.

As I pondered all this, while the water lapped in harmony with my thoughts, and as I noted saw the very modest sprinkling of tourists around me I began to muse: if the goal of Tourism New Zealand is to encourage overseas visitors to travel beyond the gateway cities to experience the essential New Zealand, then why, oh why, do they not use the Akaroa fish and chip shop as  a poster icon for a NZ Tourism campaign? Why do we not share this very special experience with the world and attract hundreds of thousands of overseas visitors to this little secret place of ours? Then I thought, nah f*ck them, let’s keep this one to ourselves.

FOOTNOTE: Joy to my heart. After three decades of being out of the family, the Best Cafe in Lower Stuart Street has come back to the family through Jessica Marks, the daughter of my cousin, and her partner Brent. The traditional old school fish, oysters and chips has returned. Prepared and cooked the way fish and chips are supposed to be. The old family batter recipe. I did happen to be up at Akaroa recently so went back to try out their fish and chips again and, with complete absence of bias, I am delighted to announce that the Best Cafe of Dunedin once again is the best fish and chip shop in the land.

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