The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jan 16, 2011

Havs Grub

Jan Morris has an imagination non-pareil, and her long years of travel and experience have informed her creation of the fictional city of Hav. Set behind a massive escarpment not far from Greece and Turkey, it is a blend of historical city-states such as Trieste or Beirut, and was a cosmopolis, a melange, a veritable fairy-tale land. It had an Arab quarter and a Chinese district, was once ruled by Russians, and today has few diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. It was once a great trading entrepot, and is now a mere fleshpot for the jet-set.

And it has food.
'But not,' said Biancheri, joining me with a gin-fizz in a corner of the room - 'not altogether the same food you are accustomed to get from Cipriani's. I think you will agree that our restaurant menu is something a little different.' He was right. Could there be such a menu, I wondered, anywhere else on earth? Not only were there the old stalwarts of classical French and Italian cooking - not only the inescapable pigeons' breasts and raw mushrooms of the cuisine nouvelle - not only roast beef for traditionalists, jellied duck for Sinophiles, bortsch for nostalgia, couscous, pumpkin pie - there was also a fascinating selection of Hav specialities.

You could eat sea-urchins grilled, meunière, baked, stewed in batter, with ginger garnish, as a pâté, in an omelette, in a soup or raw. You could eat roast kid in the escarpment style, which meant cold with a herb-flavoured mayonnaise, or barbecued over catalpa charcoal from the western hills. You could eat the legs of frogs from the salt-marshes, which are claimed to have a flavour like no others, or Hav eels, which are pickled in rosemary brine, or the pink-coloured mullet which is said to be unique to these waters, and which the Casino likes to serve smoked with dill sauce, or the tall sweet celery which grows on the island of the Greeks, or a salad made entirely, in the inexplicable absence of lettuce anywhere on the peninsula, of wild grasses and young leaves gathered every morning in the hills above Yuan Wen Kuo. You could even eat a dish, otherwise undefined, listed as ours hav faux.

This was only a joke, said Biancheri, though in the 1920s Hav bear really was eaten sometimes at the Casino. Now the false bear was no more than a bear-shaped duck terrine. 'But then,' he added, 'it is all a joke. For myself I prefer scrambled eggs.'


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