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

James Hamilton-Paterson's hilarious Cooking With Fernet Branca doesn't just skewer culinary pretensions, it makes an active effort to demolish any notion of respectability to the food of an entire region. I mean, of course, that gastronomically benighted land of the Slavs, which - in this book - is proxied by the fictional Voynovia.
'For you, Gerree, all Voynovia fooding tonight,' she said as we eventually reeled to our seats at the kitchen table, having first pitched off bundles of sheets. By then we had finished most of a bottle of Fernet Branca and even the electric light was beginning to have a brownish tinge. With a flourish she plonked before me a gross sausage the colour of rubberwear and as full of lumps as a prison mattress. It was a little larger than those things in Bavaria that just fit into bowls the size of chamber pots. 
'Is shonka,' I think she said, resting her breasts on the table on either side of her own plate. Smiling weakly, I made the good guest's obligatory 'mm' noises and gingerly poked it with the point of my knife. There was the sound of a boil being lanced. A spurt of boiling fat shot across the table and even on that late June evening my spectacles misted over. The contents of the sausage, bright red with paprika, lay there before me like an anatomy lesson. 'My sister Marja she send me from Voynovia. We eat like this, Gerree.' Cheekily she speared one of the lumps on my plate with her fork, dipped it into a pot of black treacle and held it playfully to my lips. Mechanically I opened my mouth and allowed it entry but thereafter there was nothing mechanical about my chewing. It was exactly like trying to cross a hot beach barefoot. When I say black treacle I only mean that was what it looked like, though I'm damned if it really wasn't mainly molasses. What the rest was, I cannot say, but my impressions included saffron, pickled walnuts and lavender, with perhaps a pinch of plutonium. The only missing thing, surprisingly, was Fernet Branca. 
Once one mouthful of shonka and sauce was down a kind of local anaesthesia set in and the next forkful was marginally less lethal. And you know how it is, l'appetito vien mangiando and all that, it wasn't long before I had eaten a good two inches of the thing, with a mere yard to go...


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